HomeCity NewsLegal Resolution Sprouts in Burbank Tree Feud

Legal Resolution Sprouts in Burbank Tree Feud

The city announced Tuesday that Judge Joel Loften of the Los Angeles County Superior Court lifted a temporary restraining order, allowing for the emergency removal of seven Aleppo pine trees on North Niagara Street, and one stone pine tree on East Santa Anita Avenue.

Driving along Verdugo Boulevard, a soaring canopy of pines can be spotted from blocks away on North Niagara, well before the houses on the residential strip come into view.

Those trees, 121 Aleppo pines, became the source of a legal feud between the city and area residents after the city scheduled 58 pines to be removed in one fell swoop last summer, and the rest would follow. The news summoned the indignation of dozens of Niagara Street residents and more than 3,800 petition signers who expressed opposition to the trees’ removal.

The city claimed the pines had reached the end of their natural life cycle and said that allowing them to remain could pose dangers to residents and their homes.

“The city’s experts have deemed [the trees] dangerous, including those at risk of imminent failure,” officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Residents pushed back, criticizing the city’s communication, and claiming that many of the trees were still healthy, going as far as to hire two of their own expert arborists. They asked for incremental removal of only problem trees, and wanted further discussion between residents and the city to decide how reforestation efforts would be managed on the street in the future.

“I was pretty upset. Those trees are a big reason a lot of people have either bought homes on the street or have lived here for as long as they have,” said one Niagara Street resident, Dyane MacKinnon. “To add to that, the removal of this many trees at once would devastate the environment and displace the local wildlife population.”

Residents clashed with Parks and Recreation forestry staff at a City Council meeting in June, and again at an informal meeting at the Burbank Public Library that saw the police called, though no arrests were made, according to video recording of the meeting.

Following the June meeting, the Council informally directed the Parks Department to listen to Niagara Street residents and come to a solution that both parties could agree on.

But MacKinnon says that communication has been difficult with the department.

“They could sit down and talk to us and come up with something, they’re just choosing not to,” she told the Leader.

That’s when MacKinnon and other residents, who call themselves the “Guardians of the Pines,” decided to take legal action, petitioning the court to halt the city’s efforts to remove any of the 121 Aleppo Pines along the street. Their claim contends the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to conduct a “preliminary review” as required by state environmental authorities.

“The imminent removal of healthy, mature trees cannot be reversed, and the resulting harm would be irreparable. The petitioner and its members will be irreparably harmed by the city’s actions,” the complaint states.

Recently, the judge granted the group an injunction, temporarily halting the city from removing the trees while it undertakes environmental review of a long-term solution.

“There’s a huge benefit for the whole public,” said Jamie Hall, the attorney representing Guardians of the Pines. “Not only is there going to be an environmental review of the trees, which hopefully will affect the outcome, but maybe the city will decide to replace them in a phased approach over many years. Or maybe they’ll change the tree species. There are all sorts of things they could do.”

Mostly though, the judge would like to see amicable mediation between the two parties and doesn’t want to see the case go to court, Hall told the Leader.

The city maintains that the trees are dangerous to those living nearby. One Aleppo pine fell on MacKinnon’s truck during the 2023 winter storms, though nobody was injured.

A cluster of pine trees on North Niagara Street were scheduled to be removed before local activist group Guardians of the Pines filed a petition against the city to halt the removal. – Photo by Gavin J. Quinton / Burbank Leader

“The city’s experts have deemed [the trees] dangerous, including those at risk of imminent failure,” the city stated Tuesday.

Hall’s case relies on declarations from two experts who testified on the risk posed by the removal of the pine trees, stating that such a move “would have a significant effect on the environment,” Hall stated.

Tuesday, the court granted the city an emergency measure allowing the Forestry Department to act urgently on eight specific trees which were in imminent danger of falling.

“All eight trees have been carefully studied and deemed an imminent risk of failure by the city as well as outside arboriculture experts. The eight trees will be removed immediately to protect the public health and safety and/or property,” stated city officials, adding that each pine that is removed will be replaced.

“The new trees will not only be more robust but will also be better suited for their environment, benefiting the community in numerous ways, from cleaner air to noise reduction. The city continues to work separately on a longer-term reforestation plan for the entire city to ensure the sustainability, health, and beauty of its urban forest,” officials said.

First published in the February 24 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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