Cut Down to Size: They Got in His Way, and They Got Whacked
In an unusual display of municipal pique, Dana Point officials have sued a homeowner who they say had the tops of seven pine trees in a public park lopped off so he could have an unobstructed view from his multimillion-dollar home.

The suit alleges that Arthur Warren, whose home in the exclusive Lantern Bay Estates community borders Heritage Park, hired workers in late June to do the deed after city tree trimmers refused.

The seven Aleppo pine trees, which an arborist said are about 40 years old, were cut essentially in half, said Ron Morrow, an arborist who works for the city.

Warren, who has lived in the home for several years, now has a clear view of Dana Point Harbor below him, San Clemente and San Onofre to the south and Laguna Beach and the Headlands to the north.

But it may cost him dearly.

A section of the state civil code states that anyone who cuts down or injures any tree or timber on public land is liable for triple the amount of damages. Morrow said each of the seven trees is worth at least $50,000, "based on the replacement cost."

City Manager Douglas C. Chotkevys said Dana Point also has launched a criminal investigation into the incident, which could lead to vandalism, trespassing and destruction of public property charges against Warren and the tree trimmers. He said he expects the probe to conclude soon.

Warren, who said from his balcony recently that he was surprised at the fuss, referred further questions to his lawyer.

David Wiechert, a San Clemente-based attorney who represented former Orange County treasurer Robert Citron in the criminal probe of the county's 1994 bankruptcy, said he and his client are "hiring our own experts to review the status of the trees."

He added: "We have discovered photographs of the trees as they were trimmed a couple of years ago by the city that look remarkably similar to the way the trees are trimmed now."

Unauthorized tree trimmings are common along California's coastline, where homeowners fiercely defend their views and sometimes take extreme steps to safeguard or restore them.

A panoramic view can easily add $25,000 to $100,000 to a home's value, real estate brokers say. They say the value can fall by that much if a view is blocked.

Reports of residents sneaking around at night with cans of poison to kill their neighbors' trees or calling tree-trimmers to hack offending growth while their neighbors are on vacation prompted several Southland cities to enact ordinances that try to balance the rights of homeowners who have paid a premium for a view against their neighbors' rights to grow trees on their property.

http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/s...s16jul16.story