Council won't save oak

The La Cañada Flintridge City Council voted 3 to 1 Tuesday to deny an appeal to preserve a 35-foot coast live oak tree near Commonwealth and Berkshire avenues.

Councilwoman Laura Olhasso cast the dissenting vote; Councilman Stephen Del Guercio was absent.

The tree was one of 19 trees identified in March by the city's Public Works Department and contracted arborist firm, West Coast Arborist, for pruning or removal, said City Manager Mark Alexander.

"Oak trees are beautiful specimens…There was a strong emphasis placed on trimming rather than removal of oaks," Alexander said.

The tree in question, however, has a large branch that extends over Commonwealth Avenue, causing interference with traffic, especially high-profile vehicles, Alexander said. It has a clearance of 9 feet, well short of the 13 feet 6 inches needed for a fire truck tiller to pass beneath it.

And scars on the tree indicate that it has already been hit, Alexander said.

"At nighttime, especially on a street that doesn't have street lights, you can't see that branch, and it is a very thick branch," Alexander said. "If a vehicle struck that branch, it could cause damage to the vehicle."

Kevin and Julie Abbott, who own the property next to the public right-of-way where the tree is rooted, asked the City Council to spare the tree. The portion of Commonwealth Avenue under discussion sees little traffic, they argued, adding that vehicles have plenty of space to pass safely beneath the tree.

And their privately contracted arborist does not believe the tree has to be removed, Julie Abbott said.

"The only [arborist] who says it needs to be taken out is the one who is being paid to take it out," Julie Abbott said. "And that means something."

Olhasso recommended delaying the removal of the tree until the city's standards could be clarified and communicated with input from the Fire Department and residents. But other council members said the city was vulnerable to a lawsuit if the branch damages a car or injures a person.

"As our codes stands now, we are at risk," Mayor Donald Voss said. "This tree obviously has been hit in the past, certainly once, maybe twice, maybe more than that. And I am going to come down on removing the tree. We don't take any job or happiness out of removing this tree, but I think it is an issue we must pursue."

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