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The Testimony of a Tree-Sitter

John Quigley is out of the tree, but not out of the fight, after 71 days of human nesting in the 400-year-old oak known to authorities as tree number 419 and to its defenders as “Old Glory.” Before deputies forcefully, but nonviolently, removed him this month, Quigley and his supporters prevented the tree from being cut down for a road-widening project. But the impending resolution — moving the tree — could prove just as fatal. The tree’s best hope now rests with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors — who usually defer on local planning issues to the supervisor who represents a particular area. (Unfortunately for the tree, this supervisor is Mike Antonovich.) The county retains the authority and engineering latitude to keep the tree in place, as Quigley explains to the Weekly’s HOWARD BLUME.

 

L.A. WEEKLY: What is the status of the tree?

JOHN QUIGLEY: A tree-moving company has been preparing the tree for moving, but hasn’t struck the mortal blow yet to the roots. Our goal is to get a vote of the county supervisors to stave off the move.

I understand that moving the tree is a risky proposition, especially once the tree is past its dormant season.

The tree is not dormant. The last three weeks I was in the tree, all the branches were budding. It is spring in the tree. Moving it now is more perilous than ever. So if we can have a more sensible conclusion, it would please all concerned.

And this alternative resolution involves the elected county supervisors?

The county is forcing the developer to widen and extend the road. The developer as well as the engineer for our coalition have both developed plans that would allow the road to go around the tree. The county is claiming that won’t work because of safety concerns. But that’s only because the county is pushing for a high-speed, high-density road that also would pass directly in front of an elementary school. If you reduce the speed limit on this road, it would be completely within safety standards.

And is it true that the developer, John Laing Homes, doesn’t even need the road widened for its own development?

This developer is building across the street from the tree and doesn’t need the road and would be just as happy not widening the road. This road goes up another quarter of a mile and stops at a canyon. This road is really going ä to serve the Newhall Ranch development and another development that are years down the road. These developments don’t even have permits yet. Both face tough fights to get approval. And let’s say they don’t get approved. We will have cut down this 400-year-old heritage tree for nothing. Even if all future development is approved, the road won’t be needed for another seven to 10 years.

But it is more expensive to build a road around the tree.

Let’s put it this way: If we get it to a cost issue, then we can do it.

Do you think that, because the tree has touched such a core with people, you could collect much of the money from donations?

And we would be willing to do that. Right now, the developer is willing to assume a lot of that cost, just for the goodwill of the community. What appears to be happening is that Supervisor Antonovich has dug in and he’s just being stubborn. If we could get it to the full board, we could breathe some new life into possibilities that are on the table.

So what should your supporters do?

They should be calling their county supervisor and demanding that the issue of saving Old Glory be put on the agenda for the next meeting, on January 28. We believe that if we get it on the agenda, that once the facts are really seen, we can find a resolution that will work for everyone. You can get information about contacting the supervisors from our Web site: http://saveoldglory.com.

What message should people take out of this whole struggle?

I never could have imagined that climbing this tree would have generated this much attention. But for a democracy to work, people need to be standing up for what they believe. Our society is so obsessed with comfort. A lot of people, if they would just take a step outside their comfort zone — take a stand for something that puts them in a position where they really have to be alive — it would be good for the community and also be good for them.

My experience, it’s maybe the most alive I’ve ever felt — dealing with the elements, having to find resources inside myself to face the physical and intellectual challenges. There is a tree for everyone, and whether that tree is helping the homeless or helping a child, it is some action that they can take that is staring them in the face, that will bring out the best in who they are. I would just encourage people to find their tree.

I was going to ask if you have a particular message for children, although you may have just said it in your metaphor.

It was all about the kids. The kids saved me numerous times. The first time authorities came to drag me out of the tree, there were 40 kids, who were about 6 to 10 years old, standing across the street, just chanting, “Save our oak. Save Old Glory.” I saw the firemen shake their heads and say, “No, we’re not going to do it.” And they left. And then the Sheriff’s deputies stood down. That was on the 15th of November, right near the beginning.

The kids really understand the importance of an old oak like this. Someone said early in the process: The kids know what needs to happen. It’s up to the adults to figure out how to make it happen.

The interview continues in a Weekly Web exclusive report.


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