The developer of a 25-home subdivision in Fallbrook said Monday he will comply with orders from the county's planning staff and plant 210 oaks on an 8-acre parcel where 84 mature oaks once stood.
Richard Blakeslee said he's not pleased with the county order because of fear that the new trees will die from over-watering, but that he'll do his best to ensure that they will grow.
"I told the county in plain enough terms that the trees might die from getting too much water," Blakeslee said. "But I'll plant the trees very carefully, in areas that won't get excessive water as a result of the normal irrigation system for the rest of my plantings. We'll work with the landscape architect to place them as well as we can."
Blakeslee's Pala Mesa Oaks subdivision, alongside the Pala Mesa Golf Course, has been the focus of complaints since the builder took out, by his own admission, 37 mature oaks so that he could make way for new streets and building pads.
But neighbors have contended that Blakeslee took out as many as 87 oaks, virtually denuding the parcel of the very trees the neighborhood treasures and which provide the name for his project.
Adding to the controversy was a county condition in 1979 that not more than 10 of the mature coastal live oaks could be removed. That condition, however, was somehow dropped--perhaps in a clerical error--from paper work in 1980. When Blakeslee took over the project a few years ago, he said he had no knowledge of the tree-removal limit.
Lauren M. Wasserman, director of the county's Department of Planning and Land Use, said his staff's insistence that the new oaks be planted shows his office's concern that builders preserve the environment.
"Legally, he was able to remove more than the 10 oak trees because that wasn't a current condition on the project," Wasserman acknowledged. "But we think he knew of that regulation. We're fairly certain he was aware of that regulation. But we just can't prove it.
"At best, giving him the benefit of the doubt, he still showed bad judgment," Wasserman said Monday. "He knew those trees were important to the area. He showed terrible judgment.
"But the fact is, the trees were removed, and we want to fix it the best we can under the circumstances," Wasserman said. "Those trees were irreplaceable, and the trees we're requiring him to put in are much smaller and will take years to equal the size of the ones he took out.
"I guess that's the best we can expect, to replace the old ones with new ones, and to go forward from there."
But Blakeslee insisted Monday, as he has all along, that he was never aware of the former limitation. "I've answered that question 10 times," he said. "I did not know of any tree-removal limitation, and I still have seen nothing in print indicating there was a tree-removal limitation."
Blakeslee said that, since he has agreed to planting new trees as part of his site plan approval, he will now move forward with the project.
The builder said he would also provide a performance bond to make sure that the new oaks will be maintained for at least five years.
The county told him to plant 180 coastal live oaks--15 in 36-inch boxes, 15 in 24-inch boxes and 150 in one-gallon containers--as well as 30 holly oaks, half in 36-inch boxes and half in 24-inch boxes.