The Landmarks Commission has once again postponed a hearing over whether to give two, intertwined western sycamore trees protected status in the city after ownership of the property has changed hands once again. The discussion will now happen at the April 9 meeting.

In the meantime, the 80-foot trees are not to be touched.

“The property owner has been informed that no permits are to be issued for any work in or around the tree, and no tree trimming is allowed,” said Stephanie Reich, design and historic preservation planner for the City.

Local residents Lesley and Iradj Shahriary bought the 5,019 square foot lot at 1122 California Avenue Dec. 22 for $1.8 million, according to records from the Los Angeles County Assessor. Lesley told the Daily Press she plans to keep the tree and the 100 year old house on the property, which the previous owner had deemed a tear-down.

“The tree is fine,” Shahriary said Thursday when asked for comment. “It’s going to stay there. We like the tree. It looks great there.”

Shahriary says she and her husband plan to remodel the home for their family. The Shahriarys own three other properties in the city, including their home on Euclid St and rentals on 14th Street and 18th Street. She requested the Landmarks Commission postpone the discussion on the tree so she could learn more about the issue.

“Really, it’s neither here nor there to me because we don’t plan to cut it down,” Shahriary said. “You tell me what’s the big deal.”

It remains a big deal to nearby residents, who have rallied to save the tree from development. The contractor for the previous owner told the Daily Press it would be difficult to build a new home on the site without damaging the sycamores’ extensive root system, which is likely as large as the sprawling canopy.

Recreation and Parks Commissioner and Wilmont member John C. Smith filed the application to save the tree, calling it the “biggest little environmental effort of 2018.”

“In a year when so many are feeling frustrated about how to change the national political atmosphere for the better, a local community is fighting hard to change their world for the better,” Smith said. The “Save Our Sycamore” group consulted the Audubon, who sent an expert who found a hawk nesting in the tree. A registered arborist said the trees are nearly 100 years old and in good health.

While the tree only has to meet one of six criteria to achieve Landmark Status, the activists are up against City staff members who do not believe the trees should be recognized. Staff wrote in a December report there is a “lack of historical association” or “noteworthy interest or value” to the trees. Staff argued other landmarked trees are associated with important individuals or the city’s early development.

However, the certified arborist contracted for the report called the trees “outstanding.”

“The consultant report found that while the trees are not as old or large as some of the giant sycamores in Santa Monica’s natural areas, they are the largest and oldest of their neighborhood and are outstanding specimens for their species with a combined canopy that is remarkable and uncommon,” the staff report said.

If landmarked, the trees would join just three other living trees protect by the Landmarks Ordinance: The Moreton Bay Fig and the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, a 60 foot Cedar Deodara Tree at 518 5th Street and a Eucalyptus Cornuta at 1407 Hill Street. Two other landmarked trees died after receiving the designation.

The Commission may approve designation of a natural feature if it meets one of the criteria, including having “aesthetic or artistic interest” or “an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood.”

“I’ve looked at that tree for 30 years,” said neighbor Neil Cohen who wants the tree protected. “For the last 20 years, nobody has touched the tree and it’s done just fine.”

Cohen argues the fact the tree is native to California and could likely live for another hundred years or more makes it important in the city.

“It’s the ultimate local. It’s the California sycamore on California Avenue,” Cohen said.

While the Landmarks Commission delays the discussion of the sycamores on California Avenue, it will review applications to demolish seven properties in the city:

  1. 2602 Pearl Street
  2. 310 Marguerita Avenue
  3. 1448 12th Street
  4. 1454 12th Street
  5. 422 24th Street
  6. 2906-2918 Santa Monica Blvd.
  7. 2500 Michigan Ave./City Yards

The Landmarks Commission will meet Monday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. inside City Council Chambers, Room 213, 1685 Main Street.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press