City Chops Down Magnificent Camphor Tree to Fix a Few Feet of Sidewalk

Jennifer Charnofsky

On July 25, 2014, a city crew showed up on the 2600 block of south Budlong Avenue in response to some bureaucrat's orders to solve the problem of tree roots pushing up a short segment of sidewalk. We don't know to what extent they explored ways to let the tree coexist with a new piece of sidewalk, but the first thing they did was bring out their chainsaws. It was a magnificent huge camphor tree, twice the height of the two-story 1909 Craftsman home it stood in front of. The tree was almost certainly planted when the house was built, long before anyone now living in this neighborhood was born. It was the treasure of the residents of the home it stood in front of. They were not consulted or given any warning or explanation. In an hour or so the wonderful tree was reduced to butchered scrap, which was carted away the next day, leaving the woman who heads the household in tears. This decision is a heavy blow to the residents whose home it graced, and to their neighbors for many blocks around.

Even though this part of West Adams is an old community, mostly built between 1903 and 1915, very few of the old giant trees remain. There is an even larger Morton Bay Fig in the next block south on the same side of Budlong, but it has escaped the city choppers because it is behind the fence on the house's front yard, while the victim on the 2600 block stood on the parkway.

Under current rules the city is supposed to plant two trees for every one it cuts down. We will see if, here in South Los Angeles, they follow through on that promise. But only the youngest of our neighborhood's residents can expect to live long enough for these replacements to even begin to approach the majesty of the tree that was destroyed.

Our sidewalks are now on a hundred year schedule for repairs. Surely in the few cases where something is done about sidewalks in our lifetime we shouldn't  have to pay for the repair by losing our finest trees.

We do not know what options the city considered in this case. There are often ways to save the tree while replacing a raised sidewalk. The city needs to explain their actions to the residents and to the local neighborhood association, the Van Buren Place Community Restoration Association. On the 2600 block of Van Buren Place as an accommodation for expanding roots the sidewalk was narrowed by about a foot as it went past a large tree. Roots can be shaved and covered, then topped with thinner than standard concrete. There are other possible measures that might have been applicable.

We would like to receive an explanation of why the Department of Public Works felt they had to cut down this tree, and some review of this policy to reassure our citizens that killing the tree is not the first option where sidewalks have been damaged.

The Van Buren Place Community Restoration Association has planted, or caused to have planted and raised funds for several years of initial watering, about 70 trees in our immediate area in the last 25 years. Even the oldest of these is a small sapling compared to the Budlong camphor tree, and we feel its loss  keenly.