Who are these trees? The trees are only seven years old. They are innocent victims. These trees have never borne fruit. The trees were planted by La Cañadan William Johnson.
“I think it’s a really good thing for society to have, to be able to grow your own fruit,” Johnson said. “And persimmons are a good December gift fruit when they’re dried, so there will be a strong market for it, I believe.”
Persimmon trees, ebenaceae diospyros, bear fruit after the seventh or eighth year. Johnson’s trees are on the verge of adulthood, yet they risk public execution, without ever achieving their full potential.
How could this happen, here in La Cañada, with its long and rich ranch and farming history? A town where horses once cantered in the area that is now Memorial Park?
On Jan. 22, the city will enact a new General Plan. This will be followed by synchronization of zoning to match the new plan. With rezoning, William Johnson’s baby persimmon trees would be uprooted. Smashed. Chopped down.
Perish the thought!
Several legal defenses come to mind. The American Revolution of 1776 was based, in part, on a rejection of ex post facto laws. Ex post facto is Latin for “after the fact.” An ex post facto law creates a punishment or for acts that occurred before the enactment of the law.
The new Persimmon Tree Death Penalty seems like an ex post facto law. The trees were planted before the new General Plan, except for one problem. Trees aren’t people. Only people are people. If trees were people, then the city would be barred from retroactively killing them because the trees were planted before the new law was passed.
There’s another problem. Some of the trees are on Johnson’s 67 acres. Others are on the 11-acre Edison right-of-way. Edison allowed Johnson to plant the trees, but when the trees are outlawed, Johnson may lack standing to assert the rights of the trees on Edison land.
We have a two-tiered system. Some trees are citizens. Others are not.
Do you remember the old song that goes, “This land is your land, this land is my land”? Well, that song does not apply to the Edison trees.
For 26 years, La Cañada has been a proud participant in the Tree City USA program. We have rules against chopping down some trees, but not others. If only Johnson had planted oaks!
Here is the history of La Cañada. The grapevines gave way to subdivisions. Rural was replaced by semi-rural. Semi-rural became suburban.
If we eliminate Johnson’s persimmon trees, will we evolve into urban? Will high rises be next? Graffiti? The baby persimmon trees seem to think so. They shiver in the cold night of new regulations. They shudder in the gray dawn of new enactments. The trees call to us.
They remind us the immortal words of the poet, Denise Levertov, who wrote, “Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches more lightly than birds alert for flight, lifted the sunken heart.”
The baby persimmon trees want to grow and to blossom. They want to lift our hearts. They want to live. We need the trees and the trees need us.
Luckily, a solution may be in sight.
City Manager Mark Alexander told the Valley Sun that the Planning Commission could institute an overlay zone to accommodate Johnson after the fact, but that Johnson would have to submit an application first.
One can only hope.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.