City Orders Chatsworth Businessman to Chop Down a Mighty Oak

The ancient tree on Owensmouth Avenue at Devonshire Street was in danger of falling.

Woodman, spare that tree!   

    Touch not a single bough!

In youth it sheltered me,   

    And I ’ll protect it now.

’T was my forefather’s hand        

    That placed it near his cot;

There, woodman, let it stand,

    Thy axe shall harm it not.

-- George Pope Morris


But, alas, at the order of the city, this mighty oak which stood sentinel for perhaps more than two centuries in the center of Chatsworth was ordered cut down and carted away as firewood and refuse. The deed was done for $450.

“I am sick about the loss of the tree. That tree was probably at least a couple of hundred years old...,” Linda van der Valk, co-president of the Chatsworth Historical Society, told Patch in an e-mail Tuesday.

Through the years, businesses and buildings came and went under the shade of its boughs. “The Legion Hall was built around the tree, as was a Union and now the auto body shop. I wonder if there wasn't something else (that) could have been done other than cutting down the tree,” van der Valk said.

But the grandfather tree turned out to be rotted and in danger of falling.

“I think the tree was 400 years old. It’d been here a long time,” said tree owner Mel Shanoian who has operated Chatsworth Auto Repair for the past 35 years.

A once mighty limb of his tree beside his shop at the southeast corner of Owensmouth Avenue just south of Devonshire Street posed a potential threat to parked cars and pedestrians.

Back in February, a single concerned citizen reported the danger posed by a massive limb which reached about 50 feet toward the sun and arched over the sidewalk.

The city took action.

Inspectors showed up along with a tree arborist who finally determined the tree and its limb were hollow and rotting and it needed to be cut down.

But, Shanoian said he wasn’t emotionally attached to the tree.

He never picnicked under it, hung holiday decorations from its limbs or took family photographs in its shade.

The oak, which measured about 10-feet in diameter, was cut down on Nov. 10 by a professional arborist at a cost of $450, he said.

His brother took some of the tree for firewood. The remainder was hauled off.

“I was worried about (it) during high winds. It was a nice tree, and we miss (looking at) it,” Shanoian said. “If it had to go, it had to go. It was something we had to take care of. The tree (and limb) was hollow inside. I didn’t park cars near it.”

The City of Los Angeles, according to the Tree People’s website, has an Oak Tree Ordinance that protects almost all oaks.

It is illegal to remove or fatally harm any protected oaks measuring at least 4 inches in diameter that are 54 inches above ground level. L.A. County officials are also considering tougher native tree regulations.

City officials issued Shanoian a permit to have the tree removed without having to pay a fee. They also declared he didn’t need to replace the oak as is usually required.

In the city of Los Angeles, damaging a native tree is forbidden. But, ordinance exemptions include removal of trees in danger of falling and the requirement to replace each lost tree with two native trees.

“Often times … there are permit fees required by law to remove (an oak), whether it be on public or private property. Urban Forestry waved those charges and the property owner is responsible to pay for the removal of their tree, since it is within their property,” said Erik Richardson, a field deputy for Councilman Mitch Englander, in an email to Patch.

“In this situation the tree itself stretched out over onto the public right away and posed a danger to both the people in the area and the vehicles. L.A. Municipal code has standards regarding any tree, fence, plant, etc. that extends from private property into the public right of way,” he said.

Erickson said low-hanging branches blocked the sidewalk and created an unsafe walking area. Those branches were then trimmed; however, Urban Forestry was called out by the city inspectors because the tree appeared to be unhealthy.

“(City officials) inspected the tree and found that it had a fully rotted out center and has a type of fungus known for killing oak trees,” Erickson said.  “The letter sent to the business owner was to notify them that they are to remove the tree. This is due to the rot that has occurred on the main trunk of the tree. Urban Forestry fears that with the high winds and wet weather to come in the next few months that this large overhanging branch will not be able to survive the winter. Since this is a frequently used walkway and road they are anxious to get the project taken care of as quickly as possible.”

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cat c November 21, 2012 at 03:15 PM
this is heartbreaking,these people in charge have no idea how to design anything....those polyester suits must have soaked into their brains...I see that Chatsworth is becoming another suburban wart instead of its awesome rural paradise.
Mary Kaufman November 24, 2012 at 02:42 AM
The tree was a gorgeous, magnificent living entity!. It's criminal that it was cut down.


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