A unanimous council — absent Peter Mason — agreed on July 12 to reduce to $5,000 a $72,500 fine against resident Gregory Wimmer of Patrol Road for the loss of eight trees: seven bay laurels, which can carry sudden oak death (SOD) spores, and one buckeye.
(In October 2009 after a searching discussion, the council lowered a fine to $10,000 from $92,500 for a resident's felling of 10 coast live oaks.)
The $5,000 fine this time was for the buckeye, the standard penalty for cutting one tree with at least a 9.5-inch diameter at 4 feet above the ground. Violators are supposed to pay $7,500 for the second tree and $10,000 for each one after that, but the council zeroed out the fines for the bay laurels, given the circumstances, including the SOD risk.
In a February 2011 letter to the town, Mr. Wimmer had written that he had told the La Canada Tree Service at least three times to obtain a permit before cutting any major trees. "It's strictly by the book with me for any work done," he wrote.
A tree service representative tried to acquire a permit the day after the tree cutting but was refused, according to a staff report.
Attempts by the Almanac to contact a La Canada Tree Service based in Fremont via phone, voice-mail and email were unsuccessful, as were attempts to contact Mr. Wimmer, who said he works in Southern California.
"La Canada has stopped returning (my) phone calls and emails," Mr. Wimmer told the council.
Assistant Town Manager Kevin Bryant told the council he was unable to confirm that La Canada was licensed to do business in Woodside.
While Mr. Wimmer must pay the fine, various state agencies, including the Contractors State License Board, are available to help recoup costs, Councilman Dave Tanner said.
Asked in a phone interview about contractor behavior in general, Mr. Tanner, a builder, talked of an underground economy and contractors who "will do anything" to avoid extra costs. "It's just non-stop," he said. "It's really a crime what happens to people on this."