Crews on to leveling ground where old growth trees in Arcadia stood

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Matt Sayles/AP Photo

Protestor Camron Stone speaks during a candlelight vigil on Jan. 12, 2011 in support of tree-sitters who are attempting to keep oak trees from being felled in Arcadia.

LA County public works crews will be out for the next couple of weeks leveling the ground where a grove of about 250 old growth trees used to stand. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad reports on the controversy over the site in the San Gabriel mountain foothills in Arcadia.

After growing for more than 100 years, the trees came down in a day. Standing in the grove of fallen branches and uprooted stumps, Mike Kaspar explains what’s next.

“Basically the trees have been taken down. They are going to mulch them and use them for re- vegetation of the lower section of the sediment site," says Kaspar, spokesman for LA County's Department of Public Works.

So the old trees are going to be wood-chipped and used to help plant new trees. The land where they stood will be used as a dump for tons of debris caught in debris basins and the Santa Anita dam.

“We’re now under a state mandate so we’re taking that sediment out as part of a multi year plan," says Kaspar.

Most everyone agrees keeping the debris basins clear is vital for flood control. Ingrid Price lives nearby in the hilly Arcadia neighborhood, and speaking in her back yard she says she’s not a tree hugger.

“We’re not interested in stopping them from cleaning out the debris basin. But it doesn’t make sense. Because there are so many options that wouldn’t be tearing down woodlands," says Price. "These are native oaks and sycamores that have been growing for a hundred years. And one of the few native areas left, that are still pristine."

Not everybody in the neighborhood agrees.

“People come before trees," says Jon Matheny, who's lived here for nearly 40 years. He says the grove of old trees was too out of the way to make a difference.

“I know that’s going to kill the environmentalists. But people are here on earth first and then all the rest has to take its place," he says. "And these trees did nothing for anybody. Nobody could see it. It wasn’t a place to go ponder your life or whatever. And so it wasn’t doing anybody any good one way or another.“

Still Price and others wonder why authorities could have picked an alternate site instead of taking down the trees for the sediment heap.

“I just feel they didn’t do a good job of letting there be enough dialogue. About what to do and what could be an alternative to tearing down all those trees," says Price.

Public works officials say LA County bought the land decades ago with plans to use it for sediment and they say even more debris has piled up in the basins since the recent Station Fire, creating a greater urgency to clear them.

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