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Fate of heritage oaks awaits autumn

Specialist will determine if trees can be moved

Posted: July 4, 2008 12:46 a.m.
Updated: September 4, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Bill Ratazzi, regional president of John Lang Homes, watches the path 'Old Glory' takes down Pico Canyon Road to its new home 1/4 of a mile away from the tree's original resting spot.

 

Thirteen big old oak trees will have the summer to do what big old oak trees do.

In the fall, however, developers of a senior citizen community planned for the west side of Santa Clarita are expected to work with a tree specialist to decide what’s best for the environmentally protected heritage oaks.

Some of the trees, perhaps all, may be dug up and planted somewhere else on or near the Lyons Canyon Ranch project, a spokesman for the developer told The Signal Thursday.

“At the end of the day, to move any of the trees is very expensive,” said Jasch Janowicz, director of planning for The Daly Group, consultants hired by the project’s developer, D. R. Horton. “So you want to make sure that the tree is healthy enough to move.”

A tree specialist is expected to make that health assessment in the fall after the development project is approved as expected.

The 13 oak trees have seen a lot of history. Based on their circumference, some are believed to be older than America itself. The property was also the filming location for the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV series. 

It’s the history that has unfolded over the last couple of years, however, that will determine their fate.

In 2006, Horton’s Western Pacific Housing, Inc., submitted a proposal to the county’s Regional Planning Commission calling for 93 single-family lots and 93 condos, all intended for seniors, on 234 acres, next door to the Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon, on The Old Road.

The proposal seeks permission to rip out 162 smaller oak trees, transplant the 13 big oaks and gain permission from the county to encroach on another 52 oaks, six of which are also classified as heritage oaks.

“At the end of the day, we will have planted about 1,238 new trees,” Janowicz said, which is almost three times the number of replacement trees expected by the county — two oaks for every oak taken out of the ground, 10 oaks for each heritage oak removed.

“We would try to use them as monument trees,” Janowicz said about keeping heritage oaks where they are. “We would try to use them in our landscaping, in our (planned) open space and in prominent recreational areas (parks).

“A specialist will come in, assess the trees, and determine if it’s viable to transplant them,” said Janowicz, explaining the plan to determine whether or not the trees are healthy enough to withstand being pulled out of the ground and planted somewhere else on or near the project property.

Are they healthy?

Neither the county nor the developer made any indication in discussions with The Signal Thursday that any of the heritage trees — some more than 200 years old — are unhealthy.

Cynthia Neal-Harris, vice president of the Santa Clarita Oak Conservancy, said the health of the trees should have been assessed when the Environmental Impact Report was prepared.

“They should have had that health assessment done at the time of the EIR,” she said. “The best tree is one left in place.”

An arborist working for the developer has already assessed the heritage oaks and added his findings to the Environmental Impact Report.

The county’s own tree expert has in turn assessed those findings and the trees themselves, said Susie Tae, the planning department’s Supervising Regional Planner for the Land Divisions Section.

“Our forestry department has someone go out and do an on-the-ground inspection, and actually look at the trees,” Tae explained.

The planning department will hold another public hearing on July 30, after which time the project will be approved and sent to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for review of a zoning change requested by the developer.

The Lyons Canyon Ranch project calls for more than nine acres to be re-zoned from heavy agricultural use to “unlimited commercial” use.

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