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Tree-huggers save the giant sequoias

A four-month effort to save three trees reached a deal Friday

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Supporters of Dave Walters embrace him after he rappelled down a sequoia where he spent four days in protest. The tree was part of a stand of three trees slated to be cut down Monday, Sept. 12, leading to a week-long stand-off between protesters, law enforcement and developers.

Called “Lorax Dave” by supporters, tree-sitter Dave Walters came down around 6 p.m. Friday after having lived in a 150-foot tall giant sequoia for more than 72 hours.

Walters and around 100 other protesters — together with a hefty sum of money — succeeded in halting the removal of the stand of three redwood trees to make way for two Everett Custom Homes on Southeast Martins Street, south of Reed College.

"It was incredibly touching and moving the way so many people came out to support this effort,” said Arthur Bradford, who lives next door to the site.

Developer Vic Remmers could not be reached for comment and the voice mailbox at Everett Custom Homes was full. TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Demonstrator and environmentalist Dave Walters sits on a platform in a 150-foot sequoia in protest of Everett Custom Homes' plan to cut down three of the trees in the Eastmoreland neighborhood.

Bradford negotiated a deal to buy the property from Remmers for an undisclosed amount with help from Mayor Charlie Hales and Neighborhood Association Chairman Robert McCullough.

Bradford, who is a writer and contributor to several television shows, says his friend, South Park co-creator Matt Stone, agreed to help fund the proposal.

“He didn’t contribute all the money,” Bradford said. “He just made a contribution that made a difference.” He adds that they still need more. “The developer came down significantly on his price, but we still have to raise a lot of money to meet it.”

The group had previously raised around $550,000, including money from a different developer. They are now raising money through Friends of Trees, with a closing date of Oct. 1.

Remmers previously had required $900,000 to sell. The county tax assessor puts the two lots’ combined value at $591,000, including the house built in 1922 that was demolished. Everett Custom Homes bought the lot in April for $653,000 and split it in two.

Bradford says the current plan is to have developer Ethan Beck build a small home on the western edge of the property, with the lot containing the three trees turned into a public space of some sort.

'I'm not a protester'

The protest got dramatic Thursday afternoon around 2 p.m., when Portland police officers opened gates to allow tree-cutting equipment through to the property, but protesters formed a human fence, blocking the vehicles.

Bradford gave an impassioned plea to television cameras after the trucks drove out of sight.

"They are trying to cut down these trees while we are talking," Bradford said. "I was on the phone with the mayor. This is unbelievable. Vic Remmers, what are you doing? This is wrong."

It is unclear why the chainsaws showed up after the mayor’s office announced a deal had been reached at 1 p.m. that day to save the trees.

Tree-cutting equipment first came in Monday, Sept. 14, sparking a social media call to activists.

Beth Bogren answered that call and was then nominated President of Ewok Village, a name for the loose community of about 100 protestors gathered on Southeast Martins Street near Southeast 36th Avenue.

“I’m not a protester. I’m not this,” Bogren said. “I’m a mother. I’m a homeowner. I live on 52nd and Martins. I don’t go to stuff like this.”

But the mother of one said she was inspired to action by the stories surrounding the neighborhood’s 150-foot trees.

The legend is that the three trees were planted in 1857 to commemorate a niece’s 12th birthday and are part of a trail of large old trees across the city.

Bogren said she is relieved the sequoias won't be cut down, but now worries about two remaining old-growth Douglas firs near Southeast 41st Avenue and Southeast Clinton Street. Two other trees there have reportedly already been removed by Everett Custom Homes. Radio station KBOO reported that the Saturday, Sept. 12 removal of those trees sparked protests and another tree-sitter, Elizabeth Bennett, an assistant professor at Lewis and Clark College.

Bogren said she will request a meeting with Remmers in an attempt to work together with him to restore his image.

“There are people that don’t want you to do what you’re doing,” Bogren said. “Hopefully he can recognize that and we don’t have to do this at every small site that he has.”TRIBUNE PHOTO: SHASTA KEARNS MOORE - Protestors and law enforcement are dwarfed by the 150-foot sequoias in Eastmoreland, where tree-sitter Dave Walters has been since Tuesday.

Fingers pointed at tree code

Bogren argued that the group protesting was from across the political spectrum. “It doesn’t matter. Any of it. The one thing in this little village that we’ve created is we don’t want the trees to come down.”

About a dozen Portland Police Bureau officers were on the scene to attempt to resolve the situation, including a tree-climbing crew.

Sgt. Pete Simpson, a bureau spokesman, said they were hoping to resolve the situation without arrests.

Neighborhood chairman McCullough said he was grateful for the mayor’s intervention, but noted that the tree code needed more work to prevent similar situations.

“Because the rules are currently so broken, we end up with these duct-tape style resolutions where things are just glued together,” he said.

Remmer seemed to agree with that. In a letter sent to neighbors in June, he urged them to direct their concerns to the city.

“Your concerns should not be directed at our work, but rather a City of Portland code you take issue with,” he wrote. “The tree code is laid out for developers. As homebuilders, we study these parameters and make sure we are within the code. The tree ordinance at the City of Portland is one of the most rigorous in the nation, but we encourage you to work with your city representatives to make the changes you wish to see.”

Follow the hashtag #savethegiants on Facebook and Twitter.

See our previous coverage:

June 23: Neighbors to raise $900,000 to save trees in Eastmoreland

July 1: Eastmoreland neighborhood hosts 'jam' to save trees

July 31: Eastmoreland sequoias may still be felled

Sept. 17: Deal could save giant sequoias as neighbors protest in 'Ewok Village'

Shasta Kearns Moore
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