Cleland Ave. and Jessica Dr. Median Garden and Oak Trees Saved

It took a conference of City officials and employees with our community volunteers to bring about a change in a sewer project that will spare the garden and Oak Trees in the intersection median at Cleland Avenue and Jessica Drive. We need to thank Board of Public Works Commission President, Cynthia Ruiz, who chaired and facilitated the meeting and Council Member Jose Huizar and his field deputy, Amy Yaegar, who came to the aide of concerned Mount Washington community members.

The median is a triangular traffic island nearly 70 feet on each side in the “Y” intersection of Jessica Drive with Cleland Ave. It had been transformed by community volunteers in Fall of 1997 through Winter of 1998 from an asphalt paved median that was an eye sore, cracked, hot and a magnet for weeds and trash. Oak trees were planted under a program funded by Proposition “A” bonds for local parks to start a transformation. At first one Oak tree was planted in a four-foot square opening in the asphalt. It looked woefully lonely, the Hollywood Beautification Team members at the request of the Mount Washington Beatification chair, Jerry Schneider, planted two more Oaks. The cutting and removal of asphalt for four-foot square tree wells was all that was allowed under the Prop "A” funding. As community members saw the improvement they soon pitched in and started removing the asphalt around the newly planted trees with picks, pry bars, and sledge hammers.

As more asphalt was removed, the community volunteers became more inspired and a vision for a landscaped median garden was starting to take shape. A community member arraigned for in a contractor to bring in tractor and break out the remaining asphalt paving.  A pile of broken asphalt was heaped up in a pile at one corner of the triangle median. Volunteers worked diligently to break up the large pavement fragments and place them into two rubble walls and path in a serpentine through the median. Another contractor helped to bring in earth fill behind the rubble walls, The Mount Washington Association funded $100 for drought tolerant plants, and the Department of Recreation and Parks provided truck loads of mulch. However, there was still a considerable pile of broken asphalt that remained. A local Eagle Scout candidate rallied his Boy Scout troop, and with the aid of then Council member Jackie Goldberg, the excess pavement was hauled away.

In the nine years that have passed, two of the three Oaks trees have survived and grown to be sizeable young trees, over twenty feet in height and width. The drought tolerant groundcover shrubs have matured and covered most of the bare ground in the planted out portion of the triangle. Local residents with the leadership Paula Sirola have toiled at weeding, adding new plants and spreading additional mulch.

But, just two weeks after the community volunteers had finished a planting of more than fifty new native plants to cover the balance of the median and to create a small “rain garden,” a City survey crew was observed staking out an alignment for construction through the median. A flurry of emails was sent out to find out what was this project. Council member Huizar’s Field deputy, Amy Yeagar, in her usual helpful and efficient way soon found out that the City had just awarded a contract to build a sewer under an assessment project to serve four properties just up hill from the median.

The sewer project was designed according to standard guidelines for sewer construction that require sewers to be constructed along straight alignments and connect to the main line sewer at a maintenance access structure. There is an existing maintenance access structure opposite the median, and the least cost alignment is through the middle of the median. This was the planned alignment that would have required a trench to be dug between the two Oak trees, under the broken pavement path. There was concern for preserving the path and the newly planted garden, but the main concern was that the trenching would severe many of the two Oak trees’ roots and severely injure if not kill the trees.

After much discussion at the meeting held in the triangle on December 29, we learned of an alternate plan would not touch the park, but it would cost $10-12,000 more than the original plan. The merits and shortfalls of both the original plan and the alternate were discussed, and for many reasons - including the concern for the two oak trees on the Triangle - we all agreed the alternate was the best plan, despite the increased cost. In order to ensure the protection of the Triangle, the Council Member will partner with Public works to fund the gap between the original and alternative plans. What a wonderful holiday gift! The Mount Washington Association and the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council will be sending letters of appreciation.

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