TRPA, lawyer settle case about tree trimming
February 28, 2003
Even though the dispute has been settled, daggers continued to be thrown at a Tahoe attorney after a nearly two-year skirmish with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency over tree trimming.
The TRPA Governing Board on Wednesday agreed that a $7,000 fine is sufficient to settle the case against Melvin Laub, an attorney who had illegal tree trimming work done at his Zephyr Cove home. Still, board members made a point to criticize Laub at the meeting.
Jerome Waldie, board member from Placerville, accused Laub of trying to take credit for the settlement offer, which included $1,000 for environmental education, while playing down the violations on his property.
Laub, 67, who is on vacation in Maui, reacted to the comments saying, as he has all along, he didn’t know tree-trimming laws existed at the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Laub said it was the responsibility of the man who did the tree work to know and follow the law. Joe Benigno, the tree surgeon, settled his actions with the TRPA last summer by performing 120 hours of tree work for free.
Laub also disputed Waldie’s assertion that he didn’t help craft the settlement.
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“In truth, it was my offer,” Laub said. “I really want to help the TRPA help the public.”
Waldie said the original settlement offered to Laub by the board was increased from $6,000 to $7,000 to cover the cost of the litigation that took place before the case was settled.
Waldie’s comments were followed by more biting ones from Tom Quinn, a board member from Los Angeles.
“An attorney should know the law,” Quinn said. “(At first) he refused the settlement and put out press statements attacking staff and the regulation. Even now he’s trying to mischaracterize — as if he’s doing something good when in fact he’s doing something despicable.”
Laub said his issue with the TRPA has been that the agency doesn’t adequately publicize its tree laws. He dropped his lawsuit against the TRPA because he says he believes it would be a waste of money.
“I could have easily litigated this out an perhaps won it,” Laub said. “I don’t want to have a fight to violate trees, that’s not where I’m coming from. And for them to suggest I don’t know the law, where did they have clear language, where did they publicize it?”
Laub’s former neighbor, Paul Porch, has also been fined by the TRPA for illegal tree work. That case remains in litigation. The agency wants $11,000 from Porch for ordering Benigno to top or cutting limbs from nine trees, four of which sit on state land next to his former home.
Property owners at the basin cannot remove or trim trees unless a qualified forester issues them a permit for the work. A forester must determine if the tree or its limbs pose a threat to a structure or a utility. Go to http://www.trpa.org for more information about tree cutting at the basin.
— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at email@example.com