Tree Cutting and Shakey State Budget Go To Court

It’s tough to get a temporary restraining order against a public agency, and citizens of Independence were no exception. 10 of them had gone to court to stop Caltrans from cutting down 100 trees in the small town with no assurance that the road widening project would go forward due to state money problems. Judge Brian Lamb denied the TRO but did order Caltrans to appear in court next week to explain themselves.

I will disclose that I am one of the plaintiffs in this case, along with 9 other Independence residents. Attorney Kenney Scruggs represents the citizens. She argued that Caltrans has no assurance of funding for the four-laning project through Independence and that the town does not want to lose 100 trees for nothing.

Scruggs cited numerous state officials and letters that spell out the delays in Caltrans’ funding and the likelihood of ongoing delays. Tom Dresslar of the State Treasurers’ office said that the Independence-Manzanar project is”potentially affected by the funding freeze and we have no knowledge if money will be available for the next 6 to 12 months. This is not short term,” said Dresslar. “These projects,” he said, “are in jeopardy until California is back in the bond market and the state budget is fixed.”

At Caltrans headquarters in Sacramento, David Anderson said, “We are continuinjg to work with local gencies and contractors to determine whether there are options available for interim financing to keep awarded projects moving forward if state funding is not immediately available.”

As shakey as all that sounds, Caltrans’ Attorney, Alicia Ramsey still told the court that “there is no indication that this project is in jeopardy.” She claimed that if Granite Construction didn’t cut the 100 trees down, Caltrans would lose “millions and millions of dollars.” When later asked to explain that statement, Ramsey offered no comment.

When Judge Lamb denied the TRO but ordered Caltrans into court next week, District 9 Caltrans Director Tom Hallenbeck hurried from the courtroom with his cell phone. He said he was calling someone about the court results, and then he called the crews in Independence to start cutting down the 100 trees that line the main street in town.

Residents fear all they will get is tree stumps from Granite and Caltrans. More next week.

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