L.A. council candidate served with lawsuit in middle of debate

Tiff between neighbors becomes unwelcome distraction for candidate vying for a spot on L.A. City Council

A spat between neighbors, now headed to court, has become an unwelcome distraction for a Los Angeles City Council candidate.

Hollywood Hills resident Eugene Matthews alleges in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that Sheila Irani cut down 10 trees on his property to stumps and severely damaged others. Irani is one of 14 candidates seeking to replace Councilman Tom LaBonge in a district stretching from Los Feliz to Sherman Oaks.

Matthews claims Irani had been argumentative, telling him at one point, according to the lawsuit: “I am not going to let your trees mess up the view of my $3,400,000 home.” 

Irani on Wednesday denied making that statement. She said she cut some dead trees along a shared fence line to prevent a fire hazard and trimmed shrubs hanging over her property because they attracted bees. She said she only learned of the lawsuit after it was reported by City News Service on Wednesday.

Irani suggested the claims were politically motivated. Matthews supports a different candidate in the race, Tomas O'Grady, but he denied any political motivation for filing the lawsuit. He said that he hadn’t told anybody about it before the local wire service reported it Wednesday.

The candidate was served with the lawsuit Wednesday night in the middle of a debate being hosted by the Laurel Canyon Assn., to the surprise of other candidates and the crowd.

Emails included in the lawsuit show the dispute stretches back to last year. In one message in November, Matthews warned Irani not to "touch my trees ever again."

In another email, Irani wrote to Matthews that rules agreed to by local homeowners do not allow vegetation more than six feet above the ground floor.

“I have maintained your bushes for 10 years, and instead of appreciation I have to answer to your anger and threats,” Irani wrote in the email.

Matthews also alleged in his lawsuit that cutting down the trees allowed men visiting Irani's home to see into his daughter’s bedroom, causing "safety concerns and emotional stress."

Irani countered in an interview that there was no way to see into the bedroom. She added that she had a male housemate who sometimes had friends over.

Matthews is seeking roughly $97,000 to replace trees, plus additional damages and fees, according to the suit.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATED

10:30: This post has been updated with information on candidate being served with lawsuit during Wednesday night forum.

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