California couple ordered to pay $600,000 for uprooting a 180-year-old tree

Originally published at:




I have a lot of issues with William Randolph Hearst, but when built his famous estate in San Simeon he specifically ordered his architects and landscapers not to disturb any of the Coastal Live Oak trees on the property because they were such a big part of the reason he liked that area in the first place.

If you want your new house to be next to the 180-year-old oak tree then build your house next to the oak tree.


The court document linked from the WaPo article is well worth a read:


It’s not often that a judge will outright say “this was a lie” in a decision. Woof.


They sound like they’d make excellent plant fertilizer.


The fine is too low and they should lose any building permit while the land recovers.


Nice first step, now they and others of their ilk can underwrite the cost of bringing back and replanting viable American elms and chestnuts. Then there are some other things on their to-do list…


Neither of those species is native to California. I’d prefer they make restitution to the area they actually destroyed, but of course no amount of money can bring back a 180-year-old tree.


This is especially painful as most oaks in the state have suffered from Sudden Oak Death. I feel for the conservationists who had to see this & am thankful that they fought for justice.


The fine is too low

They’re lucky retribution didn’t include dumping the couple in a ditch with no food or water & their feet bound in caution tape for a few days while their home was torn to shreds all around them.


18 posts were merged into an existing topic: Griping about moderation, bias, et cetera

Alternatively, I would accept if they built their house wherever, planted an oak tree next to it, and waited 180 years…


Actually, don’t build anywhere near the oak tree. Oaks tend to have an shallow but very wide root system. Roots are typically about 18 inches under the ground and may extend 4 to 7 times the width of the crown- well beyond the edge of the foliage. Some of the most mature oaks can have roots 90 feet from the trunk.

So yeah, build the house to have a nice, but not close, view of pretty tree.


But not so close that a couple decades later the owner is complaining about overhanging branches or roots endangering the foundation of the house. (We’ve had that in Toronto where a speculator bought a house hoping to either cut the tree down or get a big pay-out from the city to not cut it down.)

eta: If he’d been allowed to cut the tree down, shortly after he probably would have knocked the house down too, to build a monster home on the lot and roll-over the property for a huge profit.


Agreed, if your house it close enough to a Coastal Live Oak for its branches to overhang the structure then you built it way too close for the good of the house and the oak tree alike.


Conversely, if you don’t want your house to be covered in leaves and pollen from an old oak tree, don’t build it under one (or move into such a house.). I’m lucky enough to have a large oak tree in my back yard. It’s easily 150 years old, perhaps much older. But it’s right next to the property line, and the neighbor who rents a house that’s partially under it has repeatedly complained to me about it dropping leaves and pollen over her house and patio. I’ve had the tree professionally trimmed and thinned out slightly by an oak specialist but if it was up to her she’d like to see it cut down. She claims it never used to drop pollen on her house before I moved in (which just doesn’t make any sense) and considers such a large tree to be a nuisance and “dangerous.” (To be fair, it really could do some damage if and when it falls down some day.). She’s an older lady, and I’ve tried to gently explain that I want to help her out to the extent that I can, but that removing the tree is not an option I’ll consider. But apparently love of old trees just isn’t universal.


I’ve camped at Sugarloaf and it is quite nice (that’s where the pic came from). A creek ran behind our campsite and provided the Enklings with much entertainment. iirc they have an amateur astronomy club or something like that with a building and some big scopes? Also, lots of bats last time I was there.

And yeah these folks seem like real doozies.


They agreed to the terms fo the environmental easement as part of buying that property. If they did not want to abide by those terms, they could have bought property elsewhere without those conditions. Property rights are subject to local modifications; they are not universal or absolute.

Overall, however, you sound like a professional victim, so please don’t forget to take your meds to bear the bitter pain of existing in a world with people who don’t share your whackadoodle views.


The State of California did no such thing. The Los Angeles Times explains the arrangement thusly:

The conservation easement was placed on the property in 2009 by its former owners, who wanted to preserve the land’s untouched beauty. Conservation easements are voluntary and developed in partnership with land trusts. While the land can be owned privately, the easement becomes part of the permanent title record, according to the Sonoma Land Trust.

You are essentially arguing that private property owners should be forbidden from voluntarily placing their land in a trust for the benefit of future generations. Why are you trying to restrict the rights of private property owners? Are you some kind of communist?


I imagine this will be the soup-of-the-day for conservative pundits.

While there are valid gripes about how “people should be allowed to do what they want on their own property” I think we can all agree nobody should be allowed to pollute the groundwater for an entire community, or use their backyard to burn waste oil. So then the real debate is “where does one draw the line?” California decided where they wanted to draw the line, and these folks crossed that line.