Mountain Residents Tell County ‘We Want an Oak Ordinance’

  • Katherine King (above) and Linda Robredo, mountain residents, speak to Supvr. Ray Watson and Kern County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 14.

    Image 1 of 3
    Katherine King (above) and Linda Robredo, mountain residents, speak to Supvr. Ray Watson and Kern County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 14.

  • Katherine King and Linda Robredo (above), mountain residents, speak to Supvr. Ray Watson and Kern County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 14.

    Image 2 of 3
    Katherine King and Linda Robredo (above), mountain residents, speak to Supvr. Ray Watson and Kern County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 14.

  • Katherine King and Linda Robredo (prior photos), mountain residents, speak to Supvr. Ray Watson (above) and Kern County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 14.

    Image 3 of 3
    Katherine King and Linda Robredo (prior photos), mountain residents, speak to Supvr. Ray Watson (above) and Kern County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 14.

By Patric Hedlund

Independently of each other, Katherine King of Pine Mountain and Linda Robredo of Frazier Park showed up to speak with the Kern County Board of Supervisors (BOS) Tuesday, Sept. 14. Both spoke of the need for an oak tree ordinance in Kern County, reported to be among only four counties in the state without such protection.

King also asked the BOS to hold the contractor building the Frazier Park Branch Library financially responsible for the breach of contract that led to mutilation of the community’s heritage oak trees.

Robredo pointed out that old growth heritage oak trees add irreplaceable scenic value to our region. She said that only an ordinance will have the ability to responsibly guard these treasures from harm.

After they spoke, Supervisor Ray Watson said that the board "hadn’t heard from the community" about the desire for an oak tree ordinance. He suggested the Kern County General Services staff could respond to the taxpayers’ concerns about paying $70,000 to a contractor which they believe is in breach of contract.

Robredo pushed her case for an oak tree ordinance further at Spvr. Watson’s appointed Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) meeting Tuesday, Sept. 21, pointing out that the day marked "105 days of inaction." She and Richard Sheffield (of Veterans for Trees) said that the county had still not acted to follow an arborist’s urgent concerns that the other huge heritage oak still standing at the Frazier Park library site needs treatment for shock.

During the dry summer no attention has been paid to addressing the injuries the Valley oak sustained from being bulldozed by the contractor, without intervention by the county’s project supervisors. Members of the MAC appeared startled to hear from Watson’s aide Christie Fitzgerald that the Kern County General Services Department had that very day decided to give the tree no water or aid-without consulting an arborist for guidance.

"We have to do something ourselves," Anne Weber said, appearing to have the support of MAC chair Steve Newman.

This is the short version of Katherine King’s letter that was delivered to the Kern County Board of Supervisors in public testimony on September 14. See the video at www.Mountain along with clips from the June 15, 2010 public meeting on the oak tree destruction.

September 14, 2010
Dear Supervisors:

We are outraged taxpayers who live in Kern County, in the Frazier Mountain Communities. On June 14 we suffered the agonizing loss of two heritage oaks-one 400 years old, older than the United States-through the negligence of a contractor. Now we have lost tens of thousands of tax dollars through the negligence of the Board of Supervisors.

Three weeks ago you voted unanimously to approve consent agenda item CA-20. That item was a change order to pay a construction company $103,000. $70,000 of that payment-about which none of you asked a single question- was related to heritage oak trees at the Frazier Park Library site.

A careful document, called LPD-1, was created by the library’s architect to preserve those oaks. Trees were to be protected from their trunk to 5 feet beyond their driplines. The Mountain Enterprise newspaper has now published it. We attach a copy to this letter.

A construction contract, which contained LPD-1, was put out to bid. You awarded a contract in excess of $4 million to Tilton Pacific Construction, Inc. We looked forward to the day our beautiful new library would open.

But Kern County’s Office of General Services either did not know or did not care what the contractor was doing. For whatever reason, it did not hold these low-bid contractors to the contract specifications outlined in LPD-1. For eight months the contractor used neither fences nor mulch, workers did no hand digging or hand-wrapping or hand-cutting.

Last April an arborist reported that the trees had been mutilated by construction graders. Ignoring the contract’s instructions to dig by hand within the protected area with vulnerable roots, graders cut away the roots of these trees with bulldozers. Then Kern County ordered these beautiful trees cut down. There is no doubt whatsoever that the contractor’s breach of contract killed them.

We have some questions:

  • How much has the Kern County General Services Department demanded the contractor reimburse us from their $4 million contract for the loss of these trees? Our research shows it would cost $60,000 to replace these trees with ones half their size.

  • How much has Tilton Pacific Construction agreed to pay for their breach of contract?

  • Have county officials asked for Errors and Omissions payments to reimburse taxpayers for services the contractor did not deliver?

  • If no reimbursements have been secured, we have some further questions:

Why on August 24 did you vote to pay Tilton Pacific Construction $70,000 when the contractor had caused damages which far exceeded that amount?

Why pay $9,968 to pull out stumps of trees the contractor had killed through its own negligent breach of contract?

Why pay $60,046 for mulch and fences around two oak trees? Not a single supervisor asked a single question about the startling idea that mulch and temporary plastic fences around two trees could cost $60,000.

After the vote, an outraged community demanded answers. Here’s what we got:

Mark Russell’s August 30 memo to The Mountain Enterprise confesses that Kern County General Services made an error in the number of trees receiving fences and mulch: it was eight rather than two; $7,500 per mulched tree is certainly better than $30,000. But why were you, our elected representatives, ready to pay the $30,000 per tree?

Russell also admits that the contractor had billed the county for fencing that it should not have, and that this billing error was only discovered after "recent inquiries" led to careful perusal of the contractor’s breakdown. Why was it public inquiries and not you who demanded this careful perusal?

Was your vote on CA-20 intended to let both Tilton Pacific Construction and the county off the hook, the one for breach of contract and the other for negligence in not supervising the contract adequately? We hope not.

That $70,000 could pay the salaries of two laid-off county workers. With California and Kern County budgets under huge stress, you ought to hold every county employee and contractor strictly accountable for their use of our hardearned money.

You made a mistake. County workers made a mistake. Taxpayers should not have to pay for it. We are asking you to:

-Revisit Change Order 4, that was on the August 24, 2 p.m. Consent Agenda, item CA-20.

-Reverse payment for items 1 and 7 until it has been shown that the taxpayers have been reimbursed for the breach of contract and the loss of those trees.

-Pass an Oak Tree Ordinance to protect heritage oaks.

If you do these three things, you will have gone a long way toward making amends to Kern County taxpayers including those of the Frazier Mountain Communities.

What Is the Path to an Oak Tree Ordinance?

Linda Robredo of Frazier Park has arranged a working meeting with Supervisor Ray Watson to explore how it may be possible to enact an oak ordinance in Kern County.

"We want it to be fair to property owners at the same time as we set up an ordinance that has some teeth to protect our heritage oaks," Robredo said.

The meeting, in Bakersfield at Watson’s office in the Kern County Administration Building 1115 Truxtun Avenue, 5th floor, is set for Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 3:30 p.m.

Read more: Tree Protection is Focus of County’s Park Walk, MAC Looks at Problems in County Plans and Worries Raised on Trenching Near Oaks

This is part of the September 24, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.