Caltrans Improperly Cuts Down Trees Near St. Vibiana's

Times Staff Writer

Caltrans improperly removed a row of mature ficus trees along a block of 2nd Street in downtown Los Angeles last week to the dismay of city officials and the developer of a new arts center in the area.

A private crew hired by Caltrans cut down the four trees even though the city had not given the agency a permit. The trees were cut down in conjunction with construction of Caltrans' district headquarters, which is being built along Los Angeles Street between 1st and 2nd streets.

City officials were able to stop the crew as it was cutting down the last tree. That mutilated tree is the only one standing.

Ronald Lorenzen, the city's street tree superintendent, said his office is still investigating the incident and has not decided whether it will seek any action against Caltrans.

Caltrans' actions, however, drew an angry reaction from Gilmore Associates, which is redeveloping the nearby St. Vibiana's Cathedral into a performing arts center, with Cal State L.A. as its main tenant.

"I could just bite nails," said Bob Jones, director of Vibiana Place, the development that will grow around St. Vibiana's Cathedral.

"We wanted the street to remain the small, intimate tree-canopied street that it was."

The cathedral, built in 1876, faces the Caltrans site on 2nd Street. Both projects are part of an ambitious plan to redevelop an area near skid row that has languished for years.

Caltrans officials acknowledged the mistake but said the error was innocent. They said the crew had been cutting trees around the building site since June. A Caltrans spokeswoman said the trees would have to be removed eventually to widen 2nd Street.

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