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Frazier Park residents felt blindsided as Kern County approved what appeared to be a surprise action to kill two old oak trees at the library construction site on Saturday morning. Max Williams said the trees would likely be gone by the end of the day. [photo by Gary Meyer of The Mountain Enterprise]
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Kern County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Moretti and Mountain Communities Municipal Avisory Council (MCMAC) member Anne Weber (appointed by Supervisor Ray Watson) appeared to be chatting while the oaks were being killed. Mountain residents Michelle Nosco and Lynn Stafford sought to inform the deputy that it was possible a state and federal crime was being committed and tried to find a way to get the cutting stopped. No county officials answered their phones on Saturday morning and the destruction continued. Weber called Monday to emphasize that she was at the site as a private individual, not on behalf of the MCMAC. She said Watson aide Christy Fitzgerald told her the two oaks were diseased (see update IV and V, left, for more detail of the arborist's report). [photo by Gary Meyer of The Mountain Enterprise]
Frazier Park residents sound off about the surprise removal of two old oak trees at the library construction site. [video by The Mountain Enterprise] More Video available at the September 24,2010 issue of this online newspaper. See hotlink at top of this story, at left.
NOTE TO OUR READERS: See the historical first real-time reports of the killing of the heritage oak trees at the Frazier Park branch library site on the early morning of Saturday, June 12, 2010 below, starting at the bottom of this page. This page reflects the first three days of community response and Kern County statements. [For updates, see here.]
UPDATE VII: FRAZIER PARK (Tuesday, June 15, 4:57 p.m.)—There will be a meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in the Frazier Mountain Park Community Center regarding the unannounced removal of two heritage oak trees that the community was told were to be preserved at the Frazier Park Branch Library building site. [UPDATE: See video from that meeting here]
To see the reports about the public concern about the removal of the trees, which began at 7 a.m. Saturday, June 12, please scroll from the bottom of this series of reports and updates.
Most recently, the county at 4:57 p.m. replied to our request for a copy of the arborist’s report regarding the trees. You can see it by clicking here.
County personnel including Mark Russell, manager of Kern County’s Construction Services Division will attend the Mountain Communities Municipal Advisory Council meeting at 7 p.m. to discuss the community concern. After that, the MCMAC agenda will take up proposals that the Board of Supervisors be asked to reverse their 5-0 vote to certify Frazier Park Estates, according to members of the council.
UPDATE VI: FRAZIER PARK (Monday, June 14, 6 p.m.)—This letter has been received from Kern County as an explanation of what took place behind the scenes that resulted in the Saturday, June 12 removal of two heritage oaks from the new Frazier Park Branch Library building site. As noted in our 2:15 p.m. update today, there was no advance explanation to the community. The oaks were among those that were to be preserved. This is printed as it was received:
June 14, 2010
On Saturday, June 12 Kern County removed two deteriorating oak trees from the Frazier Park Library site. The effort to preserve as many trees as possible on the site has always been the goal of the county and the decision to remove the trees was not done capriciously or without thoughtful consideration of the facts surrounding the condition of these two trees and their location on the site. In June of 2002 a seismic fault line study identified a “50’ wide tear fault zone associated with the Frazier Mountain Thrust Fault Zone System” across the eastern portion of the library site. Follow up studies were completed in June 2006 and a final update was prepared as late as May of 2009 in order to define all safety risks related to building the library at this site. The library structure was ultimately located at the western portion of the site to mitigate potential seismic risks and the state ultimately agreed and approved construction to proceed. The remaining site area set aside for parking and landscaping had nine large trees located in the Soils Engineer’s recommended seismic setback zone. The county was particularly concerned about the condition of four trees in this zone. To confirm the condition of the trees, an independent Arborist study was commissioned and received in May 2010 which indicated two of the four trees were recommended for removal. Seven of the trees in this seismic tear zone would be saved. In cutting down these two trees, their diseased and deteriorating condition was confirmed and the risk they represented to the future patrons of the library was mitigated.
In 2004, California amended Chapter 732 of the Public Resources Code to add Section 21083.4 relating to oak woodlands conservation. This enacted legislation contains the following provision to “plant an appropriate number of trees, including plantings and replacing dead or diseased trees”. The new trees must be maintained at least seven years to insure healthy growth and development.
On April 12, 2010 a meeting at the site, and follow-up correspondence with the design architects and landscape architect, confirmed the county’s intent to replace these two deteriorating trees with 48” Quercus Douglasii oak trees indigenous to the area and 60” box trees if available. This effort will conform to the intent of Public Resource Code Section 21083.4.
On Saturday, at least one woodpecker was observed in the area and evidence of acorn storage in the exterior bark of the trees led to having county staff, and the tree crews, visually inspect for any evidence of nests or jeopardized birds throughout the entire cutting process and none were found.
The county will preserve the health of the remaining and new oak trees while providing the best possible public safety assurances for the library patrons. It is hoped that this commentary regarding our actions over the past eight years explains how measured the county’s response to the deteriorating physical condition of these two trees has been.
Mark Russell, AIA
Manager, Construction Services Division
General Services, Kern County Administrative Office
UPDATE V: FRAZIER PARK (Monday, June 14, 2:15 p.m.)—The Mountain Enterprise has contacted Director of Kern County Libraries, Diane Duquette, asking about the removal of the oak trees. Duquette has been out of the office and away from her home in the Mountain Communities on a family medical issue. In a telephone interview today, she provided background to our reporter, but also said she had recommended that a press release be sent out to the newspaper before the work began, "because this would be a politically sensitive issue." The Mountain Enterprise cannot locate any email, fax or phone message from Kern County in regard to plans to cut down the trees. We have no evidence that an effort was made to inform the community in advance.
Duquette said she had found out about the plan to remove the trees, "by accident, from the architect" about midweek, last week. She said she was told there was an arborist’s report indicating that one of the trees was diseased and that another one had sustained root damage during the contruction process. She said General Services was in charge of the operation and that the Kern County Parks Department implemented the order.
Duquette said she had recommended getting a second opinion from a local arborist. She said they decided not to do that. "I am surprised that they did this so quickly; I had no idea," she said. She confirmed that the newspaper had been informed earlier that the size of the library had been reduced to not encroach upon the heritage oaks."That is true, the intent from the very beginning was to preserve these trees," Duquette said. When told about the outpouring of community concern about the removal of the trees, she said, "I can imagine. It must feel like a rape."
We contacted the Kern County General Services office shortly after that conversation. The Mountain Enterprise was informed that a letter is being prepared by the office and that it would be sent to us momentarily.
We will add updated information as it becomes available.
UPDATE IV: FRAZIER PARK (Monday, June 14, 12:14 p.m.)—A special meeting of the Mountain Communities Municipal Advisory Council (MCMAC) has been called by Chair Steve Newman for Tuesday, June 15 at 7 p.m. to focus on the issue of the removal of the heritage oak trees at the Kern County Branch Library site on Saturday, June 12. See the agenda . The public is invited to attend. Following that meeting, the issue of Frazier Park Estates will be raised on the agenda.
Newman wrote Monday, June 14 at 11:57 a.m. that "I have called a special meeting to discuss the issue of the oak tree cutting. Please post this on your web pages. We will be looking at all the factual information we can get our hands on concerning this. The involved county personnel have been requested to attend this meeting."
Frazier Park architect Max Williams, who tried to stop the trees from being cut down and was threatened with arrest by the Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy if he did not move away from the tree immediately, is looking into the next step. He wrote yesterday, "It is also imperative that we pressure the county to instruct the library contractor to take immediate action to protect the oak trees that are located within their staging yard. It needs to be made clear to them that they will be liable for any damage that is caused by their construction operations. It appears that they are using the shelter provided by the trees to protect their stockpiles; however storage of construction materials inside of the trees’ drip lines could be detrimental to [the trees’] health. It also does not appear that they have made any effort to protect the trunks from damage."
Anne Weber (MCMAC member and Director of the Mountain Communies Family Resource Center) called to emphasize that she was at the site Saturday as an individual responding to a call from her friend Max Williams. She said she had been able to contact Watson’s aide Christy Fitzgerald for an explanation as the trees were being cut down. She did not ask that the process be stopped to provide information to the public. She did speculate that the work was perhaps being done on the weekend to avoid impeding progress with the library construction project during the following week.
UPDATE III: FRAZIER PARK (Sunday, June 13, 2010, 11 p.m.)—An hour after the events related by Max Wiliams, Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Moretti and Anne Weber (member of the Mountain Communities Municipal Advisory Council—MCMAC—appointed by Supervisor Ray Watson), appeared to be chatting while the oaks were being killed.
"This makes me very sad. What I would give to have one of these in my back yard…. " Weber said [see update from Weber above–Editor]. Lockwood Valley resident Michelle Nosco (founder of Frazier Park’s Arts for Earth Foundation) and Lynn Stafford (a state-contracted ecologist who works to keep large-scale construction projects within legal environmental guidelines) both sought to inform the deputy that a state and federal crime was likely being committed and tried to find a way to get the cutting stopped. No county officials answered their phones on Saturday morning and the destruction continued.
By Sunday numerous Mountain Community citizens have placed calls and sent angry letters to The Mountain Enterprise about the alleged illegality of the construction crew’s actions. They are asking for a full explanation from the county. Several say they will demand that legal action be taken and "will do what is necessary to see that officials are held accountable."
UPDATE II: FRAZIER PARK (Saturday, June 12, 2010, 11:20 a.m.)—Please see earlier reports on the destruction of two 300-year-old trees in the center of Frazier Park, without a hearing and without notifying the community. No permit was displayed as requested by alarmed members of the public. Below is the statement of Frazier Park architect, Max Williams.
Max Williams: "I woke up this morning to the sound of chain saws. I can see the construction site from my yard. It was more than apparent that they were doing more than trimming the trees. It was about 7:30 a.m. I live above the park. I threw on my clothes and went down there and found a gap in the fence and stood under one of the trees. They stopped cutting and shut things down while I stood there. Ten minutes later the sheriff arrived. We talked about my options. I tried to make a call to see if I had enough money to post bail. The officer gave me two options: "Leave or go to jail. I asked ‘how much time do I have?’ He said ‘you have no time.’
"[My house] is within a 500-foot radius of this project. We received no mailings in regard to the library construction ever. We voiced a concern when they cut down the pine trees. We voiced concerns about the grading away of our street. We’ve been unhappy that the library turned its back to this side of the community. We have no pedestrian access at all. They will construct a six foot fence between us and the library. We have to walk around the entire block to get to the library that is across the street.
"I told them that [cutting these trees down] violates state and federal law. I asked for a permit from a man I believe was the park supervisor. He said they had a permit. I asked if we could see it. He said ‘no.’
"I talked to Anne Weber [on the Mountain Communities Municipal Advisory Council—MCMAC—appointed by Supervisor Ray Watson–Editor]. What I’m being told is that the director of parks made this determination a week ago and had an arborist come up to say these were diseased trees. They didn’t tell us. They didn’t want us to know that. Which is another reason for us to distrust our county government. The overall problem I have is the lack of communication. They are designing a parking lot for Bakersfield. They do not even need to pave that parking lot. I’m an architect, I do this for a living. They have been grading too close to the trees. They damaged them in the building process.
"I’m tired of this. All we want is to be treated honestly, they proceed to lie to us until it is too late to mitigate the damage. They do not want us to complain. They treat us like we are a country bumpkins. I have a six figure income. I’ve lived here 20 years. I am sick of this. This supervisor should be glad he is not running again. As we all know now we have zero representation to our county govenment. Our MAC is a joke.
"I work on projects of all sizes and scales. I am not antidevelopment. I work for a developer in the San Fernando Valley on a development right now. There is good development and bad development. It astounds me, the kind of thing I have seen with Arciero’s project [Fallingstar Homes ‘Frazier Park Estates’ planned to be built surrounding Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec]. I am usually on the other side of the table. I’m usually the guy who is trying to defend a project. It is baffling to me that there should be so little representation of our community.
"I mentor kids at the high school academy. I am chairman of the school bond oversight committeee. The problem is they know we are involved as a community, and that we are not stupid. They did not want to give us an opportunity to discuss this.
There is no urgent need to cut these trees down now. There is no one who is going to be standing under them. There was no reason for a hasty decision In terms of construction operation. Let us participate. They are afraid of us. They are afraid to hear our voice. it is absurd that they did not give us time to discuss this as a community."
"It is very disheartening. The trees are gone," said Max Williams. —Reported by Patric Hedlund
UPDATE: Frazier Park (Saturday, June 12, 2010, 9:20 a.m.)—Two of the massive oak trees that sheltered the site of the new Kern County Branch Library have been destroyed, according to reports by Pam Sturdevant and Linda Robredo, who were both on scene documenting the confrontation between members of the community and county workers.
Architect Max Williams said, "There is no reason for them to cut these down." Larry Swan, area park supervisor from the Kern County Parks Department told Sturdevant, "The trees were a hazard; what if a limb came down and hit a child?"
Frazier Park business owner Linda Robredo said, "They give us euphemisms and start at 7:00 on a Saturday morning while the community is still at rest. They call a sheriff’s deputy here ‘to protect our rights,’ which means keeping members of the community out so we can’t surround the trees to protect them while we at least have a chance to talk about this."
Sturdevant said Max Williams stood beside the tree in an early confrontation with the workers and was told that he would be arrested. The county parks supervisor at first refused to give his name to Sturdevant, who said she was from the newspaper and that she needed to report the situation. She was told she "had to get off of county property," she reports.
Sturdevant asked Swan if cutting the trees had been part of the original design. Swan said she would have to "talk to the county." As it is Saturday, this is not possible. Multiple calls to Library Director Diane Duquette have not been answered.
In earlier reports about the building of the library, The Mountain Enterprise has been repeatedly told that the footprint of the library had been reduced by a thousand square feet in order to make room for the beautiful old trees to remain.
"They were healthy trees," Sturdevant reported, "But there is nothing left. One of them is completely down, and they have used chain saws to cut all the green and limbs off of the other tree." —Reported by Patric Hedlund
Publisher Gary Meyer is at the scene. Video and photographs will be posted as soon as possible.
Frazier Park (Saturday, June 12, 2010, 8:30 a.m.)—The Kern County Sheriff’s dispatcher has confirmed that a deputy is at Frazier Mountain Park near the new Kern County Library Branch building site where people are said to be assembling. According to community reporters calling The Mountain Enterprise, there is fear among members of the community that a 300-year-old oak tree is about to be cut down by the library building crew.
"This wasn’t supposed to be cut down. We were told this tree was safe," a Frazier Park resident said in a telephone report. Two calls to Diane Duquette, director or Kern County Libraries, have not yet been answered. A photographer and reporter are en route and we will update this report as soon as additional information is available.—Reported by Patric Hedlund
This is part of the December 17, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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