Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Neighbor disputes fireman planting row of Cypress trees on property line

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

"Love thy neighbor, but don't pull down your hedge" is a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin. In a Fallbrook neighborhood dispute, a woman is upset with her neighbor putting up a huge "hedge" of Italian cypress trees. She contends the trees, planted within 7-8 feet of her home, are a fire threat. Ironically, they were planted by her fireman neighbor.

"My original concern was that I've lost my view, but then I also realize it's a fire danger," said Kristi Lueking, who has lived in the home near the end of High Bluff Point for 20 years. About 50 trees were planted in August, she said, and run from near the street downhill along the property line for about 120 feet. There were another 100 smaller cypress trees planted towards the bottom of the property but those were removed and replaced by banana trees, she said.

The woman recently paid a surveyor to place a line to identify the boundary. Lueking said some trees are less than a foot from the string. The tallest trees are now 20 feet tall, and the species is known to grow quickly, she added. Across the street from her home are Cypress trees 40 to 50 feet tall. She noted that the new trees will also certainly grow wider and closer to her property.

She said she can't understand why the neighbor, Jonathan Wolfe, a fireman-paramedic with Cal Fire, would have the trees planted unless it was retaliation for her concerns about the Airbnb studio on his property.

"We had a conversation in August on the street at the property line," Lueking said. "It was civil, but he warned me that the conversation was being recorded on his security system. Not long later, he cut down a 20-foot pine tree on his property but said nothing about planting Italian Cypress. I learned about it when I heard backhoe equipment digging a trench along his side of the property line for the irrigation system and trees."

"These trees are highly flammable, on the county's list of undesirable trees because of being a fire hazard," she added.

Capt. Thomas Shoots of the public information office of Cal Fire San Diego, responded by email to a series of questions from the Village News and noted that Wolfe is "choosing not to share his neighbor issues publicly and is not interested in being interviewed for this story."

"From a departmental standpoint, there appears to be no violations of law or policy," Shoots said. "Neighbor disputes related to defensible space are quite common, and sometimes there are concerns that cannot be resolved."

A spokesperson for North County Fire Protection District agreed that what Wolfe did wasn't illegal. There are regulations on not planting trees within 50 feet of your home, but no rule pertaining to the neighbor's property or structures if the trees are irrigated and there are minimal dry branches.

"It's just not right," said Lueking. "Sometimes what's legal isn't right. This might be legal, but it's wrong what he did."

She said she has contacted an attorney and that one hope they have is that if malice was Wolfe's motivation.

Lueking said there was also an issue with roots from the tree growing to impacting sidewalk/steps and the foundation of her house between her home and the trees.

The ideal solution would be for Wolfe to voluntarily remove trees and cease operating the Airbnb.

Lueking said the Airbnb issue is that arrivals come at any time of the night, which triggers their German Shepherd to bark and neighbors to complain. She also noted that parking on the street is limited and that her vehicles have been damaged twice during the night. The private road is maintained by homeowners and limited to residential use – not commercial.

"We moved here for the great view and privacy," she said. "My husband passed two years ago and now my view is being taken. I have a fear about the danger from Santa Ana winds blowing from De Luz Canyon towards the north-side property where the trees are planted. I've had to evacuate 3-4 times during the 20 years."

Lueking said Wolfe moved in about two years ago and soon after opened the Airbnb, which was originally a treehouse before being modified as a studio.

"I'm shocked that a firefighter would plant the trees, and pray he will remove them."

The neighborhood dispute was first covered in early December by NBC-7 San Diego.


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