Residents in Caltrans Garb Cut Down Trees, Suit Says


Masquerading as Caltrans workers, a group of renegade San Clemente residents cut down or poisoned more than 50 eucalyptus trees that lined a scenic stretch of the Santa Ana Freeway below their homes, the highway agency alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The trees, which blocked the ocean views of homes in the neighborhood, were removed over a three-year period by at least four men dressed in orange shirts and matching hard hats typically worn by Caltrans crews, according to the lawsuit. Caltrans is seeking $500,000 from the men to replace the trees and repair damages.

Some residents in the hillside community along Calle Frontera and Calle Juarez have long complained about the trees, saying they obstruct the panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Catalina Island


One defendant named in the suit, Phillip Street, denied that he participated in the destruction, which he described as a “clever idea.”

“The whole street is complaining about them,” Street said of the trees, adding that they block the views of about 80 homes. “The original homeowners brought premium-priced lots, and the Caltrans trees grew into the views.”

To his regret, he said, the island view from his two-story home is still blocked by four or five trees.

“I wish they had chopped down the ones blocking my view,” he said.