Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"When a Tree Falls, We Hear it"

I hope everyone had a cool Yule and will have a green New Year.  Keep your trees fresh and avoid fights with the neighbors, if you can.  Trees blocking views?  Views threatening trees?  Wayward limbs getting dangerously close to the fence and backyard?  Don't litigate, Mediate. 

Tree Dispute Mediation is here for you.  Complete with an attorney mediator and expert neutral consulting arborist/tree hazard specialist.  Save time, money and your relationships with the neighbors.  Try mediation first.

Our motto since 2012:  "When a tree falls, we hear it."

What are you waiting for?
Green Legal Solutions 
and Tree Dispute Mediation
email us for more information:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

EIR for Novato Landfill expansion dinged in Court

Big doings in Marin.  A superior Court judge has side with environmentalists against the Redwood Landfill expansion, saying the EIR is deficient in several ways, including not taking into consideration greenhouse gas emissions.  This is a victory for the law and the environment.  Read the story from the Marin IJ below. If the ruling holds, this is big news and a major victory. 

Marin judge's tentative ruling threatens expansion of Novato landfill

In a tentative ruling issued Monday afternoon, Marin Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee invalidated an environmental impact report that paved the way for a major expansion of Redwood Sanitary Landfill in Novato. 

After the county of Marin certified the environmental impact report in 2008, the landfill was able to obtain a permit from the state to boost capacity at the landfill by 6 million cubic yards to a total capacity of 25 million cubic yards and to continue operating the landfill for another 16 years.
In her tentative ruling, Duryee wrote, "By not including a discussion of the cumulative effect of the project's greenhouse gas emissions, (Marin County) Environmental Health Services failed to proceed in a the manner required by law."

Lawyers representing the county and Redwood Landfill will get an opportunity to argue their case one last time at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Lawyers for the plaintiff in the case, No Wetlands Landfill Expansion, a local environmental organization, will also present their arguments to Judge Duryee.
Brent Newell, one of the attorneys working for No Wetlands Landfill Expansion, said if Judge Duryee were to adopt this ruling as her final ruling, the environmental impact report would be voided and the landfill's expansion permit vacated.

Newell added, however, "It's a tentative decision; it's not a win or a loss yet. This is not over by a long ways."

Osha Meserve, an attorney working for Redwood SanitaryLandfill, declined to comment on the judge's ruling, except to say, "We have requested oral arguments."

In her ruling, Judge Duryee identified several other aspects of the report that she said were deficient. For example, Duryee said the report fails to adequately discuss the possible increased "non-cancer health impacts" from air pollutant emissions. These include acute respiratory infections, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema and bronchial asthma.

Duryee wrote, "Since this significant air quality impact constitutes a separate risk to public health, the Final Environmental Impact Report should have identified and analyzed it."

Judge Duryee wrote that the report was also inadequate because it failed to analyze the formation and impacts of very fine particulate matter having a diameter of 2.5 microns or less. These tiny particles can easily penetrate into the airways and lungs where they produce harmful effects such as the worsening of heart and lung diseases.

Duryee also said the report improperly deferred formulation "of mitigation measures to reduce the impact to the project from potential flooding," and "mitigation of the impact from groundwater contamination from an improperly designed leachate collection and removal system."
And, Judge Duryee ruled that the environmental impact report failed to adequately describe an off-site alternative to the project.

The landfill's expansion project was opposed by No Wetlands Landfill Expansion and several other environmental groups who warned that Marin taxpayers could get stuck with the bill if toxic leachate stored in the landfill escapes due to flooding or an earthquake. The landfill is surrounded on three sides by the Petaluma River, San Antonio Creek and other wetlands that lead into San Francisco Bay.

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why Tree Dispute Mediation might be Right for You and Your Trees!

Many of you know I have added to my law practice a Tree Dispute Mediation service with my husband, Ray Moritz, an expert consulting arborist/urban forester. Ray has participated in hundreds of mediations around trees, views, hazard issues, wildland fire and the like.  I have training in transactional analysis (it helps, let me tell you), and mediation in standard and environmental settings.  Together we can help save people time, costs and headaches by using mediation with a neutral scientific expert with no bias toward either side.  Resolve your issues by learning what's best for the environment and your relationship with the neighbors.  Here
s an article on the subject.

Pass it on:

The problem:

Two neighbors are at an impasse over one of the neighbors trees that the other neighbor finds unsightly, scary and messy.  The first neighbor, call him Neighbor A, refuses to hear anything the other neighbor, Neighbor B, says about his trees. He planted them twenty years ago for privacy and shade and they are doing the job.  If they drop limbs on Neighbor B’s property, he can just pick them up and consider it free firewood. 

And no, he will not consider cutting down these trees and planting something shorter, cleaner and neater, even if Neighbor B offers to pay half. 

What to do?  If Neighbor B truly feels Neighbor A’s trees are a hazard (the limbs they drop are huge and he fears for the well being of his dog, his kids, his wife and himself) or even just a nuisance (he’s tired of picking up debris and having half his yard in shade), he may well hire an attorney and write Neighbor A a threatening letter. If Neighbor A ignores it, the two may find themselves in court, with costly attorneys and experts and staring at a long, grueling legal battle that will ensure there is never any good will between these two neighbors again. One may even end up moving away just to avoid the “despot” next door.

Fears and accusations of harassment, name calling, hang up phone calls, even tree damage or poisoning may well ensue.

The solution:

How to avoid all this?

Try mediation first, before you resort to legal action.  But not just any mediation.  Because even in mediation, positions can harden and experts can argue, until an impasse forces the parties into court anyway.

Try Tree Dispute Resolution with an experienced neutral tree expert, who works side by side with a neutral attorney mediator. 

Litigation is costly, especially if each side is forced to hire attorneys and experts, pay court fees, attend endless depositions and fill out countless paperwork.  Try mediation instead. We work with you to solve the thorny problems that come between neighbors, their trees and their views.  We help you deal with hazard trees and nuisances.  What is unique to our service is a trained neutral consulting arborist provides expert assistance in finding the right solution for your situation.  Our goal is to keep trees and relationships healthy and thriving.  

Here is what one lawyer said about the use of neutral experts in mediation:

The expert is jointly hired by both sides and the cost is shared equally by both sides. The expert’s role is to openly provide independent, neutral expert information and analysis to both side and more so, to the process as a whole. The non-aligned expert becomes a mutual asset and a resource for all parties in developing options for settlement.
Shared costs. Shared usage. Heightened value. The joint use of a neutral, independent expert is a beautiful thing: The client pays less money and gets more value. And the experts find it liberating and freeing, allowing them to do their best work. (Michael Zeytoonian,

Take your tree dispute to mediation instead of court.  Use trained, experienced neutrals, including a consulting arborist/urban forester with more than twenty five years experience helping people with the same issues facing you now.  Share the cost of having an attorney-mediator and neutral expert serve you, and help solve those thorny problems.

Save time, save money, save your relationship with the neighbors.

Try mediation first.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ruling stops Walmart from circumventing Environmental Laws

 Very good ruling for the environment.  Keep watching this one:

Ruling is win for environmental law, loss for Wal-Mart

Retailer using petition drives to get stores approved, skirt environmental review

By on November 19, 2012 - 12:01 a.m. PST
Walmart Store
Getty Images/Joe Raedle
A state appellate court has dealt a blow to Wal-Mart’s strategy of using petition drives to push through approval of new superstores while avoiding California’s environmental law. In a cookie-cutter pattern documented by California Watch, sister site of The Bay Citizen, the mega-retailer bankrolled local signature-gathering efforts to build superstores or repeal restrictions on big-box stores in five California cities last year, including Milpitas. Once 15 percent of local voters signed the petitions, city councils had to either approve the projects or hold a special election, which can be costly. Wal-Mart then urged cities to approve the petition rather than send it to voters, angering some officials who felt bullied.
Wal-Mart has said the strategy is necessary to avoid politically motivated lawsuits under the California Environmental Quality Act. 

Voter-approved ballot measures that stem from petitions are exempt from environmental review and protected from CEQA lawsuits. Wal-Mart argued that when a city approves one of its petitions without an election, the project would be protected, too.
But in a strongly worded opinion, a three-judge appellate panel ruled late last month that the landmark environmental law still applies.

“The legal issue is important and calls for speedy resolution,” the opinion stated. “Developers’ strategy of obtaining project approvals without environmental review and without elections threatens both to defeat CEQA’s important statutory objectives and to subvert the constitutional goals of the initiative process.”

The Fresno-based 5th District Court of Appeal disagreed with a 2004 ruling by a different appellate court, setting up the possibility that the issue will ultimately be resolved by the California Supreme Court.

The Fresno court held that a petition signed by 15 percent of a city's voters doesn't carry the same power as a majority-approved ballot initiative. "To hold otherwise would authorize rule by a few – the antithesis of democracy," it said.
The case centers on a Wal-Mart expansion project in the small Gold Country city of Sonora. Attorneys who often target Wal-Mart with environmental lawsuits have sued over its use of the initiative process there, as well as in the San Bernardino County town of Apple Valley and the Silicon Valley suburb of Milpitas.

The city of Sonora argued in court filings that its citizens supported the proposed superstore so there was no point in holding an election. Wal-Mart argued that it would be unfair to "force city councils to incur unnecessary and unwanted expenses to hold elections."

The city's and company's positions reveal "their failure to appreciate the importance of elections in the initiative process," the court stated. "The results of an election represent the will of the people. A petition signed by 15 percent of the voters does not."

The legal battle slowing down Wal-Mart's expansion frustrates Sonora Mayor Hank Russell.
"These people just want to delay a process that should be part of a free market economy," he said. "I don’t think it’s the city’s role to decide who can compete."

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Delia Garcia said the existing Sonora store "has served customers faithfully and made a positive impact on the local economy."

"We are committed to providing customers the broadest selection of products to meet their family's needs and will evaluate all options for moving forward," Garcia wrote in an email.
The court's ruling goes beyond Wal-Mart, said Brett Jolley, the attorney who brought the suit.
"The opinion closes what could have been a major loophole in the CEQA process which would have allowed the wealthiest developers ... to avoid CEQA and public elections by utilizing the initiative process," he wrote by email. 

Jolley quoted California Watch's story in his opening brief, but Wal-Mart objected, moving to strike that part of the petition. The judges decided that the reference to the article did not alter their conclusions and denied Wal-Mart's motion.

San Diego-based lawyer Cory Briggs, a longtime thorn in the side of Wal-Mart, said he would use the ruling to revive a similar lawsuit he is pursuing in Apple Valley. Briggs, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Sonora case, heralded the decision as "a victory for the rule of law and for true majority rule."

"Any developer who thinks that they're going to buy their way to the ballot box is now going to have to do the work of actually persuading a majority of the voters," said Briggs.

Wal-Mart has had mixed success at the ballot box. Voters in Inglewood shot down the company's proposed superstore in 2004. But the residents of Menifee, in Riverside County, approved a Wal-Mart ballot initiative last year.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Trees in the News

Trees that go bad, or bad trees.  It's all depends on where you sit.  Here are some late breaking stories about trees vs. people (bad tree, bad landlord), and trees v. view - in Seattle, where no trees have yielded yet in the ongoing battle.


From the Redlands Daily Facts:

Landlord found responsible after tree branch falls, injures Crestline tenant

SAN BERNARDINO - A Crestline woman was awarded nearly $3 million after a jury found her landlord responsible for life-altering injuries she received because of a fallen tree limb. Sabrina Buelna, now 34, was hurt when the 700-pound tree branch fell on her in the front yard of the home she and her husband rented from Mick Hill, a landlord who owned other properties in the area. 

On July 16, 2010, they were outside barbecuing when they heard the 100-year-old Black Oak tree on the property start to crack. Their toddler was sitting beneath the tree.
Buelna was able to push the child out of the way, but the branch came down on her her foot, which was crushed under its weight and nearly had to be amputated, said lawyers from DeWitt Algorri & Algorri, the Pasadena law firm that represented the family. 

She went through months of treatment and wracked up almost $300,000 in medical bills.
Buelna is still undergoing physical therapy and now walks with a cane. Her husband had to quit his job to take care of her, said Patrick Nolan, an assistant attorney in the trial.
After the incident, officials came out and discovered the tree was completely rotted to the core, and it had been that way for years. 

The plaintiff's claim Farmer's Insurance initially denied liability when the two parties started going back and forth. 

"The offers were not enough," Nolan said. 

But Mark Toohey, a spokesman for Farmers Insurance,said the company made multiple attempts to settle this case before the trial started. 

"All of our attempts were rejected by the plaintiff," he said. 

The two sides went to trial early last month where Hill admitted that he had not conducted a state-required inspection for dangerous conditions before the Buelna family moved in to the mountain home. 

"Landlords have a duty to do a reasonable inspection of the property," Nolan said.
Hill argued that the fallen branch looked healthy from the outside and he could not have known of the rot. 

But during the trial, Buelna's lawyers said Hill had run a tree removal service as part of his real estate development background and that the defendant had at one point described himself as a tree expert. 

"Mr. Hill never described himself as a tree expert," Toohey said Thursday. "He removed trees as part of preparation of a site in his duties as a general contractor."
On Oct. 25 jurors came back with their verdict - that Hill was responsible for the damage and the victim would receive $2.9 million. 

"While we respect the jury's decision, we disagree with the verdict and we intend to explore our post-trial options," Toohey said. 

This personal injury case is a clear warning to all landlords, Nolan said.
"Landlord have a duty to inspect their properties for dangerous conditions before they turn it over to their tenants," Nolan said. 

"Under the law, a tenant has the right to expect the property is free of any dangerous conditions."

from the Seattle Times 

Oleruds' appraisal: Tree cuts value of house by $255,000

A Chinese pine on the edge of Bruce and Linda Baker's Clyde Hill property is worth $18,400, based on an arborist's calculation of the cost to replace the rare tree. But the tree has reduced the value of John and Kelly Olerud's house across the street by $255,000 because it blocks much of their westerly view, according to a recent appraisal.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Chinese pine on the edge of Bruce and Linda Baker's Clyde Hill property is worth $18,400, based on an arborist's calculation of the cost to replace the rare tree.

But the tree drops the value of John and Kelly Olerud's house across the street by $255,000 because it blocks much of their westerly view, according to a recent appraisal.

John Olerud, a former Seattle Mariner, American League batting champion and three-time Gold Glove winner, commissioned the appraisal to bolster his request that the city order the tree removed under Clyde Hill's view-protection ordinance.

The Oleruds have been attempting for more than two years to persuade — or force — the Bakers to cut down two trees that diminish their hillside view of Lake Washington, Seattle and the Olympic Mountains.

The Bakers have refused.

The city Board of Adjustment will hold a second hearing Wednesday on the Oleruds' request for an order to cut the trees down. The board has never issued a removal order since the "view obstruction and tree removal" ordinance was adopted in 1991.

A survey submitted by the Oleruds two weeks ago said the Chinese pine and a Colorado spruce behind it block 40 percent of what would otherwise be a 30-degree western view from a porch off the family room. The view isn't wider because of other trees on the hillside, including a cedar on the Bakers' land.

If the pine and spruce were cut down, the value of the Oleruds' 12-room, 6,680-square-foot hillside home would rise from $4.045 million to $4.3 million, appraisers Patrick Lamb and Barry Wilson calculated.

Property values are closely associated with views in Clyde Hill, a city of almost 3,000 between Bellevue and Medina.

The Bakers' Chinese pine, possibly 50 years old, was there long before the Oleruds bought the property across the street in 2006 and built their luxury house.

The Bakers have cut down a coast redwood; agreed to remove the spruce, valued at $4,800; and pruned the Chinese pine in a way intended to allow some of the view to show through. But they don't want to part with the pine, which they see as beautiful and the Oleruds call an eyesore.

The Oleruds' house is separated from the Bakers' by a street and a grassy lot owned by the Oleruds. The King County assessor rates the view from the Olerud house as "average," the view from the Bakers' $1.1 million house as "excellent."

The board can order the Bakers' trees removed if it finds they unreasonably obstruct the Oleruds' views. Among the factors the board may consider are how much of the view is blocked, whether landmarks are obscured, how the Oleruds' property value is affected, and how the trees and the views they obstruct affect both families' enjoyment of their properties.
Arborist Brian Gilles, hired by the Oleruds, urged the board to order the trees removed, calling them "a quintessential example of why the law was enacted."

Gilles wrote it would not be hard to find small trees or large shrubs that would serve as appropriate replacements for the trees, but Bruce Baker said tree brokers couldn't provide a pine small enough to give the Oleruds a fuller view but large enough to satisfy the Bakers.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Follow up on Pete's Harbor

The fight continues. It's on the City Council. Reminds of the houseboat wars that raged for years over Gate 5 liveaboards in Sausalito.  We helped broker a settlement that got many of the residents new slips; some just could not compromise.  I hope they can keep the community together. Carol Nolte is doing a good job of presenting the issues in the Chron.  Here's today's installment:

 Pete's Harbor condominium plan advances
Updated 10:12 p.m., Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The tenants who live aboard boats at Pete's Harbor in Redwood City were trying to figure out Wednesday what to do next, after their attempt to halt a big development that would force them to move was turned down by the city's Planning Commission.

The commission voted unanimously late Tuesday to approve a 411-unit condominium development at the landmark marina. Unless they win an appeal to the City Council or a possible public vote, more than 50 people who live in floating homes will have to clear out by mid-January.

The commissioners listened sympathetically at a public hearing to the pleas of the residents of Pete's Harbor, who said the condo development would mean the end of a pleasant way of life that has been part of the Redwood City bayfront for more than 50 years. They have received eviction notices effective Jan. 15.

But in the end, the planning board determined that the proposed development meets Redwood City zoning requirements and the requirements of the city's general plan. The vote was 7-0.
"There was not one of the commissioners who didn't feel sympathetic" to the problems of the tenants who live in the marina, said Ernie Schmidt, the commission's chairman.

But he said the commission only has the authority to consider planning matters. "We have a very defined role," Schmidt said, "and these other matters are not in our purview."

In sometimes emotional testimony, the tenants argued that Pete's Harbor offered rare affordable living space, and that they have no other place to go.

Alison Madden, a spokeswoman for the tenants, said the group would appeal the decision to the City Council. All Planning Commission decisions may be appealed within 15 days.
If the council allows the development, she said, the tenants may decide to circulate a petition to require a public vote on the issue. A much larger development proposal - for a 1,900-unit condo complex - was turned down by Redwood City voters in 2004.

Pete's Harbor was constructed by Pete Uccelli in 1958. Uccelli died in 2005 and his widow, Paula, now owns the harbor. The development would be built by Pauls Corp. of Denver.

Read more:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rich vs. poor, on Pete's Harbor

Today's Chron tells about the age old struggle between the haves and have nots, or have not much, soon to be less. The lure of the water and a modest boat tied up to the dock allows those without much to have some sense of home and freedom.  Here's what happening in Redwood City at Pete's Harbor: 

Pete's Harbor development sparks fight

Published 9:49 p.m., Monday, October 29, 2012
  • About half of the 144 people living on boats when Pete's Harbor management sent eviction notices last month have left. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle / SF
    About half of the 144 people living on boats when Pete's Harbor management sent eviction notices last month have left. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle / SF

There are two versions of the California dream. In one, you live in a new bayside apartment close to Silicon Valley, with a view of the bay and the hills. In the other you live in a boat on the dock of the bay, in a community of boaters.
In the one version, your home is only a short commute from work. In the other, you can slip the dock lines on your home and sail off into the sunset.
The two visions are at the heart of a dispute at Pete's Harbor, a charming small marina just off Bayshore Freeway in Redwood City.
Paula Uccelli, the owner of the harbor and the widow of Pete Uccelli, who built the harbor in 1958, wants to sell Pete's to a developer who is planning to build a 411-unit apartment complex.
The development would mean the end of the way of life for about 50 or so people who live aboard boats at Pete's. They've been given eviction notices and have to move by Jan. 15.
The boaters, a close-knit group that is almost like a family, are fighting the development. A decision is expected when the issue comes up before the Redwood City Planning Commission meeting starting at 7 p.m Tuesday.

Previous plan lost

This is not the first battle over the future of Pete's Harbor. In 2001, Pete Uccelli sold an option on the property to a developer who planned a 1,900-unit condominium complex and private marina on the site. That plan was turned down after a Redwood City election battle in 2004.
The current plan calls for a much smaller development, but it has stirred up the same emotions.
"This is my home," said Buckley Stone, who lives with his wife, Wendy, and a cat aboard a 41-foot sailboat. "I've lived in Redwood City for 20 years. This is my town, I eat here, I shop here, I vote here."
Like the others, Stone says he has nowhere else to go. Because of legal restrictions, berths where boaters can live aboard are hard to come by. "Finding one is like playing musical chairs," said Bob Pearson, who also lives on a boat at Pete's. "When the music stops there just aren't enough chairs."
There are two attractions to living on a boat. One is lifestyle. "We all watch out for each other and help each other out," Stone said.
Another is affordability. Pete's charges $7.50 a foot for berth rental, plus a $250 live-aboard fee, which means someone can live on a small boat for less than $600 a month.
"There's a lot of hard-working people here," said Pearson. "We're not talking about a gang of ruffians. No drugs here. None of that."
The development would also probably mean the end of a community of people who live in recreational vehicles, who are parked all around the edge of the harbor.
There were 144 people living on boats when Pete's Harbor management set the eviction deadline last month. Half of them have left; the harbor has put yellow warning tape on the vacated berths. It looks as if the empty berths were quarantined.

Developer blamed

The harbor tenants all say good things about the Uccelli family. They have always helped out people who had problems, they say. Pete Uccelli died in 2005. The worst thing the tenants will say about his widow is that she doesn't come around the docks much anymore.
Instead, they blame the developer, the Pauls Corp. of Denver, which they portray as a heartless corporation, in it for the money.
But any observer can see the way things are going along the shoreline. The old Peninsula Marina, just up the road, gave way to condos just recently.
It's a development called One Marina. "One marina down, one to go," the tenants say.
Redwood City and the Peninsula are riding a high-tech wave, and homes in the $500,000 range are hard to come by.
Ted Hannig, a spokesman for Paula Uccelli, said Pete's Harbor has been on the market for 10 years.
"Everybody has been on a month-to-month lease since 2002, so this should not have been a surprise," he said.
The tenants, he said, "knew change was coming, but they don't like change. It's emotional, it's unpleasant."
Hannig said the new development "will be a wonderful place to live." Building it, he said, would create 2,000 jobs, and when it is finished it will bring in $2.4 million a year in property tax, instead of the $16,000 a year the marina pays now. That money will go to the community, to schools.

'Good for community'

"Pete's Harbor has been family owned for 60 years and Mrs. Uccelli is very comfortable with the plan. It will be good for the community."
The tenants say they are not against all development, just the one under consideration. They would like to see it scaled back. "We are open to change," said Leslie Webster, who lives at Pete's. "As long as it is reasonable change."
They want a harbor and a marina and some kind of housing at Pete's. But mostly, they want to stay.
"Sometimes, we just pull out of the harbor, and go up the slough a bit and drop the hook and just be alone," Stone said. "I fell in love with living on a boat a long time ago."

Read more:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

They're Baaaack! Mountain Bikes in the State Parks

Just why is it that State Parks is so hell-bent on opening up more and more trails to mountain bikers?  In this time of budget deficits and parks closing, lack of rangers and just plain old general maintenance, they want to give over a popular hiking trail, Bill's Trail, in Samuel P. Taylor Park, to the spandex crowd.

We have successfully forced environmental review, citizen oversight and other measures in protecting trails throughout the system, but they don't give up.  Doggedly determined, Parks officials keep pushing the bike agenda, now planning to search out $350,000 to "ready" the trail for the onslaught.  This in a time of budget deficits and lack funds for of regular maintenance and enforcement as it is.  It is unconscionable in this climate to seek funding for yet another mountain bike playland. Yes, mountain biking is a popular sport; so is off-roading and dune-buggying.  Snowmobiling. If popularity were the test, we'd have Xtreme bikathons every weekend all through our public parks and open spaces.

Other concerns should matter more. Erosion, habitat protection, waterway preservation. Peace and tranquility.  Get off your bike and take a hike.  If you want nature, ditch the spandex and machinery and walk.

If you want speed, take to the roads.   With a set of wheels all too often comes a sense of entitlement. "Share the road! share the trail!" is the rallying cry.  Yes, share the road, but why the trail, where one can have an all too rare chance to leave the hustle and bustle of urban life behind and enjoy nature, with its subtle rustlings tweetings and burblings?   

And there are plenty of existing existing fire roads, where well-behaved bikers have always been welcome.  But so many of today's "bikers behaving badly" have taken over the terrain, sharing is hardly an option anymore. Anyone who's been out walking lately in State, County or water district lands is all too familiar with loud voices, speeding bikes and rude riders.  Are they minority?  I don't think we can say that anymore.  It's time for a change.

Here's a small one we can easily implement - I've said it before and I'll keep saying it, we need to license bicycles like they used to do.  In fact, the California Vehicle Code provides for cities and Counties to do just that, which some, like Santa Cruz does.  Why not Marin?

Here is the Code section that permits this simple measure:
License Requirement. VC 39002

a) A city or county may adopt a bicycle licensing ordinance or resolution providing that no resident shall operate any bicycle on any street, road, highway, or other public property within the city of county, unless such bicycle is licensed in accordance with this division.

b) Any bicycle not licensed under this division may be additionally regulated or licensed pursuant to local ordinance or may be licensed upon request of the owner.

c) It is illegal for any person to to tamper with, destroy, mutilate or alter any license indicia (marking) or registration form or to remove, alter, or mutilate the serial number, or the identifying marks of a licensing agency's identifying symbol on any bicycle frame licensed under the provision of this division.

It's a small step toward enforcement of the few rules that aim to protect the landscape, but it could be a help in identifying scofflaws.  "Officer, I got his license number!" might slow down the worst offenders. Although probably not.
And no matter how many trails are groomed, signed and made available to them, there are always demands for more, and worse, continual stealth creation of new trails, through rougher terrain, further degrading the environment for the pleasure of the (mostly) testosterone driven over-acheivers, in search of the next high.
    Illegal trail on Mt. Tam created by mountain bikers.

It might be better for all concerned if they'd just take up smoking crack instead. 

Bring on the nasty comments.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trees vs. views Twenty-Five Years later

Sometimes these things drag on and on and on.  Years. Decades. Past the time when the house is sold, the trees removed, the owners dead.  Read this article from the San Francisco Chronicle for how obsessive some people can be about their views, and others can be about their trees, or not their trees, for that matter.

Fight over Oakland trees, views not over

By the time Phyllis Bishop won the right to trim and clear her neighbors' trees and regain the panoramic bay view from her Oakland hills home, 25 years had passed, her husband Lloyd had died, and she was living in a retirement home.

Bishop, 95, sighed with relief at the victory of an epic legal and political battle with her neighbors that went all the way to the state Supreme Court. Yet, once the neighbors' trees were cleared this year, Bishop noticed that city trees blocked the view from her property, violating a city ordinance.

It didn't matter that she no longer lived in her home, which she is now renting. She began negotiating for the clearing of the city trees - the cost of which she would pay - out of a sense of justice and on grounds that it affects the property's value. The city agreed, but one set of neighbors objected.
"Guess who?" Bishop said.

That would be Okhoo and Ernest Hanes, the neighbors who lost their fight with her to keep their trees.

They - like Bishop - no longer live in their Oakland hills home but rent it out. They now live in Napa.
The Bishops and the Haneses once lived near each other in the hills, tied only by a property line until the decades-long feud intertwined them. Tuesday, they'll go before the City Council for what Bishop hopes will be the last fight. Okhoo Hanes is unsure the end of the battle is near, even though she and her husband, both 55, have lost more than $200,000 in legal fees and many trees they cherished.
Asked whether she would sue or take another tack if the city agrees to remove the trees, Okhoo Hanes said, "I don't know."

The trees in question are mostly acacias, though the city says Bishop should also be allowed to trim some branches from five large Monterey cypresses and Monterey pines.

A home with a view

Phyllis and Lloyd Bishop moved into their home in 1964. They could see Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Treasure Island.

"To own a part of this beautiful part of the world was a privilege," said Phyllis, who was born in Oakland and who, like her husband, was an Oakland schoolteacher. "We'd traveled. We knew this was special."

Wary that developers would build up the property below them, she said they successfully sought an easement ensuring nothing would be built to block their view before they bought the house. But it only referred to buildings.

"It didn't refer to vegetation," she said ruefully. "We didn't anticipate that."

For 23 years, the Bishops asked their neighbors if they could pay for the tree trimming. The neighbors always said yes, said Phyllis.

Then, in 1984, the Haneses moved in. Three years later, the Bishops saw that it was time for a trimming. Six previous owners of the Hanes home had always agreed. The Haneses didn't.

"It had no effect on the people who owned the property, but it maintained the view," she said.
The Bishops say they tried to talk to the Haneses. They asked their city councilman to intervene. They suggested a mediator. They offered to buy land covered by the foliage.

"They wouldn't talk about it at all," Bishop said. "Finally, we sued them."

The Bishops used Oakland's View Ordinance as their justification. The ordinance allows property owners to restore "a reasonable amount of the view that they had when they purchased their property, whether the trees are growing on public or private property," according to a city report. Native trees and trees on park property are exempt.

After the city reworked its ordinance, the courts ultimately upheld the Bishops' contention that they had the right to trim the trees.

Councilwoman Libby Schaaf grew up within a mile of the disputed trees and now represents the area.
"It's one of the things that's amazing about Oakland: We have bay views while still living in the forest," she said. "But trees do grow taller. ... It's tragic that this neighborhood dispute has gone on so long and taken up public resources."

Seeking sanctuary

The Haneses, too, believe in the righteousness of their cause. Where the Bishops saw expansiveness in the treeless view, the Haneses found the sanctuary that comes with living among trees.
The trees "gave a sense of seclusion," said Okhoo Hanes. Despite the urban setting, she said the trees meant "we had a feeling of living in a hideaway."

After the state Supreme Court denied their appeal last October - two days after Lloyd Bishop died at age 89 - the Haneses were forced to clear their trees.

"After the tree removal, we lost a sense of enclosure," she said.

In the current appeal, the Haneses say that landslides are a risk. An engineer disagrees. In addition, city staffers note, the Fire Department had "excessive vegetation" in the area removed in 2009, and no landslides occurred.

Both sides see slights

Both sides have an accounting of slights. Phyllis Bishop remembers welcoming the Haneses to the neighborhood, she said, only to have Okhoo respond rudely. Okhoo Hanes said it still stings to think of how the Bishops, she says, said that land with just wild trees and shrubs had no value.

"That's an example of the attitude they showed toward us," Okhoo Hanes said. "They didn't value our ownership even though they were adamant in asserting their property rights."

Both families talk of the children raised in their homes. Bishop hopes that one of her two adult children will eventually live in the property.

"I've done about all I can do," Bishop said. "I'm going to try to outlive them. I don't know if I will or not. Would you care to place a bet?"

This article has been corrected since it appeared in print versions.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Salmon ruling curbs San Geronimo Valley development

Good News for Marin Fish and Streamside Environment

This just in from the Marin IJ.  Very good news. Good job on the part of SPAWN and friends.

Development restrictions were imposed on the San Geronimo Valley by a county judge who barred new building applications until Marin officials enact tougher rules to protect creekside salmon habitat.

The ruling does not affect existing building permits, including development of Spirit Rock, or ministerial "work that does not expand the existing building footprint," as well as replacement or repair work required by state or federal law or "a disaster or emergency as declared by the federal or state governments, or the county Board of Supervisors."

Marin Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee, making a final ruling this week in a lawsuit filed by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network of Forest Knolls, rejected the fishery group's argument that the county violated environmental law, but said officials must deliver an improved "streamside conservation area" program aimed at limiting activity detrimental to fish.

Because county policy promises adoption of rules tightening creekside protection, the county is "enjoined from approving and shall not approve any application for development within the stream conservation area, as defined by the 2007 countywide plan update, in the San Geronimo Valley watershed ... until such time as the streamside conservation area ordinance required by the 2007 countywide plan update is adopted by the Marin County Board of Supervisors," Judge Duryee ruled.
The action includes exceptions carved out during protracted negotiations after a tentative decision issued four months ago.

A key exception allows work that does not expand the building footprint "within the stream conservation area, and is subject to ministerial approval by the county," a provision enabling some to proceed with remodeling projects, perhaps including second-story improvements. Another allows supervisors to declare an "emergency" to allow repairs to proceed, but offers no definition of such a situation.

SPAWN's lawyer, Michael Graf of El Cerrito, was not immediately available for comment, and Todd Steiner, the group's executive director, said he wanted to read the judge's ruling before commenting. SPAWN later issued a statement in which Steiner said it was "unfortunate the county's failure to do proper environmental review and get common-sense rules in place has resulted in a court-ordered de facto building moratorium."

Steiner added: "Supervisor (Steve) Kinsey decided to roll the dice in court, and the people of the San Geronimo Valley are the current losers. ... We hope common sense rules will now be adopted quickly."

In an interview, Steiner said Judge Duryee essentially "split the baby," giving both sides in the litigation a wink. He added he has no problem with the exemptions allowed by the judge.
Kinsey said that while "the court supported the county's extensive environmental review," restrictions sought by SPAWN present a difficult hurdle. "I find SPAWN's continuing effort to stop future development on legal lots in established neighborhoods to be divisive, dismissive of both county and property owner efforts, and costly to defend at taxpayers' expense," Kinsey asserted. "There is a better way, as reflected in our voluntary landowner assistance programs, protective conditions incorporated into building permits and substantial (fish) barrier removal projects where streets cross creeks."

Niz Brown, treasurer of the San Geronimo Valley Stewards, a property owners' group that she said backs "reasonable" efforts to help salmon, expressed dismay at the turn of events, saying the notion that building near streams "has caused the demise of salmon is absurd," and not based on scientific evidence.

"Why is it that this little valley gets thrown under the bus?" she asked. "It's absolutely appalling. ... Why doesn't this affect all streams in Marin County?"

The county issued a press release indicating that while area Supervisor Kinsey "believes the injunction will cause significant hardship for residents," only five building permits were issued this year involving expansion of a building within the conservation area. The statement trumpeted county efforts to protect endangered coho salmon, noting it and other public agencies have spent more than $17 million improving the valley watershed, home of one of the most important coho fisheries in the state.

Tom Lai, assistant community development agency director, said he expects the judge's ruling will mean relatively little change for valley homeowners who already face a web of building regulations. He added county planners will produce an expanded streamside conservation program by next year for adoption by the county board, a move that will eliminate the court's red tape.

In its suit, SPAWN argued that the 2007 countywide plan update failed to protect
salmon habitat in the San Geronimo Valley, violating the California Environmental Quality Act. The county already restricts building within 100 feet of creek banks, but SPAWN wants tougher rules to protect fish.

In an abrupt, closed-door deal with Steiner aimed at staving off legal action, county supervisors in 2008 banned creekside construction in the San Geronimo Valley for two years to review regulations and assess salmon protections. Supervisors approved voluntary measures to protect salmon, but rejected tough new streamside tree cutting and related habitat rules urged by county planners.
Steiner sued, leading to this week's ruling.