HomeCity NewsCouple Clashes With Burbank Over Tree Removal

Couple Clashes With Burbank Over Tree Removal

A couple living on Niagara Street faced off with police and city contractors on Thursday in defense of an Aleppo pine tree near their home, which the city had slated to cut down along with 37 other trees in the area.

Dyane and James MacKinnon have battled with the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department at City Hall and in court, starting last summer when the city served a letter to residents alerting them to the removal of 121 Aleppo pines on Niagara Street.

The city says the trees have been deemed “an imminent risk of failure” by the city and outside arboriculture experts, but the MacKinnons say that the emergency removal of the trees was a legal stopgap to push along the city’s reforestation project.

“I’ve lost all faith in our political systems,” Dyane MacKinnon told the Leader. “What is the point of Gavin Newsom and Laura Friedman and all of the people who claim to care about the environment when they do nothing when the city violates the law?”

Upon receiving the notice that the tree was scheduled to come down, Dyane MacKinnon announced on social media that she would be chaining herself to it to prevent its removal. But her plans were dashed when she was met with opposition from police who told her and her husband that if they were inside the city contractor’s perimeter during the removal, they would be arrested.

At least seven police officers were present as the first tree fell.

The MacKinnons filed an injunction in court earlier this year, temporarily halting the city from removing trees in their neighborhood while it undertakes environmental review of a long-term solution. They had hoped that the city could remove some of the unhealthy trees, while systematically replacing what they said are healthy Aleppo pines over the coming decades. They also raised concerns about active wildlife and nests in the trees.

One such nest was clearly exposed after contractors chopped the first limb from the tree in front of the MacKinnon home.

During a heavy windstorm in March, an Aleppo pine tree on the 1400 block of Niagara Street fell onto an occupied home causing damage, which led Burbank to seek an emergency exemption from Judge Joel Loften of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Loften agreed with the city that an emergency exemption was needed and allowed for the removal of 38 additional Aleppo pines in Burbank to “protect the public health and safety and/or property,” said Jonathan Jones, a spokesman for the city.

As tree-trimming contractors went to work Thursday, the MacKinnons clutched one another in tears as chainsaws carved into the pine.

“I now understand why the American people are so disillusioned with their government, because their government doesn’t care about them,” said Dyane MacKinnon. “When you call the state because your city isn’t following the laws, they don’t care, so of course the people don’t care.”

The basis of the MacKinnons’ case is that the city neglected to conduct the required environmental assessments prior to the removal of the city-owned trees. She claims that the city greenlit the emergency removal as a way to bypass that requirement.

Driving along Verdugo Boulevard, the soaring cluster of pines can be spotted from blocks away on North Niagara. In decades past, the trees were so lush, their canopy formed a tunnel, providing shade during hot summer days, said Cheryl Bomar, who has lived in the neighborhood for 55 years.

Now, some of the trees are slumped over and some are rotting from the inside out, city officials said. Strong winds and winter storms have downed several of the pines in recent years.

Residents of the street say it is the result of decades of neglect by the city.

“The city has completely destroyed them by neglecting them for years. They come out and just chop limbs off. We are suffering the consequences of the city not doing their job,” said Bomar, who added that losing the trees would impact the value of homes on Niagara.

Bomar also expressed concern that the loss of shade would raise temperatures in the homes, leading people to rely more on air conditioning and higher electricity bills.

Jones, meanwhile, said that Burbank is committed to responsibly managing the city’s 33,000 trees.

“Each tree that is removed will be replaced with a 48-gallon tree that is both more robust and better suited to their parkway environment, benefiting the community in numerous ways, from cleaner air to noise reduction,” he said.

The city is undertaking an environmental review of a broader Aleppo pine tree removal and replacement project, while it continues to work separately on a citywide reforestation plan, “to ensure the sustainability, health and beauty of its urban forest,” Jones said.

“It’s sad to see a beautiful live tree cut down for the city’s maintenance mistakes,” said James MacKinnon, who told the Leader he bought his home because of the tree-lined street. “In theory, I’m upset because the removal of this tree reduces the value of my home, but really, I’m just sad for my wife who fought so hard for what is right, and I’m sad the city has dealt with this so poorly and vindictively. I’m disgusted. And my tax dollars paid for it.”

First published in the April 27 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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