They can destroy your trees

Million Trees was created to inform the public of the many projects that have destroyed or plan to destroy non-native trees on public lands at every level of government from the federal government to local jurisdictions such as the Alameda County Water District.  However, private properties are not immune from such efforts to destroy non-native trees.  The legal battle to destroy 28 of 45 trees on private property in Larkspur is a case in point.

 We learned of this legal battle from the San Francisco Chronicle .  The property owner, Dr. Anne Wolff, was sued by her neighbors who claimed that her trees are hazardous.  When the judged ruled that her trees must be destroyed, she appealed that decision. 

 We attended the appeal hearing.  It was disturbing to hear the case law cited by the attorney representing the neighbors.  We learned that other property owners had been ordered by the court to destroy their trees for such frivolous reasons as “leaves in the rain gutters” of their neighbors.  One court ruling said that the “sheer size [of the tree] is a menace.”  In other words, neighbors have successfully forced the destruction of their neighbors’ trees without any evidence that the trees were dangerous.  The mere theoretical existence of danger was sufficient for the court to require the destruction of trees.

As we have reported in our post KILLER TREES!!!, arborists are sometimes willing to declare trees as hazardous if they are hired to do so. Therefore we are not convinced by the assessment that Dr. Wolff’s trees are hazardous.  If these trees are in fact hazardous, it is not visually apparent.

Trees on private property in Larkspur

Dr. Wolff told us she has received many calls from other property owners who did not have the financial resources to challenge the legal demands of their neighbors to destroy their trees.  

The California Supreme Court has refused  to hear Dr. Wolff’s appeal.   

Dr. Wolff is now hoping that the Larkspur City Council will invoke the city’s Heritage Tree ordinance to prevent the destruction of the largest trees.  We attended the demonstration on June 13, 2010, organized to appeal to the city council to save the trees.  About 50 people attended and the media reported on the demonstration.

Demonstration in Larkspur, June 13, 2010

If you would like to help Dr. Wolff save her trees, please send an email to the Larkspur City Council, asking them to invoke the city’s Heritage Tree ordinance on behalf of her,,,

4 thoughts on “They can destroy your trees”

  1. sounds like fascism…as someone else mentioned. look it up…all the “native purity” and forcing your opinion on others…what i want to know is why the government is falling for this? sad. we need trees, all trees are good.

  2. We received several copies of letters that were sent to the Larkspur City Council in support of Anne Wolff’s trees. With his permission, we quote from the letter of David Shearer, Ph.D. Environmental Scientist.

    “…there is no justifiable reason to cut down 25 heritage eucalyptus trees. Not only is this not merited by the science but culling 25 trees from the grove in question will reduce the buffering capacity of the remaining trees to withstand future extreme weather events. The trees in question are part of [a] system. They [are] influenced by a number of ecological drivers which must be considered along with pertinent public safety issues.”

    Dr. Shearer explains one of many reasons why there are unintended consequences of removing trees. Trees develop their defenses against the wind in a specific location. If they are suddenly exposed to more wind than that in which they matured, they are vulnerable to failure. Ms. Wolff’s neighbors, in their efforts to protect themselves, could be exposing themselves—and Ms. Wolff—to greater danger by compromising the windbreak on this property.

  3. We also received a reply from Larry Chu, member of the Larkspur City Council and Vice Mayor. Here is an excerpt from his reply:

    “Regulations on the removal of Heritage Trees can be found in Title 12, Chapter 16 of the Larkspur Municipal Code ( This pertains to a property owner requesting a permit for the removal of a Heritage Tree.

    In Dr. Wolff’s case, it is a real property dispute between two private parties whereby the neighbors are requesting the removal of the trees. The technical arguments were made in a civil court and the neighbors prevailed. On appeal, the neighbors still prevailed. The Supreme Court did not hear the case because they looked at the application of the law and the legal process, and not on the technical merits of the argument.

    We have enough Heritage Tree removal hearings to know each side can make equally compelling arguments. So who is right? Both sides have people purported to be specialists. In Dr. Wolff’s case, it would seem her specialists did not make as good of a case as those of the neighbors.

    Our last review of the Heritage Tree Ordinance was made in April. Even if a proposal had been made at that time to change the scope of Heritage Tree removal from a property owner to any request for removal, it would not have been legal to have made it retroactive nor could a change in the ordinance have invalidated a court’s decision that had already been rendered.”

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