Tree trimming ordeal headed to court
An illegal tree-trimming case is nowhere close to being resolved.
The case pits well-known Zephyr Cove attorney Melvin Laub and his former neighbor Paul Porch against the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. TRPA contends trees were cut by the homeowners to enhance views of Lake Tahoe.
The TRPA Governing Board ordered Laub to pay $6,000 for limbing three trees. It fined Porch $11,000 for limbing seven trees and topping two trees.
Both parties refused to pay the fines. Laub and Porch first tried to negotiate settlements with the agency, but the Governing Board rejected the agreements its staff came up with. Now TRPA is suing Porch and Laub to recover the fines.
In response, Porch’s attorney Michael K. Johnson of Stateline has filed a motion in federal court in Reno requesting the case be dismissed because the agency failed to file its lawsuit in a timely manner. John Marshall, lead attorney at TRPA, says he filed the lawsuit within the time allowed.
The issue hinges on whether the statute of limitations started ticking when TRPA staff first discovered the damaged trees or when the agency deemed the damage to be a violation of TRPA code.
“We believe the court will find Mr. Porch, who is truly the bad actor here, will have to face his day in court,” Marshall said. “This is an attempt by Mr. Porch to construct a highly creative but ultimately flawed device to weasel out of his responsibility.”
Laub, who is representing himself, said he will wait and see how his neighbor’s case turns out before he makes a move.
“If for some reason it fails, I have my own strategy,” Laub said. “I would not share it at this time. I want to see what happens first.”
Laub and Porch have also filed a lawsuit against Joe Benigno, a contractor who did the tree work. Benigno has said Porch told him it was OK to do the work and implied that if he didn’t do it, he wouldn’t be paid for other work he had done. Porch denies the accusation and says Benigno’s services were recommended to him by Laub.
“The trees were pruned on my property at the recommendation of a person I believed to be a fully licensed and rule-abiding professional,” said Porch, who has since sold the property. “I did not intend to disregard any statutes.”
In May, Benigno admitted his work was illegal and reached a settlement that required he provide 120 hours of forestry work to Nevada or pay a $12,000 fine. Benigno completed the work during the summer.
Since the whole tree-trimming ordeal began in spring 2001, Laub said he has become more aware of the trees in his backyard and more aware of the trees at Lake Tahoe Basin. As a result, he has begun a sugar pine campaign, which aims to bring more of the trees back into the basin.
Laub said he has contacted numerous forestry agencies and all have been supportive of his plan to plant sugar pine seedlings around the basin come spring.
“I find a lot of enthusiasm from people,” Laub said. “I don’t think I’m alone on this. I’ll even ask the TRPA to participate if they wish to. It has nothing to do with the lawsuit. Win or lose, that won’t stop the program of Mother Nature.”
— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at email@example.com
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A flash flood watch has been extended for the Lake Tahoe area.