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Laguna Beach says woman's trees are illegally tall

The city says Maria Jones will face criminal charges if she doesn't cut the 14-foot-tall ficus hedge behind her home to half its height.

March 25, 2012|By Barbara Diamond, Los Angeles Times

A Laguna Beach woman who said she was only seeking a little privacy is now at risk of facing 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 says that unless a portion of the trees — which stand about 14 feet tall — are trimmed down, the city will pursue criminal charges.

The city said Jones was 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 — just a touch a taller than Kobe Bryant.

The trouble began when a neighbor filed "a hedge-height claim" against Jones, alleging that 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 last 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," Dan Lawton said.

If Laguna Beach doesn't 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.

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

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

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