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Padres Trail oak to be preserved

The La Cañada Flintridge City Council voted 5 to 0 Monday to uphold an appeal and preserve a heritage oak at 1240 Padres Trail that had been scheduled for removal.

The tree was one of five identified for extraction by the city's contracted arborist firm, West Coast Arborists, and the Public Works Department because of safety concerns, said Gonzalo Venegas, superintendent of facilities and maintenance.

Rebecca Mejia, of West Coast Arborists, stated in an April report that the tree's co-dominant, or split trunk, could cause it to fail. The two trunks were exerting increasing pressure on each other, she noted, and the city would be liable for any damage or injuries.

"It needs to be understood that even cabled and braced trees fail," Mejia said. "While the use of support systems has been prevalent throughout arboriculture for many years, it is no longer universally accepted as a reasonable practice or a long-term preventive measure."

Robert May, the city's risk consultant for the Joint Powers Insurance Authority, said Monday that he regularly sees tree-related claims, and that the oak was a serious liability.

Calls to remove the tree, however, were countered by a half-dozen arborists who argued that it warranted a stay of execution. Craig Crotty, who was hired by the city to give a second expert opinion, said the aesthetic quality of the 50-foot oak warranted the extra effort it would take to save it.

"I think it could go another decade if it were bolted and cabled properly," Crotty said. "I say 'properly' because it was cabled once before and it wasn't done properly."

Removing the tree, would be a "wasteful, impatient, knee-jerk reaction," said arborist Gary Knowlton.

"You think about La Cañada, what is the first thing that comes to mind?" Knowlton said. "We look at your logo, what do you have? We have the gracefully arching trunk of an oak. The keystone species of this area. This is the native tree of this area."

Knowlton said he would conduct annual inspections of the oak free of charge, an offer that garnered applause from the audience. Other arborists said they would be comfortable parking under the subject oak, or even sleeping under it. And Bill Falkenhainer, the appellant and owner of the property behind the tree, said it would be a "travesty" to remove it.

"We are a city of trees, and yet I have the feeling that this idea of possible liability is overwhelming everyone," Falkenhainer said.

Councilman Steve Del Guercio noted that while the oak does pose risks, bolting and cabling the tree would give him a high level of comfort make him confident that it would not fail. Eventually the tree will come down, said Mayor Pro Tem Greg Brown, but there is a clear remedy that will extend its life.

"I think this is a situation where this tree is significant to that area of the city; it is significant to you, Mr. Falkenhainer, and your neighbors," Brown said. "And while it has some problems, those problems can clearly be dealt with."

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