UPI (More)

Feature: Saving a tree called Old Glory
Published: Nov. 26, 2002 at 5:05 AM
By CHRIS H. SIEROTY
SANTA CLARITA, Calif., Nov. 26 (UPI) — Environmentalist John Quigley remained perched in a 400-year-old oak tree Tuesday while supporters, residents and tree relocation experts disagreed on its future.

Arborists prepared to begin moving the tree soon. The oak, which area children have named Old Glory, has been the center of controversy in this suburban community some 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles ever since tree service
crewmen were prevented from cutting down the tree on Nov. 14 to complete the widening of a highway to four lanes.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Works officials say Pico Canyon Road must be widened to make way for a 3,400-home planned community and a planned 21,600-unit development. Environmentalists want the planned road to be realigned to a two-lane highway that bypasses the 70-foot-tall oak tree.

Quigley, who has been calling the tree home almost continuously since Nov. 1, told United Press International the tree would die if it were moved from its habitat.

“I got a letter last night from 18 members of Los Angeles area agencies saying the tree can’t be moved,” Quigley told UPI from his perch 50 feet above the ground. He declined to identify who had signed the letter, saying he would release it later.

Quigley, who was recruited to sit in the tree by the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, said the tree was too old and large to be moved successfully. On Monday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich recommended the tree be moved to accommodate road expansion. He said that after much discussion of either realigning the road or moving the tree, the verdict from the Public Works Department and developer John Laing Homes is that moving the tree was the best option.

Antonovich said Valley Crest Tree Co. has been contracted to move the tree. Based in San Fernando, the company has recently moved several smaller and younger oaks in Lake Sherwood near Westlake Village.

Messages left by UPI with Valley Crest Tree Co. and John Laing Homes were not returned.

At a recent news conference, tree relocation engineer Salvadore Ponce said his crew will begin measuring the tree and digging three feet down by hand. A backhoe will then excavate around the tree and a box will be built around the roots.

After about 90 days, Ponce said, his crew will put a bottom in the box and move the tree about one-fourth mile across Pico Canyon to an oak preserve that has 120 existing oak trees.

John Laing Homes President Bill Rattazzi told reporters Thursday that he hopes Quigley would move out on his own, but warned that the company would do what it needs to do when the time comes. Rattazzi said he had no immediate plans to call the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to remove Quigley from the tree.

He added that it would cost $250,000 to move the tree and that Valley Crest would monitor the oak for five years to make sure it survives.

But Karen McElhatton, a supporter of Quigley’s efforts, told UPI that he would not come down without a $10 million bond to hold the relocation tree company responsible for the tree’s future.

“If the tree does die, then the bond would fund oak (tree) preservation in Santa Clarita,” McElhatton said. She added that Quigley and other supporters were not anti-development, but wanted development that took into consideration the natural geography.

Over the last month, hundreds of area residents have come out to support or criticize Quigley’s campaign.

Jim and Terry Baugh, of Santa Clarita, said after hearing about a man living in a tree for the past month they were curious to see it for themselves, but that spending $250,000 to move a tree was absurd.

“It’s a beautiful tree, no question about it,” said Jim Baugh, “but there are lots of beautiful trees, and we need to widen the road. If the tree is cut down, use the lumber for a good purpose (and) move on.”

He said the Santa Clarita Valley, with a population close to 200,000, had more pressing needs including building a new hospital.

However, Peter Kreitler, 60, said: “This is not an ideal thing he is doing. It is a sacrifice and a commitment to the environment.”

Kreitler told UPI that the tree is a symbol of America and its 400 years of beauty should be respected, not destroyed.
© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Panel approves White House subpoena
Published: May 22, 2002 at 7:47 PM
By CHRIS H. SIEROTY
WASHINGTON, May 22 (UPI) — The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted Wednesday along party lines to subpoena the White House to obtain information on the Bush administration’s contacts with Enron Corp. officials.

In a 9-8 vote, the subpoena was approved at the request of the committee’s chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., over the objections of Republican lawmakers. The administration was planning to comply with part of his request by late Wednesday.

Lieberman has been in a constant battle with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales since March 27 when he asked the administration to disclose its contacts with the bankrupt Houston-based energy company.

“This back and forth has exhausted my patience,” Lieberman said. “We have no choice but to subpoena the materials.”

The White House must fully comply with the committee’s subpoena by June 3. The material being sought dates from January 1992, which also covers the Clinton administration.

“This point should not be ignored by those who may be tempted to suggest that the committee’s investigation is in any way a partisan one,” Lieberman said.

Enron, which filed the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history on Dec. 2, 2001, has been among the largest contributors to the Bush campaigns. The Houston-based firm filed Chapter 11 after reports surfaced that it had kept at least $500 million in debt off its books.

Republican lawmakers urged Lieberman to postpone the vote till June 4.

“Are we doing this to attract the attention of the public?” asked Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. “It makes me very suspicious about the motivation of asking for a subpoena.”

The White House called the subpoena an unnecessary step.

“This was unnecessary; the White House has cooperated with Sen. Lieberman,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters Wednesday aboard Air Force One en route to Berlin, Germany. “We’re going to be providing additional information to the senator’s committee and they issued a subpoena without even having the chance to review the info we’re sending off.”

Fleischer added that the committee issued a subpoena “without even having the chance to review the info that we’re sending off.”

The Bush administration has admitted that former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay made phone calls to senior government officials late last year as the company neared bankruptcy.

Lieberman defended his subpoena request. “I have finally concluded we were being slow-walked at least or stone-walled at worst,” the senator said

The committee subpoenaed documents from Enron and its former auditor Arthur Andersen LLP earlier this year. The panel is one of 10 congressional committees investigating Enron’s collapse.
© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Pressure mounts on SEC’s Pitt to quit
Published: Oct. 31, 2002 at 9:28 PM
By CHRIS H. SIEROTY
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt was under increasing pressure from congressional Democrats on Thursday to step aside after he failed to disclose relevant information about the background of the recently appointed U.S. accounting monitor.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., called on Pitt to resign, saying he had deprived fellow commissioners of material information about William Webster’s role as chairman of an auditing committee for a company facing fraud allegations.

In a letter to President George W. Bush on Thursday, Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Jon Corzine, D-N.J., said that the integrity of the SEC and the new accounting oversight board have been tarnished because of the circumstances surrounding Webster’s appointment to the board and allegations that Pitt had failed to disclose to members of the SEC information that could have affected Webster’s nomination.

The senators said that by not disclosing information that had an impact on Webster’s suitability to head the oversight board, Pitt had failed to fulfill his duty as head of the SEC. They added that they feared that these circumstances would further undermine confidence in the U.S. financial markets.

White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo told United Press International late Thursday: “The White House supports Chairman Pitt.”

Earlier, aboard Air Force One en route to South Bend, Ind., White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that Pitt didn’t tell fellow commissioners before they voted on Webster’s nomination that the former FBI director had been in charge of an audit committee of a company sued for fraud.

McClellan said the first time the administration learned of the matter was when it was contacted by The New York Times.

The paper reported Thursday that Webster formerly headed the audit committee of U.S. Technologies, which is facing shareholder lawsuits for alleged fraud over accounting problems.

“We don’t know all the facts,” McClellan said. “This was a decision made by the SEC.”

Webster wasn’t available for comment on Thursday.

On Friday, the SEC voted 3-2 to appoint Webster, 78, as chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. The panel, which is the centerpiece of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, will oversee the audits of the financial statements of U.S. public companies.

On Thursday, Pitt asked the commission’s inspector general to investigate Webster’s appointment.

Earlier this month, the Times reported that the accounting industry, working with Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, covertly pressured Pitt to drop John H. Biggs, who is retiring as the head of pension fund giant TIAA-CREF, as his first choice.

Webster, the former head of the FBI and CIA, was selected over the objections of the SEC’s two Democratic commissioners who said he lacked the financial expertise to head the board. The two Democratic SEC members had favored Biggs.

“Pitt not only deprived his fellow commissioners of vital information about one of the most important appointments they would ever make, he knowingly endorsed a candidate for chairman … without seriously investigating this matter,” said Gephardt.

Gephardt accused Pitt of torpedoing a qualified candidate in favor of Webster, who has almost no experience in the auditing industry.

“The president should finally begin to restore investor confidence by appointing an SEC chairman devoted to the public interest, not the accounting industry,” he said.

(Incorporating material from a news media pool report.)
© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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