Residents’ hopes of saving a centuries-old oak tree growing at a home on La Cañada’s Georgian Road were felled last week, when planning commissioners denied an appeal against a tree removal permit granted by the city’s planning director in November.
A group of residents turned out for a Feb. 14 meeting of the La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission to argue in favor of finding some way to keep the tree alive, after two arborists called by new property owner Alan Frank determined the tree was ailing and needed to come down.
“I fundamentally believe property owners should have great leeway to develop and use their property as they wish — this time is different,” said appellant Edward Johnson. “On rare occasions, the community’s desire to preserve a community treasure should override a property owner’s right to use the property as they wish.”
Frank told commissioners he sought professional advice regarding the health and maintenance of a few trees, including the coast live oak in question, another equally mature oak tree at the front of the lot and a sycamore.
“We love trees — that’s one of the reasons we bought the house,” he said, adding he has four grandchildren who occasionally play outside. “I just wanted to make sure my oak trees were fine.”
William McKinley, a consulting arborist for Glendale-based McKinley & Associates, determined the backyard tree’s structural integrity was compromised by age and open wounds and posed a threat to homeowners’ safety. He confirmed his opinion before commissioners.
“Because of its age it just simply lacks the vigor that is necessary to grow and close over these wounds,” McKinley said. “If it’s on a mountain it’s not an issue, but you have targets here. You have children potentially playing under the tree. These are major risk factors we have to consider.”
Several speakers requested commissioners call for another assessment, potentially from an independent arborist.
“I’d like to recommend one or two additional conservation-minded arborists come look at this tree to see if there are possibilities for trimming, bracing or future cabling,” said appellant Beth Fabinsky.
Commission Chair Rick Gunter said it was not the panel’s job to decide whether they liked a certain a law but to determine whether a homeowner’s actions were in compliance with established law.
“If we have expert witness reports that tell us this is a dangerous condition and the applicant applying for the permit has done everything that’s prescribed to them in the law, I find myself unable to come to any other conclusion than the fact that we need to deny the appeal,” he said.
Commissioner Arun Jain agreed, citing safety concerns.
“When structural integrity is lost, it’s a matter of time,” he said. “It could live for 100 years or it could live for a day— that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.”
The appeal was denied 4-0 (Commissioner Mike Hazen was absent). Residents have until March 1 to appeal that decision to the La Cañada Flintridge City Council.