Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sometimes a Tree is Just a Tree

You all know the old adage, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," not a you know, another thing.

Well, the same can be true with trees. Yes, often what is going on when neighbors get into bitter battles over trees and views, or trees dropping leaves and sticks in their pool, or trees casting shadows, or just being a pain in the tuchas, they really have an ax to grind over something more than that. The neighbor's kid beat out their kid for a slot on the soccer team; their house is bigger, more expensive, better situated, or their big car sticks into the neighbor's parking space.

Sometimes, they just don't like them, period, no reason. Too loud, too fat, too untidy, etc.

Trees are substantial. Trees you can sue over. And so people often do.

But sometimes a tree is just a tree and when two neighbors get into it over the trees, they are really fighting over trees. And views. a lot of times it's the view, the one the tree is blocking. The one you used to have, or are pretty sure you used to have of the Bay, the hills, the river. But now there is nothing to see but that big ugly tree.
But stop and think. Talk to the neighbor. Go to mediation. Try to reach a compromise before a dispute over a tree turns into a whole other kind of cigar. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Rain and wind. Watch those trees!

It's raining in Northern California. Do you know how your trees are faring? Call a consulting arborist/urban forester, preferably one certified as a tree risk assessor, today!
Don't let this be your house!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A good example of affordable housing; reclaiming for the public good

Here is a story of how land formerly in Federal hands can be used for th local public good, with a little help from our friends (From the Marin IJ):

Editorial: A rare housing opportunity for Marin

Marin Independent Journal
POSTED:   11/17/2014 02:50:32 AM PST

The county hopes to buy the Coast Guard housing site in Point Reyes, and turn it into an affordable housing complex.
The county hopes to buy the Coast Guard housing site in Point Reyes, and turn it into an affordable housing complex. (Frankie Frost — Marin Independent Journal)

The opportunity to turn 36 units of surplus military housing in Point Reyes Station into publicly controlled affordable housing is one local officials should seize.

Rep. Jared Huffman, county officials, local community leaders and West Marin's Community Land Trust Association — or CLAM — are working toward that goal.

The housing was built by the Coast Guard for its crews working at the nearby communications center. But those military households now live elsewhere, living on military vouchers, and the Pentagon has told the Coast Guard to sell the property.

In the disposition of surplus federal property, paid for with taxpayer money, uses meeting other public needs should take top priority.
The need for affordable housing is just as pressing in West Marin as it is in the rest of the county. Home prices and rents have outpaced local paychecks, forcing more workers to commute from out of the county to area jobs.

The challenge is particularly daunting for young people as once-affordable units have given way to pricey homes or are now being offered as part of a growing vacation rental market. For many, this opportunity is about preventing local workers from being priced out of the community.
Acquisition of these units for affordable housing can take many of those workers, many of whom work on local ranches or in area stores and restaurants, out of those lengthy commutes.
Huffman's leadership in Congress will be vital to winning support for turning this opportunity into a reality.

Using this housing, built with taxpayers' money for an important public purpose, to fulfill another community-wide need makes sense and should be embraced by Congress.

Huffman is right when he says, "We do not have too many opportunities like this in Marin County."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Too big for West Marin?

This huge development (huge for a "single family" house) really needs to have environmental review. What do you think? Story from the Marin Independent Journal..

Pandora founder's Hidden Dragon estate fires up West Marin opposition

A notice hangs in front of 135 Balboa Ave. in Inverness Park where Pandora founder Tim Westergren plans to build a house.
A notice hangs in front of 135 Balboa Ave. in Inverness Park where Pandora founder Tim Westergren plans to build a house. (Frankie Frost — Marin Independent Journal)
Click photo to enlarge
Lisa Doron makes her opinion known by arranging... (Frankie Frost — Marin Independent Journal)
    Tim Westergren, the multi-millionaire founder of Pandora, the country's top Internet radio service, has his heart set on building a new home that many believe would be the largest private residence in rural West Marin County. This has not been music to his new neighbors' ears.

    The 48-year-old musician cum Internet entrepreneur, listed by Time magazine in 2010 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, has submitted plans with the county of Marin for a two-story showplace home with a separate caretaker apartment, meditation hut, lap pool, studio and two garages on a forested ridge overlooking Tomales Bay in rural Inverness Park, an unincorporated enclave adjacent to the quiet village of Inverness, population 1,300.

    In an October 2013 email addressed "Dear neighbors," Westergren introduced himself and his wife, Smita Singh, founding director of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Global Development Program, as the new owners of the 17-acre property at 135 Balboa Ave. For decades, it had been a Russian Orthodox monastery known as St. Eugene's Hermitage. The couple bought it in 2008.
    "We wanted to check in, say hello and let you know how excited we are to begin the process of building our home in your lovely neck of the woods," they wrote. "Our program will be light on the land, and will be sustainably designed and built. We are big believers in integrating a home with its natural environment — minimizing the disturbance of both the land and the surrounding community."

    They went on to say, "Realistically, our move-in date will probably be in 2016, which seems a long ways away."

    Not long enough, as it turns out, for the project's many opponents, who have not been swayed by his just folks attempt to win them over.

    "If you're someone who doesn't have an insane amount of money, then you build sensibly," said Nancy Stein, who has lived on Balboa Avenue for 40 years. "But because the money out there is insane, people are able to do outlandish things. I would like this place to stay open to musicians and artists, people who don't have a lot of money."

    Judging from the many letters of opposition that have been sent to county planners, most residents are aghast at the size of the 8,297-square-foot project, which would have 14 bathrooms and up to 17 "functional" bedrooms, according to critics, and would be up to four times larger than the median-sized house in this community of remodeled summer homes, weekend cottages, rustic cabins and modest single-family dwellings.

    Westergren says his plans call for nine bedrooms total, but the Inverness Association, an 84-year-old organization of property owners and preservationists, concludes that the second unit "functions as a six-bedroom, two bath housing unit with detached two-car garage" and the septic systems have been sized to service 11 bedrooms in the main residence and six bedrooms in the second unit.
    A rendering shows the front elevation of the proposed residence at 135 Balboa in Inverness.
    A rendering shows the front elevation of the proposed residence at 135 Balboa in Inverness. (Courtesy Chris Stanton — Inverness Construction Management)
    "It's outrageous," said longtime Inverness resident Inez Storer. "It's a huge deal. The rumor is that it will be a boutique hotel. Why else would you have 14 bathrooms?"

    In its report to the county's Community Development Agency, the Inverness Association notes that Westergren's "unusual application has generated unprecedented local interest and comment from residents in both the immediate neighborhood and the wider Inverness area."

    In other words, the Point Reyes Peninsula is buzzing over the high-powered celebrity couple and the gated family compound they hope to build on land where humble monks used to pray in the solitude of their monastery.

    The plans were filed by a limited liability company named Hidden Dragon. And, in an email to neighbors in September, the Internet entrepreneur tried to allay suspicions among locals that Hidden Dragon has a hidden agenda.

    "In the short-term, our small family intends to use the property as a weekend and vacation retreat, with a long-term intention of retiring here," he wrote. "We can imagine having family and friends as guests, and perhaps annually hosting both our extended families for several weeks or more."
    He explained that they needed that many bedrooms and bathrooms "so we can gather both our extended families on occasion on this beautiful property. Needless to say, this is very important to us."

    This appeal resonated with Ivan and Sarah Diamond, who live on nearby Drakes Summit Road.
    "Thank you and well done!!" they replied to Westergren's email. "We are completely supportive of your project."

    But few are so unequivocal, and most are not buying much of what Westergren is selling. In addition to its alarm over the estate's size, the Inverness Association's report to county planners expressed concern over the development's impact on water resources (the property relies on a single well), the legality of the second unit, potential future use of the property and the 31 "heritage trees" that Westergren plans to cut down to carve out enough space for his family compound in the mature Douglas fir forest that covers the ridge. The land borders the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which makes it a rare and valuable piece of real estate that locals would like to see remain as unspoiled as possible. For generations, urban dwellers have escaped to Inverness for the joy of simple solace in its cool, coastal forests.

    "I don't think you should purchase a forest, move in and cut it down," said musician Tim Weed, who lives across the street from the Hidden Dragon property.

    Aside from the potential harm to the environment, locals are worried that Westergren will be the harbinger of an invasion by other wealthy property owners with similar designs on living in super-size houses that fly in the face of West Marin's earthy, unpretentious heritage.

    "It's putting a toe in the water for McMansions in this area," said Ellen Shehadeh, a writer and editor for the weekly West Marin Citizen. "I feel like it could be a precedent, the beginning of something that we would not want here. The next person with a lot of money could do the same thing."
    In her letter to county planners, Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, said she could foresee the Hidden Dragon complex paving the way for other large homes that would replace already scarce affordable housing.

    "This would fundamentally, and forever, alter the character of the neighborhood," she wrote.
    After graduating from Stanford, Westergren started Pandora in 1999 with two partners. The Oakland company went public in 2011, raking in a reported $138 million that year. The website Success Stories listed him as one of the "top 10 people who got filthy rich in 2011."

    He has hired Olson Kundig Architects, a noted Seattle firm, to design his modern concrete, wood and glass house. Among its projects, Olson Kundig designed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitors Center, the Microsoft Envisioning Center as well as a number of private homes, including a glass farmhouse in northeast Oregon.

    County planner Heidi Scoble said she expects the Hidden Dragon project to have a public hearing before the Planning Commission in January. As opponents prepare to challenge the project in the halls of county government, Westergren has indicated he's willing to at least consider the reasons for his new neighbors' opposition to a baronial estate they find offensive to their sensibilities and to the natural environment.

    In an email response to an Independent Journal request for comment on the controversy, Westergren wrote, "Inverness is a special place and protecting the environment there is extremely important to me personally. I look forward to a collaborative and constructive dialogue with the community as I look to build a home for my family."

    This story has been modified since initial publication.

    Tuesday, December 03, 2013

    Tips for Homeowners Seeking Views

    If you live in one of the communities with a tree and view ordinance or your ccr's define protected views, here are a few simple tips to insure you retain the views you had when you bought your property without getting into a lengthy, costly and acrimonious legal spat with your nighbor.

    1. Document existing views. Take photographs when you move in of the views that you want to preserve, noting the location and height of trees that may become a problem in the future.

    2. Meet your new neighbors and discuss with them your desire to maintain good relationships and good views, so that they can understand your interest in seeing their trees do not become too tall or bushy as they grow.

    3. You may want to offer to share in tree maintenance costs from the beginning; after all, it is the investment in your property you are insuring, as well as a future cordial relationship with the neighbors.

    4. Continue your photographic documentation of the trees as they grow (if they do), and discuss any potential problems as they arise.  Are the trees starting to encroach the on the view? If you've had success with 1-3, your neighbor is likely to be willing to trim the trees before they become a real issue between you.

    5. Know the rules for your community or development, including the procedure for filing a claim, going to mediation or other dispute resolution methods recommended.

    6. If you need to invoke the process, you will be armed with knowledge and with a paper trail of your efforts to preserve the view amicably.

    7. And don't forget to try mediation first, before you go to court (most tree/view ordinances require you ask your neighbor to mediate before you may bring a lawsuit). If you do get to court, the judge is likely to send you to mediation anyway, so why not try first, agreeing to use a skilled mediator and even a mutually agreed upon neutral expert to advise you and the neighbor of how to remediate the problems to the satisfaction of both parties?

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    When Trees go Rogue

    Are trees like unruly teenagers, disobedient and rebellious? Or are they just following their instincts and their natural life cycle, when things go wrong? It could be a little bit of both and (as with the teenagers) most often the "parents" or tree owners have more than a little to do with their disruptive behavior.

    People will plant the wrong trees in the wrong places. They don't mean to, they just didn't go to the right parenting classes. Monterey pines and many other species just do not belong in small back yards in Marin County.  They are often shallow rooted, drop debris, including large branches and are subject to pests and diseases that can ravage them and their neighbor trees. Eucalypts are prone to whole branch failure. You do not want to be under one of them when the wind is blowing.

    We have handled several such cases, two most recently, where diseased and in one case, practically dead as a doornail, trees leaned precariously over the homes of nearby neighbors.

    Neighbors feared going into their own yards, and were advised by experienced tree risk assessors that the tree could easily pierce the roof. Imagine cowering in corners of your own home, having had to abandon living, dining or sleeping quarters!

    Neighborly pleas, arborists' reports and even letters from attorneys fell on deaf ears. In both cases, emergency court orders were the only remedy.  Luckily the orders were in place before the trees could do their damage.
    Don't get me wrong; we try to get the neighbors to try to to resolve these issues between themselves first. We even offer mediation with an expert who can provide sound scientific information on the health of the trees.  Can they be saved? Sometimes. Can sneaky roots that have invaded pipes and sewer lines be turned back? Often. And here's the interesting thing: except for those cases where swift action by a stern judge is called for to avert an impending tragedy, most court cases involving trees, neighbors and property end up being sent to mediation, the courts having more pressing matters to attend to, such as violent crime or theft of valuables.

    So why not mediate your tree issues first, before they become costly court cases? Save time, money and maybe even your relationship with the neighbors. Often taking this route makes everyone feel more kindly toward one another, and neighbors have been known to pitch in to help pay for trimming or removal of the offending tree, maybe even replacing it with a more "friendly" species.

    Monday, November 11, 2013

    Trees and Views in Tiburon California

    Some towns are more protective of their residents' views and access to natural light than others. Do you have a Bay view? Can you see the magical City of San Francisco out your window? Does the sun bathe your garden in a rich glow to help keep the flowers bright and healthy and provide you with a sunny disposition?

    Or are some trees down hill starting to encroach on the vista and block out the rays? If you live in the Town of Tiburon California (and many others, but we're focusing on one today), there are steps you can take to restore what you probably paid a premium price for when you first bought in a bucolic location.
    Chapter 15 of the Municipal ordinance is entitled: 


    To give you an example of how expansive the protected views can be in a town with such an ordinance, here is an excerpt from the code (under section 15-2 Definitions):

    "View" means a scene from the primary living area of a residence or the active use areas of a nonresidential building. The term "view" includes both upslope and downslope scenes, but is generally medium or long range in nature, as opposed to short range. Views include but are not limited to skylines, bridges, landmarks, distant cities, distinctive geologic features, hillside terrains, wooded canyons, ridges and bodies of water.

    Some additional examples are: 

    (1) San Francisco Bay (including San Pablo Bay, Richardson Bay, and islands therein);

    (2) The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge;

    (3) The Golden Gate Bridge;

    (4) The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge;

    (5) Mount Tamalpais;

    (6) The Tiburon Peninsula or surrounding communities (including the city of San Francisco).

    Protecting your view and access to light does not allow you to unfettered tree removal. There are suggestions such as trimming, windowing or selective thinking to restore the view while providing the neighbor with shelter and privacy. And you are only entitled to restore the view and sunlight access that existed when you moved into the property.

    And there is a strict procedure to be followed before any action is actually taken. For instance, you must first try to work things out with the neighbor amicably. If this does not work, you next offer to go to mediation with the neighbor. This is, in the opinion of this writer, a prudent move, one that can save the homeowners time, money and a lot of additional aggravation.  

    If mediation fails, or your neighbor does not agree, you may prepare a tree claim, outlining your grievances and next offer the neighbor the opportunity to go to binding arbitration. Details on preparing your claim are outlined in the ordinance. Before undertaking any of this, read the ordinance carefully.

    If all else fails, you may bring suit against your neighbor. While this may become your only option, and you may well prevail, this is sure to be costly and lead to ill will on all sides. Think about it carefully.

    One note: neither Tiburon nor any other Town or City that I'm aware of provides names of mediators experienced in tree law and view disputes. If they did so, mightn't it be more likely that homeowners would choose that route to resolve their differences?

    Wednesday, October 30, 2013

    Trees in Your Town - Know the Law

    Did you know that many Cities, Towns and Counties have tree ordinances? Some have view and sunlight ordinances too. All the rules are particular to the location, but they most often call for a permit to cut down trees of a certain size, type or number. If you want to cut down one of the "desirable" trees in your town (say a redwood in Mill Valley or an oak in many places), you usually will need an arborist's report, giving your reasons, such as disease or decay. Use this handy site for finding your town's ordinance. 

    Sometimes, there will be hearings and your neighbors may speak out. When, as in the last post on this blog, someone wants to cut a heritage oak for construction, where those trees are protected, that might not be a good enough reason. Especially if the neighbors cry foul.

    On the other hand, if you have an "undesirable" tree, such as Eucalyptus just about anywhere, acacia or fast growing pines or cypress (note, if you live on the Monterey Peninsula, proceed with caution if you want to cut a native Monterey cypress), your neighbors may cheer. They may even press the Town fathers to make you take down these trees if there is a threat of their falling on their property.
    I recently had a case where an almost entirely dead tree of the "undesirable" type loomed over my client's house, making her fear to be in her own backyard. A certified tree risk assessor deemed it a hazard, but it took a judge, and a stern warning about contempt of court, to get the tree down.

    This is a costly way to proceed.  If your neighbor's tree is a threat to your well-being, make sure the threat is real, talk to your neighbor about it, know what the law says in your Town and consider mediation before bringing in the legal guns.

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    Oak Saved in San Anselmo!

    So the tree was saved in San Anselmo. For now. Read it all here:

    Heritage oak in San Anselmo dodges the ax

    Posted:   10/09/2013 05:13:36 PM PDT

    Click photo to enlarge
    Linda Jensen stands on her front porch on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013

    A group of San Anselmo residents succeeded Tuesday night in its bid to save a heritage, white valley oak tree from being felled.

    "Truly, it is a miracle," said Linda Jensen, who led the fight to save the tree.

    Due to the labyrinthine process by which the matter was handled, the tree was saved by just two votes of the Town Council, and despite the fact the town could face a lawsuit as a result of the decision.
    "The whole thing was a little unclear to me; it was very complicated," said Michiko Conklin, owner of the property where the oak is located at 134 Madrone Ave.

    Public Works Director Sean Condry initially granted Conklin permission to remove the tree. Conklin says she must cut down the oak because its roots are damaging the foundation of her house. But Jensen, who fears the removal of Conklin's tree could lead to the death of several white oaks on her adjacent property, paid $500 to appeal the decision to the Town Council.

    On Sept. 24, the council voted 3-1 to grant Jensen's appeal without prejudice, which meant that Conklin would be granted a second opportunity to change the council's mind. Councilman Jeff Kroot, who is an architect, recused himself from that vote because he has been hired by Conklin to add a bedroom to the house.

    On Tuesday night, the council deadlocked 2-2, with Kroot once again recusing himself, over whether to reverse its decision on the appeal. Councilmen Tom McInerney and Ford Greene voted to uphold the appeal while Councilwomen Liz Dahlgren and Kay Coleman voted to reverse the appeal. Since a majority vote is required to reverse a council decision, the appeal was upheld.

    McInerney and Greene stood their ground despite that Conklin's lawyer, Neil Sorensen, made veiled threats that Conklin might sue the town over the matter.

    In a letter Sorensen sent to the council prior to Tuesday's meeting, he wrote, "Since the tree is clearly causing damage to Ms. Conklin's house, the town may be subject to significant liability if it declines the tree removal permit."

    Sorensen made similar comments during Tuesday night's meeting.

    "His comments were, in my view, counterproductive," McInerney said Wednesday. "I felt that the homeowner had not met her burden of proof to justify cutting down the tree, at least consistent with our ordinance."

    Under San Anselmo's town code, which provides special protection for "heritage" trees, Conklin had to demonstrate that cutting down the tree would be a necessity for the economic enjoyment of her home.

    "I just wasn't convinced this work was necessary," McInerney said. He added that the town's attorney advised that the council had sufficient grounds to make that ruling.

    At Tuesday's meeting, Conklin provided new reports from an arborist, Ed Gurka, and an engineer, Peter Nissen, who stated that the tree's roots are undermining her house's foundation. The arborist and engineer were recommended to Conklin by town staff and reaffirmed similar evaluations provided by an arborist and engineer that Conklin had previously hired.

    Public Works Director Condry told the council Tuesday that the foundation of Conklin's house can be designed to bridge the roots at an estimated cost of $10,000 to $25,000; it is estimated it will cost $11,000 to remove the tree. Experts differ over how fast the tree's roots will grow and how long that solution would last.

    Jensen said people who want to save the tree have offered to work with Conklin in an attempt to reduce the cost of the work. Conklin's plans to add a bedroom to the house could be jeopardized by the tree's preservation, since she would need space for additional parking for approval of the addition. But Conklin says that has nothing to do with her bid to remove the oak.

    She said Wednesday, "I do not know what we're going to do at this point."

    Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at

    Thursday, September 26, 2013

    Saving San Anselmo Heritage Tree

    Read this article in the Marin IJ about certified tree hazard assessor, Ray Moritz, my hubby, saving a heritage oak tree a neighbor wanted to cut down. At least for now.  Hearing was last night.

    San Anselmo council grants reprieve for heritage oak tree

    Posted:   09/25/2013 05:11:22 PM PDT

    Linda Jensen stands on her front porch on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in San Anselmo, Calif. She wants to prevent removal of one of a group of large oak trees behind her which the home owner next door wants to cut down. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost) Frankie Frost
    Click photo to enlarge
    Linda Jensen stands on her back deck on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in San Anselmo, Calif.  .

      A heritage white valley oak tree in San Anselmo received a stay of execution Tuesday night.
      The San Anselmo Town Council delayed a decision on whether to allow Michiko Conklin, the homeowner at 134 Madrone Ave., to cut down the tree on her property. Conklin says the roots of the 300-year-old oak are undermining the foundation of her house.

      Public Works Director Sean Condry granted Conklin permission to fell the tree, but Conklin's neighbor, Linda Jensen, appealed the decision to the Town Council. Jensen, who went door to door passing out flyers to alert the neighborhood about the meeting, said more than a dozen people spoke Tuesday night in favor of preserving the oak.

      "There was one 7-year-old girl whowas awesome," Jensen said.

      Conklin said she was surprised that the council didn't reject Jensen's appeal "because my situation had met the letter of the law."

      "I guess they feel they need more information," Conklin said.

      Conklin has also submitted plans to add a bedroom on the side of the house where the oak is now located, but she said that has nothing to do with her decision to remove the tree. Councilman Jeff Kroot recused himself from the public hearing because he was hired by Conklin to serve as the architect for the project, which is currently on hold.

      Ray Moritz, a certified tree risk assessor engaged by Jensen, has challenged the conclusions of Conklin's structural engineer, Karl Beckmann and her arborist, Louie Brunn of Marin County Arborists.

      Conklin said on Tuesday night the council asked her "to get another arborist and engineer to confirm what information we already have."

      Town Manager Debra Stutsman said the council wants more information about the viability and expense of bridging the foundation over the tree roots, what impact there would be to other oaks in the area if the front portion of the yard is paved over as part of the proposed building project and how immediate a threat the roots pose. No date has been set for the council to revisit the issue.
      Jensen fears that if Conklin cuts down her tree that it will damage four white valley oaks on her property, since the roots are intermingled.

      "I don't want them to die," Jensen said.

      Conklin said, "I don't really know what I'm going to do at this point. I don't think I've had enough time to digest the whole situation."

      Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at

      Friday, September 06, 2013

      Questions we'd love to see Number 3

      This is a real question, asked by a reader of a site for lawyers, with my answer.

      Made my day:

      If an actual UFO/SpaceShip lands in my back yard can i charge money from visitors or will my land be government property ?


      I am sorry about the hypothetical aspect of this question, its just a debate between me and my friends on a summer hot day :).

      So , if an actual UFO/SpaceShip lands in my back yard can i charge money from visitors or will my land be government property ?

      Please answer with all seriousness . (witty jokes are more than welcomed)
      Thank you :)

      My answer:

      You should be so lucky! If you are not whisked away for scientific experiments by the aliens, you will surely be quarantined as another Area 51 (52?) Hold out for a good contract. There may be a slight issue with radiation contamination, for which you will be fined by the EPA and any number of other governmental acronyms.

      Monday, August 12, 2013

      Homeowners can save time, money mediating tree, neighbor disputes

      The problem:

      You’ve noticed something has happened over the last few years.  Gradually, your neighbor’s trees have grown into the view you’ve enjoyed for the last decade. One day you realize you no longer have even the narrowest slice of the bay view you loved to watch as the sun set slowly and the sky reddened into beauty.

      Is there anything you can do about this? If you live in one of Marin’s cities or towns with a tree and view ordinance (Belvedere, Tiburon, Sausalito, Corte Madera) the answer is yes. In these towns, a homeowner is entitled to restore the view he had when he came into possession of the property, if such restoration is reasonable.  In most cases you are no entitled to an unhindered view, but to a reasonable view.  The rights of the tree owners and the health of the trees are also taken into consideration when deciding these issues.

      These ordinances also provide a method for homeowners to address disputes involving trees, views and, in some cases, sunlight. One such ordinance (in Sausalito) even provides a formal body that convenes to hear and advise on such disputes.

      What to do about it:

       Here are the common steps tree and view ordinances prescribe:

       1.    Talk to your neighbor about the problem. If you believe and can document that your view of a scenic vista, bay, hills, even other trees, in the form of wooded landscape, has been impeded unreasonably by the growth of your neighbor’s trees, all the ordnances advise talking to the neighbor first. Try to work out a compromise. The neighbor may not have been aware of the growth of his tress, and if you agree to pay for the trimming, may welcome your offer.  This friendly neighbor scenario all too uncommon. Often other issues have come between the neighbors. The tree owning neighbor is defensive about his property rights. The neighbor with the lost view become indignant and talk is not an option.

      2.    Mediation. All ordinances require that you next offer to mediate the dispute with a neutral party, one who can listen to both sides without judgment. The hope is the two sides can come to a reconciliation through a facilitator. It is at this juncture that things usually break down.  The cities and towns do not keep lists of skilled mediators, so neighbors are left to their own devices. In most cases, they simply choose to file suit.

      3.    Tree Committee hearing or arbitration. Arbitration is another option, but if neighbors turn down mediation, binding arbitration is unlikely.  Sausalito is the only town with the Tree Committee. An aggrieved neighbor has the right to submit the grievance to the Tree Committee which will hold its own hearing. The neighbor complained against has the right to be present and to bring their own evidence or information to help the Committee come to a recommendation. 

      If you choose not to attend, beware, since the recommendation of the Tree Committee, creates a “rebuttable presumption” in favor of the recommendation should the case land in a court of law.  That means if you are sued and your neighbor has a finding by a tree committee that your trees be trimmed, the burden of proof is essentially on you to prove they do not unreasonably block the neighbor’s view or that the neighbor never had a view since they owned the property.

      Can things be improved:

      Having been involved in many of these cases, I believe there may be ways to avoid a costly lawsuit and make homeowner feel better about finding an actual resolution to a vexing tree and view issue.

      First, Cities and towns could keep lists of experienced mediators in tree and view disputes. This way, the homeowners could find names of those who have handled these cases before and have reached satisfactory results. When I called some municipalities to ask if they kept such a list, all I talked to said, no, they told people to use Google or the phone book.

      Second, mediators could work with experts who would remain neutral and offer both sides the benefit of their expertise. This way, more homeowners would be likely to take advantage of the offer to mediate at the outset and not wait for a judge to send them to a mediator, once positions are hardened, lawyers have racked up expenses and experts are writing dueling reports.
      This approach not only saves time and money for both homeowners, it has the potential of preserving the relationship between neighbors. And unless you plan to move anytime soon, keeping an amicable relationship with neighbors is all to the good.