Long before the city of La Cañada Flintridge incorporated in 1976 — before the United States declared its nationhood in 1776 and before Spanish settlers roamed coastal landscapes a century before that — a coast live oak stood tall and proud.
As centuries passed the oak’s multi-trunk base thickened to a 6-foot diameter as boughs reached heights of 65 feet and its canopy encompassed an 84-foot span.
Roads were cleared and homes were built around the spot where the tree and several others like it grew to splendor, near the current intersection of Georgian Road and Oakwood Avenue. At 650 Georgian Road, a single-story ranch home was built in 1952, its floor plan shaped in a semicircular arrangement with the tree at its center.
Now, after some 400 years, the mighty oak is slated to come down. City officials received a request for a tree removal permit from new property owner Alan Frank on Oct. 2, accompanied by an arborist’s report indicating the tree is in poor health.
“The tree is hazardous and is at risk of falling on persons and property,” read the report, prepared by William McKinley, a consulting arborist for Glendale-based McKinley & Associates. “The oak is no longer an asset to the subject property but now poses a clear liability.”
Conducted at the behest of Frank and La Cañada architect Dave De Angelis, the report included findings for another large oak tree in the home’s frontyard and a sycamore tree. Those were found to be in relatively good shape, and McKinley suggested protective measures to preserve them. But the backyard oak’s prognosis was grim.
“The only reasonable course of action is the complete removal of this tree,” stated McKinley, whose findings were corroborated in a letter by La Cañada arborist James R. Smith.
Several oak species, as well as California sycamores, are protected by the city’s tree ordinance but no special status is given to trees whose age and size might be considerations for landmark or heritage designation.
On private properties, protected trees cannot be removed without a permit or the owner’s paying fines from $1,062 to $10,800 for illegal removal. A $291 tree removal permit that can prove disease, liability, damage or hardship to an owner’s enjoyment of the property preempts restitution.
Planning Department employees visited 650 Georgian Road on Oct. 24 and noticed a 16-inch diameter cavity in the tree’s trunk along with cracked bark tissue and a canker on one side.
“There is significant wood decay in the trunks and stems, causing the tree to begin to lose structural integrity,” the city’s report indicated. “If the tree were to fall, the house and residents would be heavily impacted and potentially injured.”
The removal permit was approved Nov. 2, on the condition the new owner plant one 48-inch box-sized replacement oak on the property within 90 days.
But some who’ve lived in the neighborhood for decades and who knew the home’s previous owners and the arborist who once cared for the oaks, are disappointed by the report’s findings and incredulous about the future plans of the property owner, who purchased the home in September.
Longtime Beulah Drive resident Dottie Juett worries La Cañada is losing its heritage as a tree community through the sanctioned loss of its oaks.
“I’m not going to go to the city and stand up and protest — if people are going to do it, they’re going to do it,” she said. “It just makes me sad.”
Community Development Director Susan Koleda said the city has not yet received building plans for 650 Georgian Road.