Protester removed from giant oak after 10 weeks

Tree stands in path of road-widening project

January 12, 2003|By LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. - The battle over an ancient oak tree - home to tree-sitter John Quigley for 10 weeks - came to an exciting but peaceful close late Friday as sheriff's deputies forced the chained protester from his perch.

Quigley was lowered from the 400-year-old oak - a huge tree that stands in the path of a planned highway widening - in a county Fire Department "cherry picker." He walked onto solid ground about 11 p.m.

"The tree is still standing. ... The community has been awakened," Quigley told a crowd of several hundred supporters who greeted him with cheers and hugs. "I think the landscape up here has been changed forever. It's not over yet."

Quigley, who carried a folded American flag, shook the hand of a Fire Department official as he reached the ground and later praised deputies for their professional conduct.

He was not arrested after his ouster. He remained on the scene late into the night, kissing his girlfriend, Susan Cox, talking with supporters and reassuring children that he had honored his pledge to remain in the oak as long as he could.

"We've just begun this campaign," he told them. "Our job is to keep going."

Bill Rattazi, president of developer John Laing Homes, said he would meet with arborists to discuss removing the tree this weekend.

Any delays, he warned, could threaten its successful removal.

"I think that it became very obvious that we could not realign the road around the tree, and the continued presence of John and tree supporters became a safety problem for the community," he said.

Earlier in the evening, Quigley had chained himself to the oak, placing his arms up to his elbows in a "sleeping dragon" - a metal tube used by protesters so they can't be handcuffed.

But deputies cut through the metal and led him from his perch.

Hours earlier, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered Quigley, 42, out of the centuries-old oak, but the tree-sitter vowed to resist.

About 8:30 p.m., a long line of Sheriff's Department vehicles, a paramedic van and a hook-and-ladder truck converged on the site.

Their arrival alarmed supporters, some skirting a chain-link fence and moving closer to the tree, yelling their support to Quigley.

Quigley's girlfriend and another person ran toward the oak, falling to the ground - and other supporters prepared to rush the fence.

Anthony Zinnanti, an attorney representing Quigley, moved to calm the crowd, addressing them with a bullhorn.

"This guy has been in the tree for 70 days with a peaceful message," Zinnanti told them. "Is this the way you want it to end? The last thing you want is for this message to be marred by anything unpeaceful."

During the next several hours, Quigley was presented a copy of the court order, given a deadline to leave the tree, and then forced to leave.

The court order opened the door for developer John Laing Homes to have Quigley physically removed from the tree to end his 71-day peaceful protest.

"John Quigley is ordered to vacate and leave this oak tree and remain outside the perimeter of this fence," Superior Court Judge John P. Shook said.

Time is crucial to the development company, which plans to move the oak during its winter dormancy. Already, green leaves are sprouting and, according to Friday's court motion, the relocation process must begin by Wednesday or the work will be delayed about nine months.

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