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Laguna Beach woman told to trim trees or face criminal charges

March 23, 2012 | 11:20 am

A Laguna Beach woman who said she was only seeking a little privacy is now at risk of being hauled into court on criminal charges if she doesn’t trim a row of bushy trees behind her home.

Maria Jones said she planted a dozen ficus trees behind her Ocean Way home to provide privacy for her two daughters and herself but the city now says that unless a portion of the trees -- which now stand about 14 feet high -- are trimmed back the city will pursue criminal charges, the Coastline Pilot reported.

The city claimed Jones violated city code by failing to comply with Laguna Beach's so-called hedge law, which would require her to trim the trees back to 6 feet, 7 inches -- or just a touch a taller than Kobe Bryant.

The trouble began when a neighbor filed “a hedge-height claim” against Jones, alleging the foliage had choked off the view and the sunshine on his property.

A city landscape architect visited Jones' property and in June determined that, indeed, the trees did not conform with the city’s hedge-height limits.

"This is not something the city does lightly," City Atty. Philip Kohn said this week. "Her attorney has indicated that she is not willing to cut the hedge and that is not what the council approved.

"We will communicate with her attorney and if she trims the hedge, we will ask for dismissal of the complaint," he added.

Jones’ attorney had a different take on the tree-trimming order.

"In my experience, it is unprecedented for criminal charges to be filed over the height of a hedge," Jones' attorney, Dan Lawton, said Wednesday.

If the city doesn’t back off and drop the matter, Lawton said his client would potentially have a case against the city for malicious prosecution. “It might be correct to call it persecution," he added.

If she doesn’t break out the pruning shears, Jones has been advised that she’ll be arraigned April 11.

"This," Jones said, "has all been a nightmare." 


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-- Barbara Diamond, Times Community News