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CITY BRINGS BAD-HAIRCUT DAYS TO TREES.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

When John Bunzel and his neighbors left for work one morning last week, 50-year-old liquidambar trees lined their street, the 5800 block of Alcove Avenue in North Hollywood.

But when they arrived back home that night, they couldn't believe their eyes. Four of the towering trees were gone - cut down by city workers - and dozens more had received a haircut you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

``No warning - no advance notice, nothing,'' Bunzel said Wednesday, walking the neighborhood with Tom Rogan and Jean Kraus, who live one block over on Goodland Avenue, the next neighborhood destined for trimming.

So while the rest of the country was watching the Patriots beat the Rams on Super Bowl Sunday, about 40 of their neighbors were helping Rogan, Bunzel and Kraus try to figure out a way to beat City Hall - or at least forestall another massacre of the trees in their area.

``They (city officials) took a sleepy little neighborhood and turned it into an activist one, fighting to save its trees,'' Bunzel said.

The dispute centers on whether the city's Street Tree Division had to destroy or severely trim many of the trees, whose roots have pushed up the neighborhood's sidewalks, so that new, flat walkways could be installed.

Ron Morrow, a registered consulting arborist and certified forester hired by the neighbors, said other methods could have been used.

``In Pasadena, we consulted with the residents, ramped over roots on their streets for wheelchair users and even narrowed residential sidewalks to save the trees,'' said Morrow, who was chief arborist for the city of Colorado Springs, Colo., for 20 years, and now works with Dana Point officials on community tree-trimming.

``Those trees on Alcove weren't sick and didn't have to be cut down, and the other ones pruned back were definitely overcut,'' Morrow said Wednesday.

But Greg Manfette, a Los Angeles Street Tree Division superintendent, disagrees. He said the four trees had to be cut down because simply pruning their roots would have created a potentially hazardous condition for the public.

Manfette said city records showed the roots on the four trees had been pruned on one side when new curbs were put in a few years ago. City rules don't allow more root pruning on the sidewalk side of a tree for five to eight years to avoid weakening the tree into a potential hazard - so the whole trees had to go.

``We sought permission from the property owners of those (four) trees to cut them down and got it,'' Manfette said. ``But I agree the other neighbors have valid concerns about being notified of the scope of the entire project.''

Rogan, who is leading this neighborhood campaign, and Bunzel both say the four residents who signed off on the tree removal were scared into it.

``They were told the trees could fall and were afraid they would fall on their homes or cars,'' Rogan said. ``But the truth is, they were perfectly healthy trees,'' Rogan said.

Arborist Morrow confirmed that he found no disease or weakening in the root base of the remaining trees.

To avoid future neighborhood conflicts, Manfette said division officials are considering mailing notices as a courtesy to all residents in a neighborhood before his tree-pruning crews show up.

``We're sensitive to the fact that all the residents in a neighborhood have a vested interest in the trees on its streets, and we should be giving them advance notice so they can meet with us and review the process,'' he said.

Nice try. But Jean Kraus wonders why this wasn't already being done. If it had been done, those trees over on Alcove Avenue and other streets in this city wouldn't have been cut down or butchered.

In 1953, her family was one of the first to move into the new $18,500 homes in College Estates, named for its proximity to Los Angeles Valley College.

``When we moved in, the price included a grass lawn, sprinklers and a few bushes, but no trees,'' she said. ``All the neighbors got together and paid $2 or $3 each for a tree to be planted in front of our homes.''

Most of the 1953 residents are long gone, replaced by new, young families moving into this neighborhood.

For almost 50 years, Kraus watched those trees, bought for $2 or $3 each, grow big and strong - particularly the one she sees out her back window every morning: the towering liquidambar one block over on Alcove Avenue.

Now that one is gone, and she is wondering what may be next to go.

``My generation built this neighborhood,'' Kraus said. ``And this generation is saving it,'' she added about Rogan and Bunzel as they walked with her on barren Alcove Avenue.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Protesting severe city tree-pruning, from left, Jean Kraus, Tom Rogan and John Bunzel patrol Alcove Avenue.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 7, 2002
Words:820
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