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Board and Tree

ACTIVISTS FIGHTING TO SAVE THE OAK TREE they've dubbed Old Glory sought to bring their fight to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors this week, but got tripped up by red tape and a staff critique they denounced as "outrageous."

The February 3 staff report held that Pico Canyon Road, off the I-5 just below Magic Mountain, should be upgraded to a 65-mph highway with a 100-foot right of way, requirements that mandate removal of the ancient oak. The recommendation overrules a rare agreement between environmentalists, who want the tree undisturbed, and some developers, including Newhall Ranch, who proposed closing Pico Canyon altogether.

Cynthia Harris, speaking for several groups that have rallied around the oak, said Pico Canyon "has always been a secondary highway and never had that designation before today. It's a two-lane road that dead-ends right now." But engineer Dennis Hunter of Public Works insists the critics have "known all along" about expansion plans.

Rebuffed in their bid for a spot on the board agenda, activists hoped to challenge the staff report during public comments Tuesday. But the supervisors finished business early and tree-sitter John Quigley was busy with a court hearing, in which a civil suit for trespassing was postponed to later this month. Afternoon talks yielded a guarantee of a full board hearing next week, and Quigley vowed, "We're planning to make that a big day."

The fate of the tree is being determined even as the debate wears on. Quigley's 71-day protest ended January 11 in part because, as all parties agreed, any removal should take place during winter dormancy. A tree-removal crew got to work two days later and cut a trench around its base. In the meantime, however, balmy weather has brought on the spring growing phase, evidenced by a spreading crown of new, green buds. Said Quigley on Tuesday, "The clock is ticking."