Two revived projects call for 320 trees cut down

Crews work to trim damaged oak trees along Placerita Canyon Road following the Sand Fire in July 2016. Dan Watson/Signal
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At least 320 oak trees – 29 of them heritage oaks – are to be cut down in the Santa Clarita Valley according to the plans for two developments still on track following recent decisions by county planners.

Two developers – one planning to build a film studio on Placerita Canyon Road, the other a senior condo complex on The Old Road – were given more time by the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning after they requested more time to pursue their respective projects.

Regional planners gave each of the developers one more year to proceed with their plans.

The plan to build an indoor film studio with sound stages and other related infrastructure on 44 acres at Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch – east of Placerita Canyon road and south of Highway 14 – calls for cutting down 158 oak trees, including 16 heritage oaks. The plan also allows for encroaching on a protected zone where 83 oak trees grow, at least three of them heritage oaks.

“Today that project was given a time extension,” Los Angeles County regional planner Kim Szalay said Tuesday.

The other plan is for the Lyons Canyon Ranch project and calls for a senior citizen’s complex to be built near Towsley Canyon.  That plan has been on the books for more than a decade.

It, too, was given a one-year time extension, Szalay said.

In 2006, DR Horton’s Western Pacific Housing, Inc., submitted a proposal to the county’s Regional Planning Commission calling for 93 single-family lots and 93 condos, all intended for seniors, on 234 acres, next door to the Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon, on The Old Road.

The proposal seeks permission to rip out 162 smaller oak trees, transplant 13 big oaks already on the land and get permission from the county to encroach on another 52 oaks, six of which are also classified as heritage oaks.

If both plans go through, Santa Clarita Valley will be shy 320 oak trees – like the tree depicted in the city’s logo, about 10 percent of which are old.

And, while the projects are a decade-old, opposition to those tree-cutting plans remain just as old, at least when it comes to opposing the senior’s condo complex.


It was July 16, 2008, when a handful of oak tree advocates made the trip to downtown Los Angeles to voice their opposition to the planning tree-cutting before the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission.

Nine years later, the same 162 trees at the senior project stand before the axe for at least one more year.

During the recession of 2008, a lot of projects planned for the SCV were put on hold, Szalay told The Signal.

“This time extension process is to keep the map alive,” he said.

How serious are the developers and movie ranch about building?

Four phone calls placed Tuesday to representatives and lawyers identified by county officials as spokespeople for Disney, along with five phone messages left with the same people Wednesday, asking the question that needed to be answered were not returned.

Phone calls and emails placed Tuesday and Wednesday, including a message sent to the developer through social media – seeking an answer to the same question – from representatives of Western Pacific Housing, developer of the proposed senior citizen complex, were also not returned.

Those unanswered questions leave a lot of oak trees out on a limb.

The oaks

Anyone in Los Angeles County who wants to cut down an oak tree that measures at least 25 inches in diameter must first obtain an oak tree permit according to a Los Angeles County ordinance.

Heritage oaks are scenic or older oaks under the county definition.

Each project given a time extension contains a stipulation to obtain such a permit.

According to the Sacramento Tree Foundation, large, old oaks that still stand in small groves or alone in our neighborhoods are often called “heritage oaks’ or “landmark oaks.”

A “heritage oak” is often defined as a living native oak tree, several hundred years old that is in good health.

Some heritage oaks have trunks with a circumference of more than 100 inches, but some have smaller trunks. Some very old oaks are tall, and some are quite short. The correlation between size and age is not straight forward when it comes to trees.

The health condition of trees is usually the deciding factor in the need for trees to be cut down.

City trees cut

Old pines towering more than 100 feet in Newhall Park were cut down last year because they were deemed unhealthy.

“The trees were not going to survive under the drought conditions,” Santa Clarita spokeswoman Carrie Lujan told The Signal. “They also had bark beetle infestations which added stress to the trees.”

Over the past three and a half years, the City of Santa Clarita has cut down about 50 pine trees throughout Newhall Park and has replanted 36 new trees there, she said.

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