Tahoe agency to sue accused tree vandal
Harming a tree on public land in the Tahoe Basin without permission is an offense not taken lightly by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
The agency’s governing board agreed Wednesday to pursue litigation, if necessary, against a Kings Beach homeowner over allegations that he illegally trimmed, girdled and topped seven Jeffrey pine trees on state property to enhance his view of the lake.
The agency is seeking a $35,000 settlement for the offense ” charging a $5,000 maximum penalty per damaged tree. The proposed settlement would also require the property owner to replace the damaged trees.
The property owner has denied responsibility for the unpermitted work.
The agency, however, alleges that Avion Inc., the owner of a home at 489 Beaver St., is responsible for the damage to seven trees located on an adjacent lot owned by the California Tahoe Conservancy.
The board’s decision to pursue litigation, approved as a consent item, was recommended by the agency’s legal committee. The matter could still be resolved out of court, said agency spokesperson Julie Regan. But the board’s vote gives staff the flexibility to take legal action if they choose.
A show-cause hearing previously scheduled for Wednesday’s meeting was canceled because “all of the parties failed to attend this morning,” said Legal Counsel Joanne Marchetta.
Previous attempts to reach a settlement with the property owner yielded no results. The agency claimed that Avion has been uncooperative, with minimal telephone communication and no face-to-face dialogue.
“We’ve been trying to work out a settlement,” Regan said. “We’ve been trying to work with the parties involved, and have not been successful.”
The legal standing of Avion Inc. and the nature of its business also appears questionable, agency staff said. According to TRPA documentation, the company had failed to register with the secretary of state as an incorporated business, as required by state law.
Litigation would provide a venue for the bistate planning agency to obtain information, under oath, about the motive, purpose and parties responsible for cutting the Jeffrey pines.
The trees were either limbed, topped or girdled. One pine had a rigging system drilled into its trunk to apparently aid in cutting the tree.
Another pine located on the property owned by Avion was also cut down, but Avion said it was dead and had a large crack in the trunk.
The agency says that an eyewitness asserted that Avion official Michael Sahlbach was seen either directing or conducting the limb removal this summer. A Placer County Sheriffs’ report affirmed that Sahlbach was at the property where freshly cut trees lay on the ground. But sheriff’s deputies did not witness anyone cutting the trees.
The Tahoe planning agency attempted to contact Avion about the tree removal in August. They received a response stating the company was clearing out brush and removing a 10-inch dead tree on the Avion property.
On September 12, the agency posted a Cease and Desist Order at the Avion property to halt any unauthorized tree removal. No Avion representative responded to the order.
The agency said it is pursuing the maximum penalty because the offense was egregious, several cut limbs were left in the treetops and posed a hazard to the public, and the alleged violators did not cooperate fully with the investigation.
“TRPA supports tree removal for fire safety, but not just strictly for view enhancement,” Regan said, noting that such policies are common in “extraordinarily beautiful places.”
Under existing rules, any individual wishing to cut limbs or damage a live tree with a diameter larger than 6 inches must first receive permission from the bistate planning agency. According to TRPA documentation, the property owner never contacted the agency for permission to remove or trim the trees.
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