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Safety should decide tree removal debate

Special to The Times

Question: In the late 1940s we purchased a new condo in a complex that was the model for all other complexes on the street. The developer told us he over-planted the landscape with pine trees so it wouldn’t look bare.

After the other condo complexes on the street were completed, we noticed none had as many trees as ours.

As the trees matured, they caused our complex costly problems with plumbing, cracked concrete and fire hazards. Several caught fire, causing damage to structures. The tree roots have raised concrete and sprinklers.

Because of vegetation overcrowding, inherently poor soil conditions and overwatering, several trees suffered root rot and collapsed, causing injury and further damage.

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Each new board keeps hiring arborists and tree surgeons at a substantial cost to the owners, but nothing is ever accomplished.

We have a group of controlling owners living here who vote for board members based on who will keep the trees.

If, by miracle, a tree or two is removed, these environmentalist owners get on the board and immediately replace what was removed, creating the same problems over again. When a suggestion is made to trim the trees, the board is accused of destroying the environment.

The fire department has already warned us that there are too many trees planted too close to the units.

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They explained that pine trees in particular are combustible, and any barbecue could cause a catastrophic problem. They recommended removal. Owners’ requests to have trees removed are ignored. What can we do?

Answer: An arborist usually specializes in the care of trees; a tree surgeon usually specializes in the treatment of trees that may be damaged or diseased.

Your association’s problems do not fall under either category.

Instead, the concerns should be with a board that is influenced by votes from a few at the risk of real damage to the entire complex.

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Each owner should first be concerned with the potential hazards caused by the landscaping, regardless of when it was planted.

The fire department has already warned of the danger associated with the density and location of the trees.

For a board to ignore those warnings may be sufficient to void any insurance coverage in the event there is another fire.

That is a risk that no one, not even an environmentalist, should gamble on.

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The board is charged with managing the business of the association, including protecting the association and its residents from possible hazards.

Removing trees, with or without approval of the homeowners, may be part of the duty it owes to all, especially after the fire department’s warning.

Appeasing environmentalists might be accomplished by planting new, more fire-resistant vegetation.

It is imperative that the association not wait for another fire or disaster to occur before removing the trees.

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Money spent on repairing sprinklers, plumbing and raised concrete -- let alone arborists and tree surgeons -- only to leave the situation unchanged, is a waste of association assets and is a disaster waiting to happen.

Actions like these subject all homeowners to liability.

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Questions can be sent to P.O. Box 11843, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or e-mailed to NoExit@mindspring.com.

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