Problems grow over city tree

Although a city tree is damaging Paul and Sherie Bastien's property, they can't get rid of it, they say.

After giving up on the idea of getting the city to remove the tree, the couple who live on Newhaven Lane with their two children decided to pay for removing it themselves in hopes of reducing any further damage to their sidewalk, pool pump and block wall.

"I either pay for the tree or let my property get damaged," said Paul Bastien, 43. "I'd rather save my property. I'm saving in the long run."

Dealing with the city, however, proved to be a catch-22 scenario, the Bastiens said. While the city allows residents to remove trees that are diseased or causing damage, the requirements have proven to be too costly and demanding. Now, the two sides are at a standoff, with the Bastiens refusing to pay for the tree and the city claiming that it doesn't have the funds to remove it.

The family's backyard is filled with pine tree needles, with some blocking the pool pump and causing the motor to overheat, and their concrete is filled with tree sap that's difficult to remove. The tree is lifting their sidewalk, and the crack on the ground is heading toward the pool.

In a Dec. 13 letter to the Bastiens, Public Works Department officials said that after inspecting the tree, they found that it meets the criteria for removal.

But because public works funds have been shrinking, the city can't afford to remove the tree, and the residents have the option to pay for it themselves, Public Works Director Travis Hopkins said.

The Bastiens said their complaints to the city go back 15 years. Letters obtained by the Independent show the Bastiens have been in communication with Huntington Beach officials over the tree since 2005.

In 2007, the Bastiens filed their first official complaint to the city.

"We went on a vacation, and we came home to a mess," Sherie Bastien, 41, said. "The backyard was covered with pine needles and the pool motor was burning."

Aside from paying for the removal of the tree, the Bastiens would also have to pay for replacing the sidewalk and for planting another pine tree. The total cost is estimated to be $1,300, and that doesn't include the cost of planting a new tree, Sherie Bastien said. Another tree has to be planted, which is part of city policy.

When Paul Bastien hired a contractor and attempted to get a permit from the city to go ahead with the job, he found that the city requires any contractor working in the public right-of-way to have a $1-million insurance policy that would also insure the city. However,

none of the contractors working in Huntington Beach have a $1-million insurance policy, Paul Bastien said. And there's an additional $300 in costs for a contractor working in Huntington Beach to get a $1-million policy, extra money the Bastiens don't want to pay.

"We sent two people down, but they didn't have the requirement to cut a city tree," Sherie Bastien said. "How is it a city tree if I'm paying for it? Just let me cut the tree down."

The $1-million insurance policy is necessary to protect the city and its residents when work is being done in public, Hopkins said.

Hopkins said the city provided the Bastiens with a list of contractors carrying the $1-million insurance policy who have done work in Huntington Beach in the past.

The Bastiens, though, have now backed out of the decision to pay for it themselves; they say they believe the city should take care of the tree and the damage it is causing to their property.

"I got a letter dated Dec. 13 stating our tree does meet the criteria for being removed and it's causing damage," Paul Bastien said. "If they have a tree that meets the criteria to be removed, why am I paying for it? Why aren't they removing it?"

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