Trees Are at the Root of Neighbors' Spat

Times Staff Writer

My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors." --Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"

Robert Frost may argue that apple trees pose no threat to neighborly relations, but eucalyptus trees are a different matter in the 12600 block of Celestial Court.

Consider the relations between next-door neighbors Kelly Tyree and Benjamin Franklin Harrison Jr. One-time friendly banter was reduced three years ago to cold glares, letters sent by certified mail and lawsuits.

At issue are 16 eucalyptus trees along Harrison's driveway--all within a foot or so of Tyree's property--and six other trees about 20 feet from Tyree's yard. The trees were planted 13 years ago and some are more than 30 feet tall.

With the prevailing breeze, Tyree argues, his yard becomes the depository for all of the seeds, leaves, twigs, branches and bark off Harrison's trees.

"I wouldn't mind so much if the trees were deciduous and I had a big mess just once a year but these things are messing up my yard year-round," Tyree complains.

"Ninety percent of my property is regularly covered with the debris from those trees," he maintains.

Harrison, 71, who is retired from the Marine Corps, told Tyree three years ago that he could cut down those branches which hung over his property--as long as he didn't trespass onto his property to do so.

Tyree said he then planted a ladder squarely on his own property--and leaned it against one of Harrison's trees. He didn't really notice, he said, whether he was standing in air space over his property or Harrison's. Wherever he was, he cut a major limb off the tree, then did the same to two other trees.

Harrison said he was outraged. Not only did he allege that Tyree trespassed onto his property but, to add insult to injury, Tyree did not even bother to turn over to Harrison the wood he cut from Harrison's trees.

In fact, Harrison--who remembers better times when he would offer to watch the Tyrees' pets when they were away from home--placed Tyree under citizen's arrest.

A deputy sheriff came out and met with the two, but no charges were filed against Tyree. Instead, Harrison filed a civil suit seeking damages, alleging that the trees were irreparably harmed by Tyree's pruning job.

Since 1982, Tyree hasn't touched the trees. Harrison says he's got a stack of bills from the same period showing his good intentions in keeping the trees pruned professionally.

But that hasn't resolved the issue. Tyree has filed a countersuit against Harrison, angry that Harrison's trees, pruned or not, still mess up his backyard and the swimming pool.

"We don't think he has the right to constantly shed debris on our yard," Tyree said. "It's the same as if he stopped taking his garbage to the curb and instead threw it over the fence into our yard.

"Granted, this problem isn't life-threatening but it certainly is inconvenient."

The matter was taken up briefly in court on Wednesday, when Harrison asked for a preliminary injunction to prevent Tyree from pruning Harrison's trees. Superior Court Judge Arthur Jones denied Harrison's request after noting that Tyree hasn't touched the trees for three years, so a court order prohibiting him from doing so seemed unnecessary.

The suit and countersuit may not go to trial for another two or three years, given the backlog of civil suits in Superior Court.

Meanwhile, Harrison talks of the need to protect trees. "Land would eventually revert to a desert area, like large patches in Africa and Brazil," he said.

"And Poway is a wooded, semi-rural area. We're known as 'the city in the country' and a huge oak tree is part of the city's logo. And you know the poem, only God can create a tree."

For the record, Tyree said he has no trees in his yard.

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