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At 7 a.m. on Saturday, June 12 county parks workers began using chainsaws to cut down two heritage oaks that were supposed to be preserved.
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July 31, 2006 an architect assures the community in an early showing of the library plan that these trees are to be preserved.
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The 300-year-old heritage oak looms over the library groundbreaking ceremony during the Chumash prayer blessing the site.
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April 3, 2010, the heritage oak standing in the construction site.
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Members of the community protested, pled with the workers, asked for permits, pointed out the nesting birds, and then stood in a vigil, as if at a funeral, witnessing the destruction of the oaks.
Frazier Park residents sound off about the surprise removal of two old oak trees at the library construction site. [from the June 11 edition breaking news story, video by The Mountain Enterprise]
Read the full arborists report about the library oaks here.
By Patric Hedlund
It was the chainsaws that woke Frazier Park architect Max Williams June 12. For a moment he was confused. It was Saturday, 7 a.m., not a usual time for construction down at the Kern County Branch Library building site below his home.
By the end of the day, this would become known in the Mountain Communities as a moment that defined why many came to live here, what we value and what we want to preserve here. It also defined, to Williams and many other residents, the disconnect residents of the Mountain Communities often feel from the bureaucrats and politicians in urban Bakersfield.
Williams threw on his clothes, found a gap in the construction fence, and ran to stand in front of a giant heritage oak that was being cut down by a county worker hoisted with a crane.
Here is what transpired in Williams own words, based on an interview with him later that same day:
“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. But Weber says she was there as a friend, not as not as a member of the MAC.–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 government. Our MAC is a joke.
“I work on projects of all sizes and scales. I am not anti-development. 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—Editor]. 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 citizens’ school bond oversight committee. 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.”
Though no Kern County personnel were available to talk to the community on the weekend, by Monday this letter was prepared and sent, and a special meeting was called. The county personnel responsible were asked to attend. Here’s the letter.
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,
County Administrative Office
Next Week: The Meeting, and What Happens Next
Note to Our Readers:
Yes, as you might guess, there are more, many more letters to the editor on the subject, of the heritage oak trees. Your letters are filled with insight and information. Watch for The New Mountain Pioneer for July, which will have all your letters and examine the subject in depth. —Patric Hedlund, Editor
This is part of the June 18, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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