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Neighbors fear tree removal may lead to loss of 'forest feel'

Property owner wants to remove 20 of 23 trees to expand 1956 home.

April 03, 2014|By Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com
  • According to neighbors, the trees on this property on La Forest Dr. just south of Los Amigos will be cut down by the property owner, in La Cañada Flintridge on Wednesday, April 2, 2014.
According to neighbors, the trees on this property on… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

For years, La Cañada has worn the mantle of "Tree City USA," a title bestowed by the national Arbor Day Foundation upon communities that support tree preservation, in part, by maintaining a comprehensive tree ordinance.

The city recently revised its tree ordinance after 12 years to simplify rules protecting certain species and to codify language on preservation, removal and maintenance. At the time, City Council had the opportunity to consider also protecting "heritage trees," or nonprotected species with a diameter of at least 36 inches, but declined.

Now, a month after the revision, some residents living on La Forest Drive are concerned with what they believe is an ordinance that's too permissive and is allowing a local developer to legally remove several 100-foot-tall pines on a neighboring lot.

"The whole thing is going to be clear cut, basically," said neighbor Lorrie Buchanan Alves. "If he wants to take out every piece of vegetation and raze this thing flat, he can."

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Alves and neighbor Cameron Crosby, whose lots abut the property in question, have communicated with property owner Seung Choon "Mario" Lim through emails and two neighborhood meetings held by Lim in September and October to discuss renovation plans.

In the first meeting, Lim informed neighbors he wished to expand the 1956 home and remove some of the 23 trees on the overgrown lot.

Crosby said he supported the plan at the time but was angered when he discovered, in a second meeting one month later, Lim planned to remove 20 trees — including several tall pines Crosby felt crucial to the character of the street.

"These trees are part of a canopy," Crosby said Tuesday. "This is just about the community's desire to maintain the forest feel we have."

Harriet Harris, an assistant planner who worked on the tree ordinance revision, said any tree that is non-native and therefore unprotected can be removed without a permit, regardless of its age or size.

When the ordinance was being presented for approval, she added, City Council was not in favor of protecting heritage trees.

"The Council didn't want it," Harris said. "I think they thought that, when we're trying to simplify things, that flew in the face of simplicity."

Santa Monica attorney Alan Kaplan, who represents Lim and has spoken on his behalf at Planning Commission meetings, said his client's house is the only one on the street that is totally overgrown with trees.

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