Siding with public safety over preserving a centuries-old oak in questionable condition, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council on Tuesday denied appeals against a Georgian Road homeowner’s tree removal permit that was previously approved by the city Planning Commission.
The matter was heard by planning commissioners last month after two La Cañada residents appealed Community Development Director Susan Koleda’s November approval of the permit. The permit called for removal of the 65-foot-tall oak tree due to its hazardous state of health, described in a report by Glendale arborist Bill McKinley.
Appellants requested the city hire an independent arborist, as McKinley was hired by new property owner Al Frank and could have tailored his findings to precipitate a desired outcome. The protesters called attention to the fact that the permit application was filed by architect Dave Di Angelis, and asked the removal be postponed until Frank submitted building plans for 650 Georgian Road.
Planning commissioners upheld Koleda’s approval in a Feb. 14 meeting, citing Frank’s adherence to processes outlined in the city’s tree ordinance, and that decision was appealed to the City Council by two residents.
Appellants Ed Johnson and Tipren Follett (who was out of the country but prepared a statement read aloud by friend Tonya Bray) asked the council to consider seeking an independent review and expressed dissatisfaction with there being no special protections for ancient heritage trees in the city’s tree ordinance.
“We used to have in our tree ordinance something called a heritage tree,” Johnson said. “I would propose any tree of more than 200 years of age — that means it was around 50 years before the devastating fire that almost cleared out all of La Cañada in the 1880s — those trees need to be dealt with different than regular trees.”
In her statement, Follett leveled claims against McKinley’s making inconsistent tree assessments in the past, sometimes changing a determination when homeowners’ building plans changed.
McKinley highlighted the tree’s many structural deficiencies and defended his reputation.
“I don’t fabricate information,” he said. “My name is far too valuable for any contribution that anybody can make — it’s my legacy, and I don’t like to see it impugned.”
The City Council voted unanimously to uphold the Planning Commission’s denial of the appeal and approve the removal permit. Councilman Jon Curtis said the city has created a process that considers closely all the factors of a tree’s health, risk and location.
“You’re not going to get a tree removal permit just because you don’t like the way that tree is sitting there, and you think it should go out because that’s where you want to put a house,” Curtis said. “We do have a health and safety issue here.”
Community meeting on Edison’s tree trimming
La Cañada Flintridge and Southern California Edison will host a community meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. on April 8 at Lanterman Auditorium to explain aspects of the utility’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan, a document that details enhanced tree trimming guidelines that have caused some resident ire in recent months.
Edison’s mitigation plan was submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission in February and comes up for a vote sometime in May. Marissa Castro-Salvati, a government relations manager for Edison, appeared before council members Tuesday to invite community participation.
“We have been doing some vegetation management, some line clearing, throughout our service territory and La Cañada has had some customer concerns,” she said.
Experts would be on hand to explain vegetation management plans as they pertain to wildfire risk, she said. Councilman Greg Brown encouraged residents to attend.
“This could involve some people’s yards and, depending on what kind of lines they have and where the trees are, it could be a very big change,” Brown said.
Lanterman Auditorium is located at 4491 Cornishon Ave. For more information on Edison’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan, visit sce.com/safety/wildfire.
Also Tuesday, council members:
• Approved a 20-year lease agreement with the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce and Community Assn. for a 730-square-foot space and storage site at the new City Hall building at 1 Civic Center Drive. The chamber will lease a suite and storage space for $1,100 per month and will have non-exclusive rights to use the nearby council chambers, a community meeting room and Olberz Park. In exchange, the chamber will provide reception services for the building Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and 25 hours of office services to the city each month.
• Introduced an ordinance establishing regulations for small wireless facilities in the public right of way that would forego regular discretionary hearings in favor of a resolution that could be quickly amended or changed, in the face of a new federal mandate to take effect April 15. Once the “Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order” is passed, utilities will have wider leeway to install facilities in cities so long as all “reasonable” and “feasible” municipal standards are accommodated. City Deputy Atty. Lona Laymon explained La Cañada needs to get aesthetic standards on the books now, to the extent allowable and through an urgency ordinance, to prevent creating a legislative gap companies could take advantage of. A revised resolution and urgency ordinance will come back to the council April 2.