Man fights city hall over tree removal

Posted at 8:13 PM, Apr 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-19 23:13:14-04

Gary Roberts' in-laws survived the fall of Saigon. Since then, he claims they have a genuine fear of getting on the bad side of government. Now he claims they're losing sleep over what he calls the "unreasonable" treatment they're getting from the City of San Diego.

That treatment is the result of Roberts' father-in-law cutting down the dying tree-stump of a palm tree that sat on the edge of his front yard.

Roberts says the tree didn't exist when he and his wife, Lily were married in 2003, but told Team 10 it later sprouted like a weed. The tree eventually grew to be more than 10 feet tall, but Roberts said it died a few years back.

That was when his father-in-law decided to take action, cutting away the dead fronds and smoothing out the bark. He added braces to secure the tall tree trunk and secured a large pot filled with a dragon flower on top.

That was when the problems began. 

A neighbor complained to code enforcement. When an investigator contacted Roberts' father-in-law, he decided to solve the problem by cutting the dead palm down. That action created another problem.

Roberts said the code enforcement officer told him the tree was part of the city's right-of way, and a permit is required to remove trees on city property.

City code 62.0604 states "No person...shall, without a permit from the Park and recreation Director, remove, destroy, break, cut, trim, deface, or in any other way injure or interfere with any tree...or plant that is now or hereafter be growing in any street."

Roberts said his family is frustrated. “I think that this is unreasonable... There was a dead tree. It was removed. That’s the end of it," Roberts said, shaking his head. "This could happen to anybody."

City staffers are in discussions with Roberts about how to fix the problem. They want him to put in a new tree, but not just any tree. The tree must meet several specifications, and Roberts claims it could cost his family hundreds of dollars to plant a tree that meet the city's approval.

A city spokesman told Team 10 they are working with Roberts on a no-fee permit for planting a new tree. If it works out, the city will take "no further enforcement action".

The written statement goes on to say," It’s considerably important to seek advice and/or approval from the City before removing street trees on one’s own accord."

Roberts said his in-laws are losing sleep over all the bureaucratic red tape. "Even if this legal maneuver is actually valid, it is not just," he told Team 10.

You can read the city's tree policies here and here.