Save This Fig Tree, Say Residents

By Brandon HENSLEY

Crescenta Valley resident Lisa Jenks brought her daughter underneath the Moreton Bay Fig tree Tuesday night, along with around 20 other CV residents. The sun set off in the horizon, and its light hit the tree straight on, if only for a few minutes. Here, the residents gathered at a vigil and watched as the sun went down on a community landmark for what might be one of the last times.

Mike Lawler, president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley, headed up a group of people to protest what might come of the fig tree, which sits outside of the Realty Executives building in the 2600 block of Foothill Boulevard.

The tree, which is over 100 years old, is in danger of dying. As previously reported, the lot next to it is undergoing construction, a three-story office and retail complex, fully approved by L.A. County.

The plans call for an underground parking structure and when excavation begins, it is believed one-third of the tree’s roots will be removed, as well as over-hanging branches that fall on the building’s property line.

Jenks’s daughter, Allison, brought homemade signs that read “Save The Tree.” CV councilwoman Danette Erickson also brought three small signs with one word each, which lined consecutively read, “This Tree Matters.”

Jenks remembered riding her bike by the tree as a child. “This tree represents a lot. It’s history, and that’s the way I look at it.”

Sharpies and colored posters were on tables, along with the plans for the building. All of the protest signs were either taped to the tree or put in the surrounding bushes.

Cheryl Davis, CV Town Council president, who was not present at the vigil, said she and councilman Frank Beyt recently met with the owner of the property of the complex, George Voskanian. They expressed their concerns to Voskanian, and Voskanian said when excavation comes close to hitting the tree’s roots, he will consult with an arborist.

“He said he doesn’t want to harm the tree or upset the community,” Davis said.

The parking lot excavation will be two feet from the property line.

The complex is exempt from Foothill Boulevard’s Community Standards District, which was put in place last October. The plans were approved in April 2009. That means any design issues the public may have – colors, architectural concerns – is out of their control. County can do what it pleases with the building, although Voskanian told Davis they will try to incorporate native stone into the
design, and that color concerns can be talked about.

The tree and Realty Executives is currently sitting on bank-owned REO property. I t is unclear what will be done with it. Erickson said her vision would be to turn the area into a plaza, with the tree being the highlighted feature, and be called the Morton Tree Plaza.

“I have a dream that this tree should be to La Crescenta as that beautiful tree in Santa Barbara is to Santa Barbara,” she said.

“Couldn’t you build around it, and use all this extra space for parking, and combine the two properties? But I’m dreaming.”

The tree is believed to be a descendant of a fig tree that was in front of the La Crescenta Hotel in the late 1800s, currently where Foster’s Donuts is.

Davis said she consulted with an undisclosed arborist, who said the tree is already in distress. It’s leaves are yellow, and 60 percent of the crown is missing.

“He said it’s unknown at this point what stressed the tree,” Davis said. “It could possibly just be several years of droughts, he doesn’t know for sure, but this has been happening over the course the last few years.”

“It’s sad the fact that these trees can disappear because the county will allow something like this to disappear. This was here before us. It should be here after us,” said resident Michael Morgan.

The consensus of the night seemed to be frustration over something that residents cannot control. Time will tell now if the tree really will be history.