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Where does Palo Alto come down on solar vs trees ?

Original post made by TheShadowNeedsToKnow, Crescent Park, on Mar 3, 2011

I have a question about the solar "right-of_way" so to speak that I do not know where to go with.

Do homeowners have any right to the sunlight that falls on their properties in Palo Alto? What defines these rights and how are they enforced?

I would like to install solar panels on my roof, but my neighbor has a towering Redwood-type tree due north of our house that blocks the sunlight during most daylight hours on most of my lot, thus depriving me of sunlight and the ability to generate electricity, or even in the case now where I do not have solar panels or collectors I get very little sunlight and end up with a rather dark front yard where not much will grow.

I know how much Palo Alto seems to care about its "green" image and trees, but I don't get as much sunlight as I should because of this huge tree and was wondering if there is any regulation of this issue, and if so where can I find it?

Can anyone help me "see the light?" I love trees too, but this is just not fair.

Thanks !

By the way, the Eucalyptus trees in Eleanor park have all been removed now, and it does not look too bad, very spacious and bright now.

Comments (42)

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Posted by just sayin'
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Was the tree already there when you bought the house? If yes, please, don't complain about your situation being "just not fair".


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm

just sayin' - do you have actual information on this issue?


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Posted by use the city's clean power program
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 3, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I gotta agree that it is immoral to ask a neighbor to kill a tree that is older than either of you. If you want green energy, just join the city's green energy program. Large scale solar (or wind or hydro) are more efficient than home units anyway.

On the other hand, it is polite to ask you neighbor's permission before planting new trees near the property line.

No need to get lawyers involved when common sense solutions are available.

BTW - I do seem to recall that the law favors older trees.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 6:47 pm

We don't seem to be able to remove trees when they are dangerous in Palo Alto. They are the sacred cows.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm

> use the city's clean power program ...

Are there any actual facts to be had here, please?

I am not immoral for trying to find out the fact and legal framework of this kind of thing so take your green activism and please apply it to someone else. As I said I like trees, but my neighbor would not be allowed to dig for minerals under many land so why are they allowed to block my sunlight?

The truth is that this tree has been there for quite a while, not as big and not a problem in the past, but my house has been in the family much much longer.

The other thing is that the tree is planted in almost the exact corner of the neighbor's property meaning that only 1/4 of its radius is actually on the neighbor's lot.


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Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Google to the rescue...

Web Link

qq


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm

> To avoid future problems, Mr. Simitian has introduced a bill to
> ensure that trees planted before solar panels are installed
> have a right to grow in peace.

Thanks qq ... even with these laws this is a tough issue. That
means that should this law be passed they are allowing my
rights to be trampled by trees.

I was reading the other day about these urban-agriculturalists
who want to build these giant multi-storied buildings in urban
areas in which they want to grow plants for food. It sounds like
a nice idea until you realize that everyone on the opposite side
of one of these things is never going to see the sun at all.

The cost of solar panels is great enough that even this
10% allowance of shade makes it a waste of money and
effort to try to be green ... at least photovoltaically, and
who want to have a constant source of argument with their
neighbors? But don't I deserve to see the sun sometimes?

Still it is not clear what my recourse is. I don't want problems
with my neighbors, but neighbor problems just seem to always
happen whatever you want or don't want unless you are just
lucky.

Ironically I don't think they could get rid of this tree even if
they wanted to because of the city trees ordinances. The
city is fine with ripping out all kinds of trees if they get to
spend and direct money around to do it, but allowing a property
owner to make a reasonable decision about their own trees or
managing impositions on them by neighbors is out of the question.

The multiple factors and difficulty in measuring and classifying
trees and landscaping makes it impossible to touch this issue
objectively.

It just seems like to me that some amount of sun ought to be
a right, under normal circumstances and planting extremely
tall trees on the outside of your property in the city is something
that an average person ought to know better than to do,


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Actually it is
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm

"Still it is not clear what my recourse is."

You apparently dont like that you have none. ;-)

So the right thing for you to to is get an opinion from a real estate attorney. But him/her at the law Simitian put in place and pay for an opinion.

I would like to put in solar as well, but my neighbors trees shade that part of my roof. His trees pre-date my ownership of my house, and my thoughts to install solar, so I lose. I could see if my neighbor would be willing to let me pay to cut his trees down, but if he likes them he gets to keep them.

Unless you have rights to light or view and some communities do, but not Palo Alto, you lose. Of couse my opinion is worth what you paid for it.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 11:25 pm

This issue has come up before Council in the past and they made it perfectly clear.

If the tree or trees which produce shade on your property are mature trees and were planted by your neighbor well before you wanted to put solar panels on your roof, the trees take precedent. Unless your neighbor is willing to remove the tree voluntarily, you will have to work around it.

You mention that it is a towering redwood tree. Certain native California trees i.e. redwood and oak trees come under a city preservation ordinance and cannot be removed anyway.

Presumably you bought or rented your house knowing there was a large redwood tree in the neighbors yard which put your front yard in shade?

Sorry but you're stuck with this tree, confirm what I have written with the City arborist.


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Posted by confused
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 9:18 am

Doesn't the majority of sunlight come from the south as the sun traverses the sky?


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Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 4, 2011 at 10:20 am

Simitian's bill SB1399 addresses the trees vs. solar issue:
Web Link

"The bill strikes a balance between trees and solar, and provides a clear exemption from the California Solar Shade Control Act for pre-existing trees. "Right now," said Simitian, "a new neighbor can move in next to your home, install a solar energy system, and then –– under threat of criminal prosecution –– force you to take an ax to your trees if and when they grow." Simitian called the existing law, "well intended, but overreaching. Trees grow. That's what they do."

Shade is quite detrimental to solar generation, so be sure to get a shading study done before spending $15,000+ for a solar electric system. Include an estimate of future growth of nearby trees.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 4, 2011 at 10:38 am

The individual with the question said the house has been in the family for many years, pre-dating the size of the tree; however, we all know trees grow, so that's not something you can rightfully complain about once it happens. Yes, solar energy is a good thing, but trees also save energy for your neighbor by providing shade that reduces heat in the house during warm weather, and increases comfort in enjoying their yard. Trees also serve as "filters" that contribute to air quality. And then there's the fact that trees are attractive and help communities avoid looking like much of Sunnyvale or other communities with lots of cement, but not much left of their orchard history. It is unfortunate, but inevitable, that there are competing interests in neighborhoods. In this case, I vote for the trees. Remember, the tree is of value to the entire neighborhood, not just your neighbor. And it is possible they didn't plant the tree in that location -- it could have happened naturally. A number of redwoods in our area have seeded naturally.

As to Palo Alto ordinances, I believe they are reasonable. A tree can be cut down if it is dangerous or diseased. We removed 2 redwoods from property with city approval because the seedlings caused overgrowth that placed buildings and people in danger (having nothing to do with sunlight, preference, convenience, etc.).


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:27 am

> "Right now," said Simitian, "a new neighbor can move in next to your
> home, install a solar energy system, and then –– under threat of
> criminal prosecution –– force you to take an ax to your trees if and
> when they grow."

How is that any more or less unfair than planting a tree and then when it gets big enough nothing can be done, no matter its effect on neighbors? In most configurations it does not matter that much, but sometimes it makes a big difference to one or the other property.

Such as the case cited earlier in the link where property owners desiring a barrier planted trees right on the border of the property line that ended up to be a big wall blocking all sunlight to their neighbors house.

Why shouldn't everyone who owns property have some reasonably defined right to the sunlight. I think everyone would agree that they should, but the problem here is that trees are given this preference, often for good reason, over other things. Isn't this one of the reasons we limit the height of our buildings and regular setbacks and such?

Let's say there are trees someone deems to be a problem because they block enough of the sun on their lot to make much of their lot dark and gloomy and unable to support hearty plant growth. Why should they have to go through the farce of putting in solar panels just to get what should be their rights of property ownership recognized? This is how things become politicized and then corrupt. I think people with a lot of money or power can get rid of trees through any number of means, whereas for most the tree is just another way to manipulate them.

Any system that creates such political ambiguities seems to create more problems than it solves. Anyway, I am not anti-tree, but not every tree can be of critical importance.


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:49 am

> neighbor, a resident of the Greenmeadow
> but trees also save energy for your neighbor by providing shade that reduces heat in the house during warm weather, and increases comfort in enjoying their yard. Trees also serve as "filters" that contribute to air quality.

Please do not make blanket statements. In the winter this particular tree blocks my house from the sun and so increases my heating bill, plus lighting bill, and makes the yard too gloomy and dark.

You cannot say that every tree is perfect or does everything.

I am not saying I am not for trees. After a tree gets so high there is hardly any further value that growing higher does for anyone. It makes me think of those 100 foot palm trees with a sprouting of palm fronds at the top that casts a shadown half a mile away and otherwise looks like a bit pole to the homeowner. That is a tree out of control and not serving any purpose.

I do agree with this point you made:

> then there's the fact that trees are attractive and help communities avoid looking like much of Sunnyvale or other communities with lots of cement, but not much left of their orchard history

I totally agree, a city with nice trees is a much nice place to live, and Palo Alto is very nice. However, Palo Alto does not suffer any more from lack of trees, (except on California Ave.) and removing selected overly large problem trees should not be seen as selfish, anti-tree, anti-environmentalist. I am old enough to remember this city used to have a huge number of oak trees all over. Town and Country used to be filled with them.

Anyway, the property in question has very large trees planted around its periphery that all overhang their neighbors property, dropping leaves and providing a nice barrier for one property and more or less of a problem for all the neighbors.

Trees can be a problem and their ought to be some way to address it besides just saying all trees should be off limits for discussion.

> Remember, the tree is of value to the entire neighborhood, not just your neighbor.

Not all the time. I am not saying there should not be a tree there, just that it should be limited in size in some way. Whether that means the existing tree should be trimmed, or cut down and replaced with a shorter species, should be the decision. I really would not want to change the treeful nature of Palo Alto. If I thought in changing my own situation that it would lead to some slippery slope wherein we all would end up with a treeless town, I would not bother to say anything about it.

> We removed 2 redwoods from property with city approval because the seedlings caused overgrowth that placed buildings and people in danger (having nothing to do with sunlight, preference, convenience, etc.).

Aha. But that is also your property. But what if you had liked those trees and your neighbors has asked you to remove them because they impinged on those neighbors ... then you might have a different story to tell.

I guess I am curious how "overgrowth" could put people in danger. That is actually funny, because the overgrowth I am thinking about about is basically an inconvenience that requires a management cost to trim and clean up, isn't it. So you chopped down 2 trees because it was too much work or cost for you, and got the city to agree with you?

It just seems like whenever I scratch the surface of the real facts regarding these kinds of issues they are mostly arbitrary and often political and rationalized by people so they can do what they want ... which is fine ... but everyone should be able to do the same - as well as have their property rights protected. A neighbor should not be allowed to put a giant unbrella over your house to block the sun, simply because it is a tree, not an umbrella. ;-)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:58 am

Perhaps you should think about the smell from their barbeque or cigarettes, the noise from their piano or their kids playing in the yard, their barking dog, their cat which does its business on your lawn, etc. etc. Some things can be dealt with, others you put up with. The shade from their tree could be very pleasant for you on a hot day when you sit in your yard although it may make your yard dark in winter.


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Posted by TreesTreesPlease
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Tall Trees are essential for shade, and for healthy air, and for beauty. Only if a tree is damaged seriously, or unstable as determined by a specialist in trees, should a large tree be cut down.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Solar
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2011 at 3:12 am

I'm also wondering how a tree due north of your propert blocks sunlight. Palo Alto isn't close enough to the equator for the sun to ever shine from the north.


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Posted by skeptical
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 5, 2011 at 9:46 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 5, 2011 at 10:26 am

I don't want to get into this discussion, but let me point out that because a tree has a "round" configuration any sunshine hitting the tree eastwards and westwards (morning and afternoon) will in fact produce shade on some of the neighbor's yard. But her house will be shady on the east side, except in the morning, whether there is a neighbor's tree or not. Also, the north side of her house will always be in shade regardless of trees next door, for obvious reasons. And the placement of the tree is crucial since we don't know where precisely where the tree is-middle of the neighbors back wall, or a bit on the side?. In any case the woman has a north facing main living space, so tree has little to do with lack of sunshine...Or if I'm wrong and she means that the tree is on the north of the neighbor's property, not hers she is going to have sun shining on her property (or at least bit of it) morning and afternoon.... I think she just doesn't like he tree right in front of her... but that's Palo Alto small yards for you. And no, there is no right to sun, at least not more than
the right to trees. Invite me over on a hot summer's day.....


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2011 at 11:54 am

Yes, as someone already pointed out this tree is directly to my other north,
... and yes, anything will produce a shadow. The relevant times for solar power would be the hours where the sun is in the sky before and after noon.

> I suspect your "interest" in solar panels only came about when
> you realized its usefulness in harassing your neighbor.

and that might be because the only reason you posted is to be annoying. Suspect away, there is nothing I can do about it and it makes no difference to me but I really see no point in harassing my neighbor for no reason, but that't me I guess.

The tree would be great if it was only about 50 feet high instead of one of those giant 100 foot ones.



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Posted by Fleur de Lis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm

If one were looking for a solution, consult an arborist, and check with the city. I know with oak trees that one can prune them selectively to allow for a nice shape and for light to filter through, even to the point that desired plantings can grow if the tree is pruned well and artistically done so, too, below the oak's canopy. I don't know if a redwood tree could be pruned to allow for more light. Check with your neighbor and with the city arborist. That redwood is protected, and people can be fined for messing with heritage or protected trees.

If this is just a fabrication and there is no shade issue, and this is an attempt to stir up trouble with the neighbors, then I am glad I am not next door to this person. Not all people intend to, or are capable of getting along with people, and have their own personal problems as well.

I agree, the tree comes before the solar panels as far as what was there first, so no matter that this person's residence has been in the family for a long time.


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Posted by Fleur de Lis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I just checked with my husband about this issue, and he agrees that one large redwood tree wouldn't have a big spread out canopy; it would be more tall than wide, and if it is to the north, it might only block the sun for the first and last hour at most of the day when there is not that much sunlight anyway. There would be very little energy in the sun during those times, because it would be so low in the sky. There would be no shadow cast for other times of the day.

One can verify this by using a CAD tool that tracks the trajectory of shadowing and the sun through different times of the year. Therefore, you should be able enjoy the use of solar panels.

I don't think you have an issue with this tree. Enjoy.


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Posted by John
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Wow! Nothing else to say other than we are doomed as a species. Fighting over what's left of our green canopies while the earth warms up.
We just can't live in peace. The more money we have-the more problems we generate.


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Posted by skeptical
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Web Link

Rush - The Trees

... and the trees are now all made equal, but hatchet .... axe .... and saw!


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Posted by Actually it is
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Pretty short for a redwood. Mine are only 100 years old and they are already 200 feet tall.

"The tree would be great if it was only about 50 feet high instead of one of those giant 100 foot ones"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 5, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Just thank God you are lucky to be living by such a beautiful tree. Especially in the summertime.


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Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 5, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Just read more of your posts on this. "Problem" trees? Oy vey. There are many problems in Palo Alto, but they sure as hell aren't trees.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2011 at 3:11 am

to TheShadowNeedsToKnow

Here's two simple solutions for you -
1) move to the desert, plenty of sunshine and none of those nasty big trees

2) offer your neighbors a huge amount of more for their property, then when you own it you can try to get a permit to cut down those pesky trees, then sell that property to someone else who also hates trees, or make sure the sale contract/deed has a restriction on planting trees until such time as you sell your property or you expire.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2011 at 3:13 am

oops - that should read
2) offer your neighbors a huge amount of MONEY for their property.


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Posted by Fleur de Lis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2011 at 11:08 am

To TheShadowNeedsToKnow,

You state that plants wont grow there in the shade. Go to your local garden nursery and ask for the section where shade plants are, and you will find a vast number of really nice looking shrubs, ferns, and other types of shade loving plants there. I have admired many gardens that had shaded sections that were absolutely beautiful.

It seems you state things in absolutes, without thinking your situation through, and without doing your homework by researching your "complaint". By the way, you also state "other north". How many norths do you think you have, more than one?

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Palo Alto is a nice place to live, with lots of good and interesting people to enjoy, if you let it be! As far as the trees, they are a big part of what makes Palo Alto nice. It adds value to our properties, cleans the air, and I am glad they are there, and admire when I see a stately redwood somewhere! So, Shadow, you are blessed really if you think about it.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]







 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I agree with the comments that you are stuck with the tree and the shade. Plus Redwood Trees are protected (as are Oaks) in PA.

I do have to say that I find it somewhat puzzling that we protect trees (Redwoods) in the Crescent Park neighborhood. Only because Redwoods are no where native to this particular area as the Eucalyptis trees are at Pardee Park.

Crescent Park was a meadow and marshland in the 1800's. Just look at all of the old photos of PA. No trees at all!

I'm fine with the ordinance (we have three 100'+ Redwoos on our property) - but I wish that those that are a little too sensitive on this subject at least acknowledge that the protected trees were planted mostly by humans and are hardly natural and/or heritage in their genesis.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 6, 2011 at 8:13 pm

>>TheShadowNeedsToKnow "Aha. But that is also your property. But what if you had liked those trees and your neighbors has asked you to remove them because they impinged on those neighbors ... then you might have a different story to tell."

Response: Actually, ours is a shared property and everyone loved the trees and would have liked them to stay. We would also have liked avoiding the removal costs, but they were dangerous. The dangerousness was determined by both a private aborist and the city aborist.


>>TheShadowNeedsToKnow "I guess I am curious how "overgrowth" could put people in danger. That is actually funny, because the overgrowth I am thinking about about is basically an inconvenience that requires a management cost to trim and clean up, isn't it. So you chopped down 2 trees because it was too much work or cost for you, and got the city to agree with you?"

-- It was exactly the opposite in terms of cost. There really isn't much cost associated with redwood tree growth; removal was much more expensive. Periodic trimming of dead branches and picking up waste for 10 trees doesn't cost much more than it does for 8 trees. I don't believe the city would ever approve a tree removal request based on someone's inconvenience.

Overgrowth is dangerous when space is very confined and root structures are comprised by the overgrowth. It can also be problematic for underground piples/utility lines, although this wasn't a big issue here. The overgrowth in limited space can put the trees' health in jeopardy and can put the tree in danger of coming down in a storm. As much as we enjoy them, planting this tree species in a small space (over 30 years ago) was probably a bad idea, and was made worse by seedling growth. None of us were here then, and we are hoping that no other trees will need to be removed.

Finally, have you considered that your neighbor has as much right to shade as you have to sun? Perhaps they purchased the house because of the trees and the shade they produce. These are not easy issues, but it seems fair to give priority according to safety (when it applies, which it does not in your case) and according to which/who came first. Giving priority to a neighbor because of a personal preference for sun that would require loss of trees and shade by their neighbor/neighborhood seems a bit self-centered. And, as was suggested, there are many shade-loving plants to choose from, so you can grow all kinds of things in your yard.

I get the feeling this has little to do with gardening, or even solar panels, and lots to do with your regret living in a house without as much sun as you would like to have.


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm

> I get the feeling this has little to do with gardening, or even solar panels, and lots to do with your regret living in a house without as much sun as you would like to have.

The amazing accusations I am getting would probably be irritating if I did not expect them and know the character of the posts here at PAO.

I actually would like to put solar panels on my roof, and there actually is a tree that if most people looked at it objectively blocks the sun so that as long as the tree is there solar panels make no sense.

The neighbors house in question has many other trees, as does most of Palo Alto. I would not even think about it if it was not a problematic tree that some others have commented on as well.

I have to say I resent being painted as the bad-anti-tree trouble-maker guy by people here who don't know know what they are talking about and think they are some kind of Sherlock Holmes or Sigmund Freud to be able to see into my inner soul based on a quick choice of words or what to put in or keep out or mistakes.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I wonder if these comments are a byproduct of the fact that Palo Alto is such a phony place based on politics and lies these days, nothing like the small town it was 30 years ago, so people just have this swirling paranoia about anything everyone says.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2011 at 10:49 pm

I just saw your post and the unfortunate comments that followed. Those comments aside... you may not have many options in the matter given the state of affairs in this community.

Unless the tree is causing life threatening damage... or about to cause damage... and even then.... I doubt anyone in the city will listen to you. Yes, your rights as property owner are compromised, but that doesn't really matter. Trees are more valuable than people around here. Even if it's the wrong tree in the wrong place.... and even if the person who planted it had only intended it to be a short term fix until other plantings could grow. A common phenomenon is to over-plant at first with the intention to take it out later. It's just that no one ever gets around to later. In any event, it would be a long uphill battle.

My best suggestion is to approach your neighbor and ask that they prune the tree to let through some daylight. Living under a redwood tree that receives garden irrigation and fertilizer is like living in a cave. (Yes, many old photos of Palo Alto show that it was naturally scrub and oaks.... with a few redwoods along the creek where water was once plentiful.)

Unfortunately, I think solar panels would be a waste. It's rather ironic that everyone talks about how shade is so important to keep us cool in the summer... when summers here are idyllic and hardly sufferable compared to most of the rest of the world. There are a lot of ways to create shade when you need it.... not so with sunlight. I'd rather have some solar panels to offset heating costs in the winter. And, no, I don't have A/C.

Good luck!


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I see the Palo Alto Online censor had to get involved in my last past for some odd reason.

neighbor a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood said:
>> My best suggestion is ...

I did not really post for your best suggestion.
I did not ask for interpersonal advice or a psych eval either.

Trimming the tree would make it look so ludicrous as in the picture posted in the link above that I would not bother even if I could force the issue, which was never my intention.

I am all for trees in general, but there are situations where a tree is a problem. I'm not suggesting cutting down all trees in Palo Alto or even everywhere where solar panels could be put, there are good even unselfish motives for getting rid of this particular tree, and some for keeping it ... I just think getting rid of it since there are a lot of other right next to it ... the area is really rather lust, and nice.

I do not even mind submitting to government regulation on these matters, just that the government regulation should not be so convoluted that reason cannot prevail ... and yes, in this case I am vain and prideful enough to think that my way of looking at this particular issue is "reasonable".

Now as a completely different thought experiment, I just wonder what some of you would think if you looked at a neighbor/house that has trees planted all around the periphery of the yard such that the trunk of the tree was just inside their fence line, but roots tore into sidewalks and driveways of the neighbors, and 1/2 to 3/4 of every tree on that persons yard overhung their neighbors? So from inside the propety it looked like it was in a nice redwood forest, and maximum sun and space in the middle of all these trees, and the neighbors on all sides have to deal with roots and leaves, branches and darkness? Really curious.


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Posted by No Panels
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 7, 2011 at 6:19 am

We looked at putting solar panels on our roof...however, to make them anywhere useful, we would have had to cut to the roof line all our southern trees.

What is the point of putting "solar" panels for decreasing environmental impact, if we are cutting trees in order to get sun? Trees are necessary, use CO2, give us O2, shade over our homes in the summer which lessens fans/air conditioning use..etc.

So, I don't know the "rules" about cutting your neighbor's tree(s), but I DO know it makes no sense to cut trees for solar panels...

We have no panels as a result, either.


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2011 at 10:46 am

>> What is the point of putting "solar" panels for decreasing environmental impact, if we are cutting trees in order to get sun?

See what you just did there? ... your situation is different from mine, and you equate them and putting up solar panels with cutting trees ... TREES, plural. It's a false argument. I am talking about one tree about of about 7 or 8 on that one property, and many more in the adjacent ones.

Most of the world's CO2 comes from the oceans by the way, I hope you are just as active saving the oceans as saving trees ... or maybe not since you activism seems to be misplaced, a mile wide and a millimeter deep.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm

You originally asked about rights to sun, definition and enforcement. My suggestions above are based on my knowledge of property owners' rights as they pertain to trees.

Perhaps you are really looking for encouragement to propose and write legislation. By all means, do so. Obviously, there has been extensive legal wrangling over this issue in light of solar energy initiatives.

There are several issues that compromise your position... the first is that the whole tree is not really yours.... only the part that encroaches on your property. You have a right to deal with that part of the tree so long as you don't compromise the health or safety of the tree. Otherwise you face big fines. That's fairly universal law, not unique to Palo Alto or California.

The second issue is that the tree is protected in Palo Alto. So unless it is "hazardous", any case for removal will be futile.

The third issue is the recent legislation. I suggest you google legal case history. The new law sponsored by Simitian tries to be more "reasonable" with respect to solar vs. trees... Unfortunately, the trees usually in dispute are varieties that have no business being planted on the small lots where most people reside. It sounds like this new law ignores the issue of species... which is a shame, because things grow really big here.

Your real challenge is to being able to "enjoy" the use of your property. You would like an ordinance/legislation that guarantees a certain percentage of sunlight to fall over your property... in the same way that building design guidelines restrict the building envelope. The only type of legislation that seems similar is more common is places with views... think Sausalito or Tiburon.

There are certainly attorneys who specialize in this area but it would be worth investigating legal cases that have to do with views.


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2011 at 11:19 am

Thanks for posting and keeping a fact-based discussion on track Neighbor.

> The second issue is that the tree is protected in Palo Alto. So unless it is "hazardous", any case for removal will be futile.

I love trees and mostly I support this sentiment, but making it law seems to be another misguided attempt to make us all feel better. Most trees that need protecting are not within the limits of the City of Palo Alto - they are in the Amazon or all kinds of other places.

If we protect trees in Palo Alto it is because we want to protect our environment and the beauty of the many trees in Palo Alto. So the law seems to say that there is no way human beings can be logical about managing trees so just ban any cutting of trees. I guess this works - I don't HAVE to have solar panels, but the two impulses clash and there is no reasonable way to work out a compromise or fair way to move forward. Not every tree in Palo Alto is beautiful and necessary, but we use this slippery slope argument to justify anything.

> Unfortunately, the trees usually in dispute are varieties that have no business being planted on the small lots where most people reside

Yes, that is my feeling too, and the law makes no distinction. The tree by itself is beautiful and nice, but it towers over everything and blocks sun and even sky to many, yet that is off limits to even discuss without people getting charged up and irrational about just listening and discussing.

How can we human beings consider ourselves a thinking rational intelligent species when we cannot resolve these kind of questions in some scientific way? To the extent that eveything is political we have much less rationality and fairness for everyone.

We want to motivate people to be green, but in the city who knows whether the substantial investment in solar can be made or will be useful in an unknown future with factors like development or trees growing. And why should only existing trees be protected ... it is a lot cheaper for someone to plug a tree in the ground to confound their neighbor than it is to build solar panels - that is, if people are just acting to be petty.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I don't disagree with any of your points. The laws on the books are not necessarily "good" or rational laws and there is much room for improvement and fairness. That is why I encourage you to push for modified legislation. The history of the laws shows that often it's a small group of people wanting to protect a single tree... who push through a law protecting all trees with no room for thoughtful consideration or judgement.

It is easy for politicians to "support" trees because they sequester CO2... but it's at the expense of no solar panels to offset electricity use, increased water usage for irrigation (gotta keep the trees healthy), heating costs, etc. The rest of the equation is rarely considered... and rational discussions are a rare breed.

Anyway, I really encourage you to pursue your cause though it will probably take a few years.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Shadow,

You have my sympathies. Your big problem is that it's a redwood and once they're past a certain fairly small circumference, you have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get rid of them--even when they're on your property. And, of course, they become huge.

People get sentimental about them, but they're a poor choice for most of our relatively small yards. Among other things, they can abruptly drop large branches.

We had to take three out just because they were, someday, going to get too big for their site--at which point, removal would have been illegal.

So, yes, you're stuck--but I think you're in the right. Tree huggers--please consider more size appropriate alternatives for smaller yards. There are lovely, smaller alternatives.


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Posted by TheShadowNeedsToKnow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm

> There are lovely, smaller alternatives.

Yes, we have them all over Palo Alto, and they are not the type of trees that get so high they obstruct light to a neighbors roof or yard most of the time. The big spreading oaks and others create a nice canopy, many shades and tones of green, break up the light and create appropriate people and animal friendly shade

These big trees are nice too, no doubt, but in moderation and correctly managed.


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