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ANOTHER GIANT OAK FALLING TO DEVELOPMENT'S IMPACT.

Byline: ERIC LEACH

Staff Writer

SIMI VALLEY -- In what city officials say is not a trend, another of Simi Valley's tallest oak trees is expected to be cut down within a few weeks because it is diseased and decayed.

Officials said the fact that this 95-foot-tall valley oak is only several miles away from an old coast live oak cut down in January is not a sign of a new threat to the area's oaks, but an example of how development has changed environment in Simi Valley.

"It is just a coincidence," said Jerry Clark, Simi Valley city landscape architect. "These particular trees came to the point where they could no longer survive," he said.

"It is an indicator that some of these trees that grew in the valley hundreds of years ago face a constrained, restricted growing environment today," he said.

The valley oak, on Los Angeles Avenue near the Yosemite Veterinary Clinic, is a safety hazard whose limbs have fallen over the years, damaging the clinic.

The deciduous tree and the evergreen one cut down last month were both hundreds of years old and partly hollowed out. The tree-cutters found some strange things inside the coast live oak -- a palm tree, an old cement bag, some barbed wire and what appeared to be the remains of a coyote -- and they are still hoping to slice off a clear section at the base to display at the Strathearn Historical Park.

They originally hoped they could mark the tree rings with reference to important dates in history, but questions have arisen about the condition of the trunk and how to cut through it.

"They tried to cut (a slice for the historical park) and the chain saw broke," said Judy Dwyer, a member of the city's tree advisory committee.

She and Clark said it might take months to cut a usable slice of the trunk and have it examined by a professional arborist to determine the age for display.

The old oak had been designated Ventura County Historic Landmark No. 134, and officials said it might have been as old as 700 years. Its trunk was more than 9 feet thick at the widest point.

"The base is solid all the way through," said Clark, who had once been concerned that the trunk might turn out to be hollow.

Although hundreds of oak trees that stood on the valley floor have died or been removed by developers over the past century, there are still thousands of healthy ones in Simi Valley, where these two native species are protected by a city preservation ordinance similar to the one in neighboring Thousand Oaks.

The old oak cut down on Heritage Oak Court last month was the biggest coast live oak tree in Simi Valley, said Mike Kuhn, an environmental planner for the city from 1974-2003 who surveyed 4,000 of the city's oaks.

"It was enormous," he said.

An industrial park was built around the old tree, but despite efforts of Kuhn and others to save it, it eventually died and had to be cut down.

Accounts from early travelers in Simi Valley show that the eastern floor from Stearns Street to Corriganville was called "El Roblaro," a woodland filled with big coast live oaks and valley oaks, Kuhn said.

"Oak trees are part of our heritage. The east end of the valley used to be an oak forest," Kuhn said, noting that residents and developers have been planting oak trees for years. "That's kind of a key to all this, planting new oak trees. It's part of our heritage."

The cul-de-sac on Heritage Oak Court already has been replanted with five oaks in the spot where the big coast live oak stood.

Some recent housing developments where large old oak trees have been preserved because of Simi Valley's oak tree preservation laws include the Hidden Oaks Development west of the Santa Susana Knolls area and the Big Sky development in the hills north of Erringer Road.

And some huge old valley oak trees still stand tall in the middle of the city among the houses and businesses at the east end of town. One such tree takes up nearly two lots among the homes north of Los Angeles Avenue at Honeyman Street and Redman Court.

A brush fire in the hills resulted in flooding and a buildup of sediment that eventually kill ed most of about a dozen majestic oak trees that once stood in Happy Camp Canyon north of Moorpark College.

In fact, Kuhn said the canyon on the old Strathearn Ranch apparently got its name indirectly from the large trees.

"That name Happy Camp Canyon referred to the annual gathering of cattle and picnics when people would gather under those towering trees," he said.

Communities like Encino in the San Fernando Valley and Thousand Oaks got their names from the massive old oak trees, although some of the biggest are gone.

In Thousand Oaks, the remaining old giants like one in the parking lot of Lupe's Mexican Restaurant are marked by plaques recognizing their protected status in the community.

George Moore, a landscape architect who has worked for years with the city of Thousand Oaks to preserve oak trees and who helped draft Ventura County's oak tree preservation ordinance, said people frequently ask him exactly how many oak trees there are in Thousand Oaks.

"I would bet we have at least 10,000 valley oaks and live oaks," he said. "There are probably at least 50,000 scrub oaks."

Although many trees have died over time from old age or encroaching development, the thousands that are surviving are doing relatively well and are not affected by sudden oak death syndrome like trees farther north in California, experts said.

"Our oak trees on the whole are very healthy in Ventura County," Moore said. "We have beautiful oaks here."

eric.leach@dailynews.com

(805) 583-7602

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) This old valley oak tree was preserved in a subdivision on Honeyman Street in Simi Valley. Valley and coast live oaks are considered an important part of the heritage of Simi Valley.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 4, 2007
Words:1026
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