LOS ANGELES — Coast live oak, black walnut and toyon are just some of the tree species along a section of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City that neighborhood activists Adele Slaughter and Harvey Myman say are being threatened by a new commercial development called Sunswept Place (Austin Family Development LLC).
As shown in the developer's online conceptual videos, the planned mixed-use complex would cut into the hillside and require the removal of a large part of what many residents say is an important and irreplaceable tree habitat.
"Each tree has its own biological system that is helping our environment here," said Slaughter, who was disturbed to see a construction crew being reckless and starting to damage the trees with blasting and moving heavy equipment. A coalition of concerned parties and residents made inquiries into the development and found that proper protocols and permitting had not been followed.
"There's been no tree report. There's been no EIR, which is an environmental impact report. And they have to do that before construction begins before that permits are given," said Slaughter.
Concerns about the endangered trees were taken to the city, and a stop-work order has halted construction in the meantime.
While the city of LA has embarked on programs to protect and increase our urban tree canopy, Slaughter is worried that reckless and unchecked development is counterproductive to these efforts.
“Our tree canopy used to be around 36% and we're down in the last 10 years 17%,” she said.
Harvey Myman has lived on Sunswept Drive, overlooking the development, for over 20 years. He joined the fight to save the trees but says the city and the developer have given him the runaround.
"It's not that we're sitting here against the very notion of development, but to do it illegally, to do it surreptitiously?" said Myman. "When people said, 'What's going on?' [the city] said, 'Oh, it's the Department of Water and Power that is doing work.' It's not the Department of Water and Power."
Slaughter and Myman agree that while one development alone might not seem like a big deal, they are concerned that the cumulative effect of the tree removals will worsen our already declining urban tree canopy, and that there remains a net deficit despite the city's efforts to plant more trees as is the goal of the Mayor Garcetti-backed Urban Tree Initiative launched in 2019.
"We're sitting here looking at a global crisis and we're being hamstrung in our ability to even act locally," said Myman.
Slaughter noted that there are models for more responsible development that we can look to. She said Santa Monica, for instance, has a much better record when it comes to preserving its trees during construction.
"They build around their trees. They preserve their trees, and that's what we need to do here in Studio City," Slaughter said.
In the meantime, the stop-work order is a small victory, and Slaughter and Myman are joining calls for a full environmental impact report to submit a comprehensive tree assessment for the Sunswept site.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to the development company for comment, but there was no response.