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He Says Roots Break Pipes, Damage Wall : Plaintiff Loses a Round in Tree Dispute

November 07, 1985|ELIZABETH CAMPOS | Times Staff Writer

Glendale resident and landscape architect Richard A. Yanez has failed in his attempt to force the city to remove a Modesto ash. The tree's fast-growing roots, he says, have caused more than $3,300 in damages to his sewer and water lines.

Nevertheless, Yanez said, he intends to continue his fight, and plans to take his case to Superior Court.

"I am not trying to be a warmonger on trees," Yanez said. "I am not going after the city for private interest, but for public interest."

Yanez had been denied restitution by the City Council in August. His suit in small-claims court asked for removal of the tree and $1,500 to repair his water main and a stone retaining wall.

The city-owned tree, which Yanez estimates is 43 years old, is on a parkway in front of his home at 1451 Broadview Drive. Although there is no precedent for Yanez's case in Glendale, several other California cities, including Burbank, have recognized that ash trees can damage sidewalks and utilities and have replaced ashes with other species or have stopped planting them.

Policy Against Removal

But Scott Howard, senior assistant city attorney, said Glendale removes or relocates trees in "very, very limited situations." In a report to the City Council in July, Howard stated that it is Glendale's policy not to remove trees unless they are diseased, damaged or dangerous.

Howard said he had expected the city to win last week in small claims court. "Under the present state of the law, it would be a very rare case where there would be liability for root damage," Howard said.

In small claims court, George Miller, director of public works, said Yanez's tree is a "very healthy tree, and the city takes the position that it does not want to remove healthy trees."

Yanez, 27, and his mother have lived in their house on Broadview Drive since 1962 and say that, since 1964, the tree's roots have repeatedly cracked the sidewalk and a stone retaining wall. Yanez said they have had to clean roots from the sewer lines each year.

Broken Sewer, Water Pipes

He said the major problems began in 1978. The roots have broken his sewer pipes twice, he said, and most recently broke his water main, which by his estimates would leak 20 gallons of water an hour if he didn't shut if off. He said he and his mother must turn on the water at the main each time they need water in the house.

"The problem is not the water main. The problem is the tree," Yanez said. He said he can't remove the tree because it is city property. He has offered to pay to have a different tree put in, but the city refused, he said.

Yanez conceded that the city has trimmed the tree's roots several times over the years. But he said the trims have encouraged further root growth.

Yanez, a landscape architect, said that, for a city street in Signal Hill, he recently suggested the planting of several trees that were aesthetically pleasing and didn't have invasive root systems like the ash.

He said several resource books for landscape designers and architects discourage the planting of the Modesto ash in small areas, such as parkways.

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