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California Officials Seek Compromise In Standoff Over 400-Year-Old Tree - 2002-11-22


Officials in Los Angeles are searching for a compromise in a standoff concerning a 400-year-old oak tree. A local activist is defying developers, who want to remove the tree to build a road.

It is officially called "Tree 419," and it was slated to be cut down. But the ancient oak is known as "Old Glory" on local maps, and for most of the past three weeks, 42-year-old John Quigley has called the tree home. He sits atop a platform 1.5 meters wide. "I'm doing pretty good. I mean, clearly, we've had some movement in the right direction," he says.

The tree is located in the Santa Clarita Valley, an outlying section of Los Angeles that is quickly filling up with new housing tracts. Local official Mike Antonovich supports the plan to build a four-lane road where the tree now stands. Earlier in the week, he suggested a compromise. "We're going to save the tree by relocating it," he says. "We're going to ask the town council to find a suitable location for this oak, because we want to preserve it."

Experts are divided on whether the tree could survive a move. Some say it would be traumatic, but feasible. Others, including John Ennis, say a move would kill the tree. "It's over 400 years old. It's sitting already in a bad area, and chances of it living are very slim."

A steady stream of environmentalists has come to offer support to the tree-sitting activist. They include Hollywood actress Rene Russo, whose films include the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crowne Affair and the 1996 action thriller Ransom. "I'm a California girl, and I was raised on a street that didn't have a tree in sight. And, I used to go a couple of blocks away to a street that was lined with sycamores, just to sit and play," she says.

Ms. Russo and Mr. Quigley reject the offer to move the tree, but are happy that local officials are looking for a solution.

The U.S. Postal Service has apparently recognized "Old Glory" as Mr. Quigley's residence, at least temporarily. This week, a mail carrier delivered a letter to the activist from a supporter. It was addressed "Mr. Quigley, Tree 419."

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