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Neighbors rally to defend Garvanza olive grove

Earth moving equipment near Garvanza olive trees./Photo courtesy Jonathan Silberman

Only nine gnarled trees remain of an old Garvanza olive grove that some residents say was planted more than a century ago.   Under pressure from nearby residents,  a developer several years ago agreed to leave the trees alone as part of  an effort to build 16 homes on the site, located to the east of Avenue 64 on Elder Street.  But earlier this month, residents were surprised to find a crew of workers with pick axes and earth moving equipment working near the trees in violation of the agreement.

A new developer, Irvine-based South Coast Builders, has purchased the property and had recently pulled building permits on some of the parcels. The city ordered the  grading work to stop until the appropriate review and permits were issues, according to Highland Park preservationist Jonathan Silberman. Said Silberman of the site:

The project, between the northernmost end of North Avenue 66 and Elder Street and adjacent to Arroyo View Estates, has long been a lighting rod for community opposition, due to concerns about the elimination of green space, increased massing and density within the neighborhood, and geological safety issues with the hillside, and many had thought that the project was finally dead following the recent real estate bust. But with the new housing recovery, real estate investment and construction has returned at a frenzied pace, and a new investor has now purchased the property, reigniting neighborhood concerns.”

The trees were part of what was known as the Lindsay Olive Orchard, according to Garvanza, a pictorial history by Highland Park historian Charles Fisher.



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20 comments

  1. People want houses WITH trees! Trees make places more beautiful and desirable! These developers know nothing about the neighborhood, the history, the increased need for old growth trees to be treated with respect and care. I am not opposed to development, but SMART development in harmony with nature if at all possible. I know i will grab a protest sign and stand up for these old beauties! Count me in!

  2. Respect the trees, respect the neighborhood, South Coast Builders.

  3. Ugh… anything associated with real estate development from Irvine will lower property values, not increase them. Yuck. Keep the tacky little boxes in Orange County.

    • That’s right! It’s always frustrating when speculators come into historic neighborhoods and litter the landscape with spec houses (or flip remodels) that have nothing to do with the architectural integrity of the area. Of course they don’t care, they’ll do their projects wherever the money is, as long as the demand exists (and sadly, people keep buying these houses). The depressing reality is that the investors get to move on after they sell the property and make their profit, while we are forced to live with the wreckage. This is why our HPOZs are so important; they create protections for exterior changes on existing structures as well as creating design reviews for proposed new developments. Unfortunately, this particular project is just outside the boundaries of the Highland Park/Garvanza HPOZ… but perfectly illustrates the difference between having such protections in place or not.

  4. The houses that were built near Elder St, on N Avenue 66 and on Staley Lane, in 2007-2008 are some of the ugliest McMansions around. Half of them were never finished, and what was once a pretty slope has been covered with graded dirt, half-built foundations, construction fences and debris for years. What a fiasco.

    Alas, maybe it will be perfect for the new Irvine-based developers, because it’s like our little bit of Orange Country, just down the way from historic craftsman homes. I was hoping the newer hillside building codes didn’t allow this kind of crap.

    • The developers recently renewed some expired permits to complete the four unfinished houses. They’re now working on getting those finished and sold, while pursuing grading permits for the other lots.

      • I didn’t realize you could simply renew “expired” permits, without any further review — especially since some of the “unfinished houses” look like nothing more than bare pads.

        I sure hope they don’t get grading permits for any other lots. The whole area is now barren and blighted looking, with enormous retaining walls. Giant stucco boxes, surrounded by concrete and dirt, without a tree in sight. I feel sorry for the people who live across the street.

        • Lisa, they were able to renew permits only to finish the construction on the 4 houses that were 85-95% completed. The other parcels will require new permits for grading and construction.

  5. Short of giving cultural importance status to the Olive trees, the HPOZ will not stop this. Reading the language of the HPOZ, the developers may be slowed, but not stopped, from removing the trees. I would assume however the new constructions will be in the spirit of the neighborhoods architecture, although probably not up to the most devout of history buffs. I think it’s a good effort by locals, and will frame the discussion (to be historically mindful) regarding the development of new housing on these parcels.

    • You assume the new constructions will be “in the spirit of the neighborhoods architecture”?! Wow. Have you looked at the stuff that was built in 2008? If the new construction at all resembles that of the previous developer, the buildings will be … giant stucco boxes. With some faux mediterranean touches, giant retaining walls, and miniscule yards.

  6. One big general problem that we face is the fact that buyers continue to support housing projects like this, by purchasing the houses and continuing the demand. The same goes for buyers who purchase flipped houses that strip character details, or contain shoddy materials and workmanship. I’m a realtor and I always try to make my clients aware of why homes that retain their character (or at least complement the integrity of the surrounding neighborhood) and use quality materials hold their value better over time and generally contribute better to neighborhood stability. I’d love to see more discerning buyers in NELA saying NO to overpriced cookie cutter spec houses and generic flips by investors who couldn’t care less about their projects beyond the final sales price.

    • Totally hear what you are saying, you are correct about properly restored homes appreciating better. However, people tend to buy what they can afford when they want it from the available supply at the time. Some can and do wait for the ‘perfect’ house but most people just look at the best fit available to them and compromise. More discerning usually means having more money. I don’t blame the buyers. With rising prices and interest rates, I’d be hesitant to wait as well. It’s some of the developers and flippers that need to be more responsible. I’ve seen a lot of well flipped homes, and some that were totally bogus and misrepresented by the sellers. There’s plenty of good and bad out there.

      • I agree that not all flipped houses or remodels are bad (there are some wonderful examples), and that developers/investors should take much more responsibility… but the reality is that as long as consumers support crappy work it will continue to be prevalent. If consumers were more responsible then the world would be a much better place… including on a very local level, as it applies to all kinds of things including housing. I do think it’s a good point that buyers don’t always have the luxury of waiting or having broad choices, and are realistically forced to compromise, but keep in mind that the properties that we’re talking about are rebuilt or “fixed up” houses that generally command prices at the higher end of the local market… so they cater to buyers who do often have greater financial resources and a greater power of choice.

        For example, simply checking to see if the Seller of a heavily remodeled house has obtained proper permits and inspections for their work goes a long way toward telling us what we’re looking at and who we’re dealing with, and paying attention to this information benefits both the buyer and the surrounding neighborhood. Particularly in an hpoz, if the seller for example changed out the original windows without permits they’re in violation not only of ladbs but the hpoz, and will need to pay fines and put back period appropriate windows… which impacts the entire neighborhood for the better. Buyers should be asking these questions everywhere, not just in hpozs. My point is simply that it would benefit NELA (and elsewhere) if people thought about this question more and acted accordingly, and people like us who care about these issues should do our part to help make this a more consistent part of the conversation.

  7. To everyone that is calling big houses on tiny lots ‘blight’, you had better get used to it unless you feel like putting up a fight. Senate Bill 1 that is currently in front of the California Senate has language in it that will define any residential area with a density lower than a single family residence on an 1/8th acre lot as blighted due to inefficient land use. This will open large segments of R1 zones to eminent domain even if the area is not blighted and well maintained.

  8. The saga of the Lindsay Olive Trees goes back to 2005 with another developer tried to poison and dig up the trees. Garvanza Improvement Asssociation and Tomoko Copon had spent several months working to preserve the grove of trees from imminent destruction. The prior developers even dug holes around the tree roots and poured acid and bleach down them to try and kill the trees. As well as dhowing up with a back hoe and started to trenching around the roots tombegin “rootballing” the teee for removal. GIA and Tomoko were able to coordinate through CD14, Planning, Urban Forestry and Building and Safety. With our support and advocation for the trees, the city produced a well written “Determination” for the trees to be preserved. GIA and nearby resident, Udy Epstein, requested that historian, Charles Fisher write a Historic Cultural Monument that encapsulates the agrarian history and the significance of the Lindsay Olive Trees including the original Campbell-Johnston ranch lands that were the prevailing topography of Garvanza and the outlying regions. We have now given all the documentation to CD14 to move forward to establish protection and to preserve the trees from further damage and or destruction. With the current building and housing boom, having the HPOZ in Garvanza and Highland Park is going to be instrumental from these types of developments swallowing up single-family-residences and Neighboroods like ours in the future. The agrarian ranch lands have slowly disappeared with the growing populations in Los Angeles and all over California. Understanding the history of where you live is essential in what you can do within those parameters to protect the qualities and character of that particular neighborood, district or region. We look forward to accomplishing our goal of protecting the Lindsay Olive Trees and keeping a part of history intact in this new development. Thank-you Eastsider for bringing awareness to others that may be attempting to preserve other neighborhoods and that you can be successful.

  9. The saga of the Lindsay Olive Trees goes back to 2005 with another developer that tried to poison and dig up the trees. Garvanza Improvement Asssociation and Tomoko Copon had spent several months working to preserve the grove of trees from imminent destruction. The prior developers even dug holes around the tree roots and poured acid and bleach down them to try and kill the trees. As well as showing up with a back hoe and started trenching around the roots to begin “rootballing” the trees for removal. GIA and Tomoko were able to coordinate through CD14, Planning, Urban Forestry and Building and Safety. With our support and advocation for the trees, the city produced a well written “Determination” for the trees to be preserved. GIA and nearby resident, Udy Epstein, requested that historian, Charles Fisher write a Historic Cultural Monument that encapsulates the agrarian history and the significance of the Lindsay Olive Trees including the original Campbell-Johnston ranch lands that were the prevailing topography of Garvanza and the outlying regions. We have now given all the documentation to CD14 to move forward to establish protection and to preserve the trees from further damage and or destruction. With the current building and housing boom, having the HPOZ in Garvanza and Highland Park is going to be instrumental from these types of developments swallowing up single-family-residences and Neighboroods like ours in the future. The agrarian ranch lands have slowly disappeared with the growing populations in Los Angeles and all over California. Understanding the history of where you live is essential in what you can do within those parameters to protect the qualities and character of that particular neighborood, district or region. We look forward to accomplishing our goal of protecting the Lindsay Olive Trees and keeping a part of history intact in this new development. Thank-you Eastsider for bringing awareness to others that may be attempting to preserve other neighborhoods and that you can be successful.

  10. It’s not enough to complain anymore. Take Katrina’s suggestion and join the protest. These trees are 123 years old. They cannot be moved. They will surely die. There is no expert tree re-locationservice anywhere that can claim otherwise. Trees this old die a slow death, but they do succumb. The developers lie through their teeth about these things,thinking that we will drink the kool aid. Their only hope is to buy their way out by throwing enough money at whomever they can buy at city hall,or Building and Safety. The trees have a verified paper trail, and are not allowed to be touched. Orange County developers….honesty…really?
    Now, everybody up on their toes, grab a mallet, and get ready for a rousing game of Wack-a-Mole with the developers who are coming to claim, and build anything they want to in our precious community. Together, we have power.

  11. A year later, lots of work on the site (mostly on the 4 existing- six or seven years old homes -no sales yet) and grading. some of the old olive trees were moved and bunched up to the side of one lot to make room for a luxury home. Orange county developer is trying to catch on to rising real estate prices in the area, but the bigger homes which they are trying to sell since last summer still stand empty.

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