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Trees felled around protesters in Arcadia

January 12, 2011 |  3:50 pm

A prized grove of 179 coastal oaks and 70 sycamores in Arcadia was reduced to stumps, broken limbs and slash piles by mid-afternoon Wednesday, despite a showdown by four tree-sitters attempting to stop bulldozers from clearing the land to make way for muck dredged from a nearby reservoir.

By 2 p.m., more than 30% of the grove near Santa Anita and Elkin avenues had been cleared. Los Angeles Sheriff's Capt. Joe Fennell explained the tactic: "We move all the trees except the [ones] they are in; we hope that is the case," he said. "Then perhaps they'll come down without us having to extract them."

From the backyard of a home adjacent to the work site, six observers watched as deputies surrounded the base of one of the few massive oaks left standing. Two protesters were perched on a platform about 30 feet above the ground, which was little more than bare dirt.

The county Department of Public Works, which owns the property, is preparing the site for 500,000 cubic yards of muck to be dredged from a nearby reservoir that is a key component of the flood-control system for the San Gabriel Mountain foothill communities. It also helps replenish ground water for the cities of Sierra Madre and Arcadia, according to Public Works.

County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the nearby communities, in December negotiated a 30-day moratorium to study alternatives that might spare the trees. The county concluded that its original plan was the most reasonable option and proceeded Wednesday morning.

Tree-sitters, including John Quigley, a veteran of such protests, entered the site at 4 a.m. and remained in the trees as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.

Earlier, Bob Spencer, a Public Works spokesman, said he expected the trees to be cleared within two days. "The wood will stay on site," he said. "It will be chipped and used as ground cover. Some of the stumps will be left to rot as part of the natural decaying process."

Spencer said the chipped wood and rotted stumps will eventually be deposited elsewhere in the area to improve soil conditions.

David Czemanske, a member of the executive committee of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, said of the recycling plan: "How am I supposed to be satisfied with such a trivial mitigation as that?"

-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: Few trees remained Wednesday in a grove cleared to make way for dredged mud. Credit: Mark Boster /Los Angeles Times