News

Couple told they can't remove tree that blocks sunlight

Planning Commission rules that redwoods are protected in Danville

A Danville couple's quest to have a large redwood tree removed from their back yard will continue, after the Town Planning Commission denied an appeal of an earlier denial.

Chris and Jill Beeman filed a request, along with their neighbors Brian and Kelly Davis, to have the tree removed due to its size and due to the fact that it blocks out the sunlight to their yard. Planning staff denied the request, based on the fact that the tree is a town-protected species.

The Beemans brought their appeal to the Planning Commission at its March 31 meeting. Both Beemans and other area neighbors addressed the commission and requested that the tree be taken down.

The Beemans have lived in their home on Gatetree Court for 16 years and the tree predates them by more than a decade. The tree in question is located squarely along their property line, blocking out all the sunlight to their yard.

For Jill Beeman, the issue is one of health and safety, she said.

"I've had three large trees fall in my life time and this tree is only going to get bigger. Redwoods never stop growing, they're the largest living organisms on earth," she explained.

Anther issue is the loss of sunlight to her yard and home.

"If these trees block your winter sun, it's all day every day. And if there's five of them together, they block your views and your neighbor's views," she said.

Beeman said the issue has generated a great deal of emotional upset for her and she does not feel that the town is right in keeping them from taking the tree down.

"Some people like shade ... not everyone does," she stated. "We've read a lot about vitamin D and how important it is in the winter months to work in the sunlight. They're not protecting anyone's right to their own property at that point."

Commissioners heard from the Beemans and other supporters during a public hearing and then discussed the issue further themselves. Chairman Bob Nichols asked staff members for their take on the appeal and whether the town has any leeway in allowing the removal of a protected tree.

Assistant Planner Corinne Horn told the commission that while she applauded the efforts of the Davis and Beeman families to work together in getting the situation resolved, there was really not much the town could do in allowing the removal.

"It comes back to the sunlight issue and we haven't used that as a finding yet," she explained.

Commissioners clearly wanted to support the effort by the Beemans but could not see a reason for relaxing the town's ordinance.

"This is my least favorite place to be," said Commissioner Lynne Overcashier. "I absolutely agree with the applicant in wanting to have control over my property."

Overcashier suggested that the commission should recommend that the Town Council reexamine the tree ordinance with an eye toward loosening the restrictions to some degree.

"Are you talking about species?" asked planner Dave Crompton.

Overcashier said yes, and Crompton said that they could look at allowing for some flexibility on an individual basis.

Commissioner Robert Storer wasn't certain that would be enough to allow for the removal in this case.

"That's a little difficult looking at a tree that's perfectly straight, that's grown exactly as it should grow," said Storer.

Commissioner Paul Radich disagreed that there was nothing they could do.

"Isn't part of what we do here is grant variances to the ordinance? I don't see any objections from the neighbors," he said.

Chairman Bob Nichols explained that in order for them to grant a variance from the ordinance they have to have a finding that justifies bending the rules.

"It can't be arbitrary," he said. "If we can't make findings that allow us to overturn the ordinance, we have to allow the ordinance to trump the situation."

Commissioners discussed the matter for a few moments more, and then unanimously approved the denial.

Afterward they directed staff to talk to the Town Council about rethinking the ordinance and advised the Beemans that they had 10 days to file an appeal to the council.

Chris Beeman said they are going to push ahead with their request.

"We will definitely be filing within the next few days," he said. "The thing I think this group didn't realize is that one of the findings they could make is that it interfered with our reasonable usage of the property."

The couple expressed confidence that they would get a better reception from the Town Council and are looking forward to their chance to discuss the matter at an upcoming council meeting.

Comments

Posted by J Burns, a resident of Alamo
on Apr 3, 2009 at 6:33 am

I also have had trees fall in my yard and our best friends in Marin had a Redwood Tree fall from the neighbors that caused many hundreds of thousands of dollars damage and one year of rebuilding. This tree had been deemed healthy by the County after numerous complaints about it.

They had an Attorney put the City and Neighbor on notice if the tree fell that they were financially liable. They too, had an issue with the sunlight being blocked.

Small back yards are not meant to be dominated by large trees. Quality of life should be part of the decision.

Good Luck to the Homeowners and adjacent neighbors with this problem.


Posted by danville tree hugger, a resident of Greenbrook Elementary School
on Apr 3, 2009 at 7:16 am

I love trees. But redwoods don't belong in our valley. If they are in a location which doesn't affect the sensible lifestyle choices of landowners or city park environments adversely then they can go on living. For our city to protect a single specimen which is not indigenous and has grown past it's acceptable appearance is ridiculous. These decisions should be left to the responsible home owner. Give the permit. They deserve it.


Posted by T Hart, a resident of Danville
on Apr 3, 2009 at 7:31 am

"They are always in clusters ... in groups called groves. The might of the tree is not in itself. Here is its strength ...for every foot in height it grows up, the redwood tree sends its roots, not down, but three times that distance ...OUT!

That's right... OUT!

If the tree is 300 feet tall, its roots go 900 feet out ... intertwining with all the groping roots from the other redwoods in the grove. By the time a few hundred years go by, those fellow-shipping roots are so woven with one another, there is no way a tree could fall down. It is held up by the strength of its brothers and sisters."

If this tree does not har the support of others in a grove it will not stand as it grows and will not be safe.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Danville
on Apr 3, 2009 at 8:11 am

As far as taking down trees:

"It's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission."

My property .... my tree .... I'll take care of it myself.

We don't need a 'Peoples Republic of Danville' dictating to us.


Posted by rufous, a resident of Alamo
on Apr 3, 2009 at 8:36 am

Frank is correct, better to ask forgiveness than permission. The City has "Taken" the redwood for the public interest and must now compensate the owner for the value of the tree. I was wondering how long it would take for someone to sue over this issue and establish a legal precedent to keep enviro nazis from imposing their will on private property owners. Ever heard of "mitigation"? planting 3 or 4 smaller trees on the property in exchange for removing a large one??


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Danville
on Apr 3, 2009 at 8:40 am

Remember, Government works for you. You are not beholden to them, they are beholden to you.


Posted by R Smith, a resident of San Ramon
on Apr 3, 2009 at 9:40 am

Homeowners often plant trees and shrubs that look good at the time but 25 years later they have out grown the space. That is the case at hand. It is not a natural tree left by the builder. It was planted by a homeowner and now it interferes with the curent homeowners' ability to enjoy their property. Their tree, their yard, their right to remove it. Neighbors OK with solution. What else is needed?

What we don't need are members of the Planning Commission who sit around and quote the rules. That's hiding from the problem. Their job is to help find a solution like the one mentioned above -- have the homeowner plant a few smaller trees. They are wasting our money and now the Council's time for something that should have been handled the first time it was presented.


Posted by kathy, a resident of Danville
on Apr 3, 2009 at 9:53 am

I had a neighbor who removed 4 of them! No probem, no questions. Oh, and no application. We turned them in, but the town didn't care. The town picks and chooses what they want to go after. Quite unfair, but it's how they play ball....
Speaking of play ball... how about that field up on the hill? I bet they will just pay off the town of Danville, and they will be free and clear to get away with it. Can't remove a tree, but an entire hill side, no problem! Sick.


Posted by Robert Stannard, a resident of Danville
on Apr 3, 2009 at 10:44 am

Danville's "Tree Ordinance" needs to be modified with respect to Coastal Redwoods. Residents of Danville should have the right to remove Coastal Redwoods on their property should they so desire.

As background, here is some information on Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens)

"Although Sequoia sempervirens have been cultivated elsewhere, this tree naturally achieves its majestic heights and lush groves only in one place in the world -- a 450-mile strip along the Pacific Coast of North America, beginning in southern Oregon and ending just south of Monterey, California. The trees prosper in this mild climate zone, where winter rains and summer fog provide an even temperature and a high level of year-round moisture. The trees inhabit sheltered, well-watered places of rich soil as far inland from the Pacific Ocean as the fog drift -- seldom more than 20 miles -- and up the coastal mountainsides to about 2,000 feet elevation." Chris Brinegar, PhD

(Dr. Brinegar is a noted redwood ecologist and retired Professor of Biology at San Jose State University. His question and answer column appears in every issue of The Mountain Echo, the quarterly redwood newsletter for Sempervirens Fund* members.
(*The Sempervirens Fund is a Coastal Redwood preservation organization.)


Coastal Redwoods are unquestionably ranked as the tallest tree on the planet, growing to 379 feet tall and 23 feet in diameter. Coastal Redwoods can quickly outgrow their usefulness as a yard ornamental / landscape tree. They require tremendous amounts of water, pose a fire hazard when located close to wood roofed homes and structures, pose safety hazards due to their tremendous size, obstruct views and are definitely not native to Danville.


Posted by George Bassett, a resident of Alamo
on Apr 3, 2009 at 10:58 am

Danville's attempt to protect a non-native species at the expense of an individual's property rights is ridiculous. This is precisely the run-amok mentality that caused Alamo residents to overwhelmingly reject incorporation.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Danville
on Apr 3, 2009 at 12:37 pm

It's on your property cut it down. Since when did Redwoods become a protected-town species? They are not native to this area! The Planning Commision might better spend their time focusing on cleaning up Danville North of Diablo Road.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Danville
on Apr 3, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Cut it down and deal with it later. Redwoods are not native to this valley. I had 15 ugly big pine trees and 3 redwoods in my yard I wanted out, I was going to cut down one at a time. My neighbor asked me if I had a permitt of which I replayed I was holding it. My chain saw. I proceeded to cut every tree down that day before anyone could stop me. They called the city, but the city did nothing. The city picks which battles they want to fight. I had a small fence that went to the sidewalk, I had to cut 5 feet off because of the same neighbor and yes you can see fences all along the sidewalk in every neighborhood. I was told they get to keep theirs because no one complained. I would cut it down and pay the fine or kill it and remove it then. I have heard copper nails in the trunk work well.
You could also trim all the branches on your side, tree will then be unstable and get a tree guy to write it up as a hazard and there you go. That is provided you have room for there are hazards with that last susgestion.


Posted by Esther, a resident of Danville
on Apr 3, 2009 at 6:21 pm

One redwood was planted recently so close to the line fence it will soon ruin the fence and
our swimming pool as well. Currently it shades the pool and drops inky cones into it.
I believe the neighbors who have moved in since the tree was planted would remove it if they were allowed to do so. Another cluster in the corner of our lot, just across the fence would hit our house if it were to fall. As pointed out by another reader, coastal redwoods are not native to the San Ramon Valley and need to be in clusters to support each other. I believe the ordinance protecting them should be revoked.


Posted by Ekka, a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2009 at 1:06 am

In UK they have similar problems of shading where neighbours deliberately plant out fence-lines with leylandii cypress. The disputes and practice went on for over a decade till they made laws to deal with the problem. Now The Anti-Social Behavioural Act - Trees and Shrubs 2003 exists.

Web Link

Also, dont over look Private Nuisance.

To be a one eyed tree hugger is imbalanced and especially in urban areas where vegetation can have severe impacts on the way people want to enjoy their own yards consideration needs to given to the people, including your neighbours.

Many regulations and laws are imbalanced, driven by visions of grandeur to "save" trees however they overlook common sense of species selection and location. Why does anyone have the right to "tresspass" tree parts on your property or take away your light? If indeed the tree was there first then what considerations are made for the growth of that tree? Maybe 10 years ago it wasn't a problem, so a 30' tree is OK but when that tree has the potential to grow to 300' then is it acceptable to allow that to happen?

Often a replanting negotiation can take place, replant smaller trees in better locations, here you can even replant in public and other private places to compensate for the greenery lost, the whole equation can be carbon neutral if that's what they want to argue.

Many tree protection regulations start at a certain trunk diameter. This also has the effect of people cutting down trees once they approach that diameter. In your area according to this link Web Link the diameter must be 10" or more measured 4.5' above ground (DBH) for a redwood (native), that's small!

Also on that link in section 32-79.6 point 2 is very interesting "The necessity to remove the tree(s) to allow for the reasonable use, enjoyment, or development of the property."

Standing on the outside looking in that's some pretty tough protection laws you got there in that town for native trees, 10" dia isn't a lot.


Posted by j clare, a resident of Danville
on Apr 4, 2009 at 7:47 pm

I think the planning commission should pay to clean up my yard every few months from the Oak tree thats not mine yet the mess is... plus I can't plant anything in that corner of the yard.. I bet they don't have any problem trees!


Posted by Fran, a resident of Danville
on Apr 6, 2009 at 8:48 am

Home developers and new home owners don't always plant wisely. A 30 year old redwood was two feet from the corner of my home and we had to get permission to cut it down. The roots extended fifty feet under my foundation and was lifting up the corner of my house.

If the tree was left standing the cost to repair future damage would have been tremendous. Would the Planning Commission have funded that? Not likely.


Posted by denise d., a resident of Danville
on Apr 6, 2009 at 2:33 pm

I know that trees can uplift structures and foundations and cause problems when they grow too big. These should probably be removed. But trees actually add value to a property if well maintained and healthy, protect homes from heat with their shade and clean our polluted air. Maybe we should look at them more benignly and not be so ready to cut them down.


Posted by Halamo, a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2009 at 7:39 am

I have discovered the humor of Danville politics! Really!!

Any neighbor, according to Danville planning gatekeepers, who wishes to remove a tree, CAN'T. You must have many trees to remove and a large construction project planned before you can remove the first tree.

So my solution is for this couple to propose planting 100 trees that will be part of the 101 trees removed for a 22 story high-rise to be built on the property. It will sail through the planning commission and Town Counsel.

Then, the couple removes the first tree and abandoned the other tree planting and high-rise project!! Since such actions would be after the fact of Danville approval, no one would notice.

Just for the HAL of it!

Halamo, the annexed Town(e) Fool of Danville
HIGH atop the Hotel Snaymuth
Uptown in lovely downtown Danville


Posted by Kathy, a resident of Blackhawk
on Apr 8, 2009 at 7:37 am

I had a friend in Alamo who had a line of Redwood
trees at the top of her hill shielding her view of the neighbours
overlooking house. Whilst she was away on vacation he cut the
trees down, on her property. He was taken to court and fined
$5,000, which was a small price to pay for his view being given
back to him.

There is no straight forward answer to this tree situation. I have
many Redwood trees on my property and most of them have been
headed by the previous owners. This makes the tree put out more
leaders and now most of the trees have three, which will,make them (probably) unstable. I am grateful that the builders left
the native oak trees around the front of the house, which have
now volunteered all over the place.

Redwood trees should never have been allowed in this area in the
first place. They belong along the coast.


Posted by Kathy, a resident of Blackhawk
on Apr 8, 2009 at 7:41 am

Halamo - how true what you say.


Posted by Same problem, a resident of Greenbrook Elementary School
on Apr 8, 2009 at 8:19 am

Put solar panels on your roof. State law would then require the tree to be removed.
According to California's 1978 Solar Shade Control Act, if your neighbor decided to install solar panels and trees on your property were blocking those panels, even if the trees were in place first, they would have to be cut down.


Posted by errice@ix.netcom.com, a resident of Greenbrook Elementary School
on Apr 8, 2009 at 11:07 am

Does the city council read the comments? They should read the comments following your earlier article.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Danville
on Apr 13, 2009 at 8:24 am

Across the street from Monte Vista HS they are building homes and the town of Danville is allowing the contractor to remove over 20 trees which the town has named native to this area. Double Standard?


Posted by Robert Flagg, a resident of Danville
on Apr 13, 2009 at 11:24 am

Huge 70 foot redwood trees planted on property line next door. The trunks expand and ruin 8
feet of fence. The fence has been replaced three times. The detritus from these trees causes
considerable expense and damage. Have had to replace down spouts and install leaf guard (not
satisfactory with redwood) Labor is hired frequently to clean gutters and rooftops. Nothing will
grow between the houses and plants cannot live in a portion of the lot as the garbage smothers
the plants and kills them. Impossible to maintain the yard in a clean condition.

Do not believe that government has the right to regulate what is planted within a private property
if not a hazard to another. These trees have huge branches that overhang my bedroom and I am
concerned about one of them breaking off and causing damage or injury. An incident which
occurred across the street. See attachment of roof accumulated in a very short while.

The redwood tree is not native to this area and they should not be planted here.


Posted by Robert Flagg, a resident of Danville
on Apr 13, 2009 at 11:35 am

Forgot to mention that removal of 26 protected trees on the Weber was authorized. Depends on what friends you have?


Posted by Lynn, a resident of Monte Vista High School
on Apr 13, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I am outraged that they city planning will allow development on the Weber property that adds congestion and blight to an already impacted area, but to allow that the protected trees can be removed is even more insulting.
Why would the dis allow this resident to remove non species trees and allow a business entity to rape and pillage is beyond belief.


Posted by rick, a resident of Danville
on Apr 13, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Neighbors tattle-tale on fellow neighbors? Clearly the Berlin Wall
needs to fall in Danville.


Posted by Al, a resident of Alamo
on Apr 13, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Rick I don't understand your comment. What neighbors tattled on whom? The way I read that story, the neighbors were working together to get rid of the tree. And they went through the right channels and asked the town to let them do it. The town clearly needs to rethink that tree removal policy.


Posted by Dawn, a resident of Alamo
on Apr 14, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Want your voices heard? Check out the "Around Town' section for info on the Danville Tax Day Tea Party, happening tomorrow 4/15!


Posted by Brian, a resident of Danville
on Apr 14, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Al from above, you are correct. We the property owners are working amicably with our neighbors, the applicants. There is no adversity between neighbors at play only some confusion as to why this tree can't be taken down. Safety, lack of light, quality of life, and ongoing maintenance are all still real issues here. We hope that city council will see it differently.


Posted by Jill Beeman, a resident of Danville
on Apr 14, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Thanks everyone for your support! There are several reasons that we feel the tree removal should be approved on second appeal, even though the coastal redwood is a protected tree according to the town ordinance:
1. It causes a lack of sunlight on our house and yard due to the massive size of the Coastal Redwood (which will only continue to grow as this tree is known as the largest living organism on earth.
2. The subject property has several redwoods and our neighborhood has literally hundreds of other redwoods that were planted 30 years ago. We offered to remove this one tree and replace it with another smaller and more attractive tree that would not impact the neighborhood negatively. In fact, both neighbors feel it would make a more colorful and positive impact.
3. It is not a native tree to Danville, which begs the question: why is this a protected tree in the first place ? Oaks, yes, Redwoods, NO!!!!
4. The tree is preventing 2 adjacent trees from growing properly due to lack of sunlight to them. Removal of the subject tree would allow the magnolia and liquid amber to thrive.
5. It interferes with our reasonable use and enjoyment of the property, due to its mammoth size, our fear of it falling, and the unwanted shade it creates on both properties.
(What is Danville's definition of "reasonable use and enjoyment" anyway???) Danville Town Council didn't seem to think all these reasons weren't enough...fear of falling,taking away most of my winter sunshine on our family room, I don't understand because I am not enjoying my property due to the enormity of this tree)
6. The arborist report that we commissioned and provided to the City alerts us that there is a significant risk that the tree could fall because it is isolated from other redwoods, so has no root support from nearby trees. If the tree were to fall ( an event which I have experienced 3 times in my life and was on CNN news yesterday) it could hit either house and cause serious property damage and potentially personal injury or death as well.
7. Trimming the tree is not a solution. We have trimmed the tree and it only made it thicker, meaning we would have to impact our neighbors every year or so to maintain the currently inadequate sunlight we receive. You can only trim Coastal redwoods 20% or they WILL grow thicker which we learned the hard way.
I will be at the May City Council meeting to appeal my appeal!!! I would like to reasonably enjoy the property with a legal permit since it's on my neighbors yard and they are being incredibly thoughtful. Amazing how expensive and how many hoops I am jumping through to replace one tree with another! Again, thanks for all your comments and support. Let's get this rule changed, there should be more flexibility with these massive redwoods.


Posted by Al Headstrom, a resident of Danville
on Apr 16, 2009 at 11:18 am

The Present ordinance that prohibits cutting Redwood trees in Danville should be completely reviewed. There are many reasons why they these trees should be removed in certain areas, as many previous comments state.

In my case there are about 10 trees on our adjacent properties that in the winter completely block sun from our house for 5 months of the year, making heating and electric bills very high with no way to conserve. I remember 37 years ago when these 3 1/2 ft. trees were planted. In the summer the only shade they produce is on their property directly below the trees. In winter it is all on our side.

In the Beeman's, case since both parties agree, they should be given immediate permission to remove the tree and the council should take
action to revise the ordinance in regard to the complaints against the present policy.



Posted by rick, a resident of Danville
on Apr 16, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Neighbors working together,amicably??? Frank's April 3rd posting,
"they called the city". Kathy's April 3rd posting,"We turned them in". No adversity? I stand by my statement....


Posted by Ty, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2009 at 9:58 pm

"I am the Consulting Arborist (Dryad, LLC) that inspected and reported on this tree for the Beeman's. Virtually every jurisdiction in the Bay Area has ordinances intended to protect trees and limit their removal. However, there is no standard, and all vary tremendously relating to what species and sizes are protected, and to what extent.

Redwoods are a glorious species in a suitable environment, preferably one with extensive growing space and adequate moisture. While a revered California native, the tree is not native to the Danville area. This tree was planted, recently in terms of tree preservation.

Coast redwoods are the tallest tree in the world, and can grow easily 3-5' or more per year in height with proportionate diameter. Although many years away, the Beeman's specimen will outgrow its space, and inevitably result in conflict with adjacent structures, roofs, underground utilities, etc.

There are numerous redwoods planted and thriving throughout this neighborhood, so the removal of this one would have little affect on the character of the area.

My interpretation of Danville's ordinance is that removal could be allowed within the existing terms, as described in my report. Relaxing of the intent or language seems unnecessary. I believe allowing removal of this tree and allowing for replacement with some native species here or elsewhere could more than justify the loss of this one tree in terms of preserving the character of Danville's urban forest."


My $0.02

ty


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