4 tree sitters arrested in Arcadia

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Nick Ut/AP

Protesters, left to right, Jennifer MacDonald, Kim Kelley, Laurie Gould and David Czamanske demonstrate on Jan. 12, 2011 in Arcadia to save 11 acres of old oaks and sycamore trees that Los Angeles County officials say must be cleared away so that sediment dredged from behind a dam can be dumped there.

This morning, it’s mostly stumps and roots where about 250 old oak and sycamore trees stood yesterday in Arcadia. There was a stand-off between public works crews and activists, some of whom climbed the trees to keep them from getting chopped down. One of four tree sitters arrested for trespassing last night was environmental activist John Quigley.

From high in the branches, Quigley spoke with reporters via cell phone to denounce the sawing, buzzing and clanking intended to clear the trees around him.

L.A. County public works officials are cutting down about 250 trees in an 11-acre site in the San Gabriel foothills. They are clearing the area to make room for a repository for muck from debris basins and the Santa Anita Dam.

State water officials requested the clearing for flood control and water conservation. Environmental activists urged them to come up with an alternative. After a month-long delay, the plan to clear the stand of trees is moving forward.

Quigley called that decision "a sad day for Southern California."

More from the Associated Press:

A daylong standoff between a handful of tree sitters and public works crews has ended with the removal and arrest of the activists, who were trying to prevent bulldozers from clearing scores of trees as part of a dam improvement project.

Two men, including veteran tree sitter John Quigley, and two women were escorted out of the trees Wednesday night and taken into custody, Los Angeles County sheriff's Lt. Julio Salcido said. They were booked on suspicion of delaying a peace officer and trespassing, he said.

Earlier Wednesday, with the sounds of bulldozers echoing beneath him, Quigley perched in a century-old oak.

"They're destroying trees all around us," Quigley said by cell phone as the sound of bulldozers below him could be heard. "It's a sad scene and definitely something that didn't need to happen."

Public works officials say the 11 acres of trees, some of them more than 100 years old, must go to ensure the integrity of a nearby dam that provides most of the drinking water to the Los Angeles suburbs of Arcadia and Sierra Madre. By nightfall, authorities said most of the trees had been removed.

As darkness fell about two dozen protesters and curious onlookers including actress Darryl Hannah gathered at a gate leading to a stand of trees being felled.

"I came out just to support the community that is trying to put out some common sense and not cut down a paradise for a rubble pit," Hannah said.

The actress said she learned of the protest from Quigley, who she has known since she took part in a tree-sitting protest to try to save an urban garden in a warehouse district near downtown Los Angeles that was plowed under in 2006.

Hannah, like other environmental activists, said the sediment from the Dam could be placed elsewhere, including a huge gravel pit about 10 miles away.

Later Wednesday about three dozen people held a candlelight vigil with a moment of silence to express their dismay over the removal of the trees.

"We should send some thoughts out to the guys in the trees and the girls in the trees," Hannah said as the silence ended.

Los Angeles County Public Works spokesman Bob Spencer said the tree removal project has been in the works for three years and the county has approval from federal and state agencies. He said it must done for the Santa Anita Dam, which was built in 1927, to meet seismic safety standards.

Over the years, Spencer said, sediment has built up behind the dam, limiting its water capacity and compromising its safety in the event of an earthquake or other catastrophe.

Clearing the 11 acres of oaks and sycamores will create a placement area the sediment can be channeled to.

Spencer said the dam provides 75 percent of the drinking water used in Arcadia, a city of about 56,000 people, and all of the drinking water for Sierra Madre, where about 10,000 people live.

The grove occupies a flatland below the steep slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, about 20 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. It is near a residential neighborhood and a small wilderness park in an area popular with weekend hikers and bicyclists.

The clearing operation began after extensive efforts by opponents to stop it. In December, county officials ordered a 30-day moratorium, which ended last week.

Czamanske and Quigley agree the sediment removal project must go forward, but they say the county should have picked a better place.

"It really is a tragedy that they had to go to this beautiful habitat to dump a pile of mud," Quigley said. "There were plenty of good alternatives."

In 2003, Quigley spent 71 days in an oak tree known as Old Glory that was to be bulldozed to widen a street in Santa Clarita, another Los Angeles suburb. Authorities finally removed him from the tree, and it was saved and replanted elsewhere.

© 2011 The Associated Press.

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