Southern California

Neighbors Are Furious That a Historic Landmark Tree in Santa Monica May Be Torn Down

What city council decides could set a precedent for how other historic landmarks are dealt with throughout Southern California.

A massive sycamore tree has been part of a Santa Monica neighborhood for 97 years is one that neighbors love so much, they went to the city and got it designated as a historic landmark.

But new homeowners want the option of removing it if they rebuild on the property, so they're taking their fight to city hall Tuesday night.

The 82-foot western sycamore tree, with its broad trunk, deep roots, and expansive canopy, sits in the front yard of a home in the 1100 block of California Avenue.

It has been a beloved part of the community since 1922, and has grown so big, experts can't even agree whether it's one tree, or two entangled trees.

"It's a beautiful tree — look at it. It's stunning," resident Val Streit said.

In 2017, neighbors got together to make sure the tree would be protected and started a grassroots group called "Save Our Sycamores." They got the city's landmark's commission to designate it as a historic landmark.

But new property owners believe they should have the right to remove the tree if they decide to rebuild the home.

Tuesday night, they planned to ask the city council to overturn the landmark status, and that has set off a big neighborhood squabble.

"This tree met the law, the standards set up by the city to decide what should be a landmark," said John C. Smith of the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition. "You start chipping away at the landmarks and you start losing history."

The homeowners declined to speak with NBC4, and released a statement from their attorney, which quotes its own history and tree experts arguing the tree isn't special and doesn't deserve the landmark status.

Some neighbors agreed, and said they think the homeowners should have the right to do what they want.

"For people to interfere with this private property — it really is their tree. It's not a parkway tree," neighbor Chrissy Stiegelmeyer said.

The community and legal battle could set a precedent for how other historic landmarks are dealt with throughout Southern California.

The Santa Monica City Council will vote on this issue at its meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

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