Independence residents rallied to the cry of a chainsaw last week when crews hired by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began cutting down several trees in their community.
Residents said the LADWP had no right to remove the trees because they are located on county property adjacent to a City of Los Angeles parcel in Independence.
The LADWP said several trees in a stand of 21 sycamores were diseased and dying and had to be removed for public safety reasons. The department had identified eight trees as “terminally ill” and said 13 more needed pruning to keep them healthy. To ensure the 13 trees that were not terminal did not reach that point, the LADWP identified a watering and fertilization schedule for future care of the trees.
The LADWP said the work was scheduled in response to concerns raised by an Independence resident.
“Earlier this fall LADWP staff responded to a call from a concerned citizen that some trees in Independence adjacent to the LADWP Construction Yard were not looking good,” LADWP Public Information Officer Chris Plakos said. “LADWP biologists did an assessment and suspected that the trees had a disease. They had an outside arborist evaluate the trees and he said they had a disease that can specifically impact that type of tree, and recommended that eight of them be removed to help prevent the disease from spreading, and the rest be trimmed to allow for more air circulation and sunlight. An outside crew was just beginning the work when LADWP received a call from the public expressing concerns. Work was immediately halted and LADWP staff is now working with Inyo County on how to proceed.”
When resident Nancy Masters saw crews cutting them down, she asked county staff to stop the work until local leaders could assess the state of the trees and decide if they should be removed or not.
Masters said the trees are not diseased, but malnourished because they haven’t been watered.
“They’re not diseased, the city quit watering them with ditch water from Independence Creek so they can send that water down the aqueduct,” Masters said, adding that the trees didn’t need to be removed. “They’re sycamores, they respond to drought and recovery.”
Inyo County Deputy Public Works Director Jim Tatum said the county has a policy on trees in county rights-of-way that was adopted in 2006 that the LADWP was unaware of.
Before LADWP continues its work on the trees, it will have to go before the Board of Supervisors and request permission, Tatum said. “Everything is on hold right now,” he added.
Pat Gunsolley, clerk of the Board of Supervisors, said the LADWP and county leaders have not yet scheduled that meeting, and the discussion probably won’t take place until after the first of the year.
County officials said it isn’t clear why the LADWP took responsibility for the trees on the county right-of-way, but added that the trees may have been planted many years ago as part of a mitigation project.
The county tree removal policy states that agencies other than the county can remove trees under an encroachment permit for a number of reason, including if the trees are “endangering the health and welfare, including the peace of mind, of the property owner, and where a substantial number of property owners in the immediate vicinity have signed a statement to that effect.”
Tatum said the department brought down two trees before work was stopped last week, but had plans to replace every tree they removed with a different species that is immune to anthracnose, the disease that the LADWP said was plaguing the sycamores.