Resident agrees to $75,000 penalty for felling trees without a permit | May 1, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - May 1, 2013

Resident agrees to $75,000 penalty for felling trees without a permit

by Dave Boyce

Portola Valley resident David L. Douglass has agreed to pay a penalty of $75,000 to head off a potential lawsuit from the town over the felling, without a permit, of at least 18 trees on a lightly forested hilltop on his undeveloped property on Redberry Ridge.

Because the trees were located within an open-space easement on his property, the town was allowed to seek damages "for the value of the trees and the loss of scenic value," Town Attorney Sandy Sloan said in an email.

Leigh Prince, an attorney and an assistant to Ms. Sloan, announced the settlement following a closed-session meeting of the Town Council on April 24. The vote was 4-0, Mayor John Richards said. Councilman Ted Driscoll recused himself from the decision because his work brings him into occasional contact with Mr. Douglass, he said.

Mr. Douglass faces additional expenses of $150,345 to have the hillside replanted and then maintained over the next five years, Town Planner Tom Vlasic said. Of that total, $52,625 would cover the cost of planting replacement trees and other vegetation, Mr. Vlasic said.

The planting is to be completed this spring, Mr. Vlasic told the Almanac. The town's Architectural & Site Control Commission will review the situation in October to see if the replanting is going as intended.

If so, the ASCC would be prepared to recommend to the council to lift the municipal code violation now applied to the property and allow Mr. Douglass' construction plans to move forward, Mr. Vlasic said.

Settlement negotiations were "fairly quick," Ms. Prince said. The town made an initial offer for a penalty, Mr. Douglass made a counter-offer, and the town accepted it, she said. The amount of the town's initial offer is confidential, but it was higher than $75,000, Ms. Prince said.

The trees were taken down in late December or early January, and the town first learned of the situation in January, according to staff reports. Fifteen of the trees were "significant" and consisted of 10 oaks, four bay laurels and one madrone, Mr. Vlasic said.

Several bay laurels on the adjacent property, owned in common by residents of the Blue Oaks subdivision, had had their tops lopped off. Asked if this was part of the same incident, Mr. Vlasic said that "no one else was down there doing anything but his crew."

The municipal code categorizes trees by species, many of which become significant to the town when their diameters reach 11.5 inches.

The ASCC visited the site in March for a presentation by the landscape architects engaged by Mr. Douglass to replant the hillside.

About a dozen oaks will be planted soon, with underbrush and grass coming in December, according to an ASCC staff report and remarks during the on-site tour by Paul Kephart, president of Monterey-based landscape architect Rana Creek.