By Mary O’KEEFE and
An example of community activism and old fashioned vigilance could be seen last weekend as the fate of an iconic Crescenta Valley tree hung in the balance.
On Saturday, over 70 people gathered at the property in the 2600 block of Foothill Boulevard where the Moreton Bay Fig tree has existed for over 100 years. It had survived fires, decades of “great floods” and the evolution of Foothill Boulevard but it couldn’t survive an email.
The new owner of the property, Jinny Nam of New Star Realty, had received an email from the L.A. County Planning Department that she had the right to cut the Morton Bay tree down. She hired a tree service and on Friday the tree began to be chopped.
That would seem like the end, however Crescenta Valley residents who have been keeping a watchful eye on the tree came to its rescue.
The tree trimming stopped late on Friday due to darkness. The next morning, about 15 tree defenders showed up before 7 a.m. to keep the tree cutters at bay. And by 3 p.m. they were 70 strong and not backing down.
They stood by the tree that lay in pieces on the ground. White sap dripped from its cut branches and trickled down like blood from the trunk that had yet to be chopped.
After a rain-soaked protest, the owner of the property said what’s left of the Moreton Bay Fig tree will stand.
Nam told members of the CV Town Council, the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley and concerned citizens on the site Saturday afternoon that she will make sure no more cutting of the tree will happen.
Steve Pierce of the CV Chamber of Commerce asked her, ““Will you please ensure that the workers that come in understand that this tree is not to be touched any further? … Do we have your word on that?”
“Yes,” replied Nam, who recently purchased the realty building. She said she will still cut other trees on her property, but as for the Morton Bay Fig, “This one will stay.”
The tree is on Nam’s property and she does have the right to remove it. But to many the Morton Bay is not just any tree, it has become a symbol of the Crescenta Valley and, after a weekend of protests, a metaphor for saving the past while promoting the future.
There seemed to be some miscommunication between Nam and newly elected Crescenta Valley Town Council member Dr. Young Seok Suh who said he had spoken to the owner of the property about the tree.
“She [Nam] said she would not cut the tree down until we [spoke],” Suh said.
On Friday Nam said she had not spoken with anyone but Suh insisted they had a conversation and a verbal agreement earlier that week.
When asked why she felt the tree needed to come down she attributed it to two main issues.
“[It creates] too much trash [leaves] from the tree. Actually we were told (by Above and Beyond Tree Service) that the tree couldn’t live longer than five years.”
But owner of Above and Beyond remembers the conversation differently.
“I am the only person with my company that spoke to the owner,” said Brian Ordelheide, owner of the tree company. “I did not make that statement.”
Ordelheide did tell the owner that the tree had obvious signs of distress. He gave her estimates for removal and for pruning.
“I wasn’t hired to prepare or make a report,” he added.
Ordelheide added that Nam had the right to cut the tree down.
“Whatever agreement [made between CVTC and Nam] it was at their discretion,” Ordelheide said.
It was not the legality of the matter as much as the community spirit that is at the base of the grassroots effort to save the tree.
A task the community members thought they had mastered after a long battle with the neighboring developer who during construction had damaged the Moreton Bay’s ever reaching root system. Residents and CVTC members had hammered out an agreement with the developer next door, the old Plumb Crazy property. Arborists were hired and the tree was in the process of being brought back to good health.
Ordelheide said he understood the emotions that charged the protests and outrage.
“I am a tree guy. I get involved with neighbors and trees all the time,” he said. “Trees evoke a very emotional reaction.”
The biggest reaction is usually from those who are trying to save the tree. At times that reaction can be “nasty,” he added.
On Friday community members that were surprised to see the tree being cut became very emotional. Many took that frustration out on the tree workers, Ordelheide said.
“My guys were cursed at and [discriminating] statements were yelled at them,” he said. “I understand they feel passionate about their cause.”
He added that his guys were doing a job; they knew the email cleared the way for cutting. The history was unknown to them.
“We were stuck in the middle,” Ordelheide said.
Nam has agreed to save the Moreton Bay but is removing all other trees but a small oak in the back of the property. This lead to speculation by some in the Saturday afternoon crowd that a plan was afoot to flatten the big blue house property for another development.
“Things are going to be left alone for awhile,” said Wayne Yee, Nam’s friend and an attorney.
Yee was thrust into the middle of the community crowd on Saturday. He, Toyon and Davis spoke at length. Toyon agreed to hire an arborist at the expense of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley.
“I will be talking to Richard [Toyon] and his arborist,” Yee said.
As far as the buildings fate he added, “I don’t think it is going to be torn down.”
The property owner is looking for tenants to rent the building, he added.