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?