29 trees spared in development overlooking San Carlos

A home in the La Ventana subdivision in the San Carlos Hills. Photo from Compass realty website.

Daily Post Staff Writer

The San Carlos Planning Commission told a townhouse owners association on Monday that it does not need to remove 29 trees as a fire prevention measure.

Members of the La Ventana HOA on Monday (Oct. 19) argued that there are pine trees between some of the buildings that could help fire spread if a building catches on fire.

But a city employee decided that the 29 trees didn’t need to be removed. The HOA appealed the employee’s decision to the planning commission, which upheld the employee’s decision.

Fire Marshal Gareth Harris told the commission that the trees aren’t causing a substantial fire hazard as long as they are cared for and not within 10 feet of any of the homes’ chimneys.

Harris also pointed out that the town houses have a fantastic “defensible space,” which is where vegetation is cleared up to 100 feet around the property. He said that in some parts, the nearest vegetation is 300 feet away. The idea behind defensible space is to keep the fire from moving, in this case up the Devonshire Canyon, and having enough fuel to get to homes.

The area had been cleared out around the complex by the Ben Lomond fire camp, which consists of prisoners, according to Harris.

But Kevin Collins and other La Ventana residents who testified in favor of removing the trees at the meeting noted that the pine needles from the trees get everywhere. Resident Nazanin Afshar pointed out that the needles can be the perfect accelerant if someone throws a lit cigarette into the area.

Another resident, Angela Nichols, said that the trees were planted too close to the buildings when the complex was first built and now one of the trees is encroaching on her home’s foundation.

But other residents were not totally in favor of removing the trees.

Carol Barrett said that other trees have been removed from the condominium community and it has lost a lot of its ambiance. She added that if residents are concerned about tree debris on the ground then all of the trees ought to be removed.

Others who were in favor of keeping the trees largely sided with the fire department’s argument.

In all, eleven residents of the neighborhood spoke, with six in favor of getting rid of the trees, four against and one person whose comments were unclear about which side he was on.

Ultimately, the commission unanimously denied the HOA’s appeal without prejudice, meaning that if the HOA can agree upon fewer trees to remove or remove them for a different reason, then the city and commission will look at their application.

Nearly all of the commissioners noted that the decision was tough, with commissioner Don Bradley pointing out that fire safety is at top of mind for a lot of people given the devastating fires this year.

Commissioner John Dugan noted that while the area is in a high-risk zone for wildfire because it’s at the top of Devonshire Canyon, there was a lack of information from Collins and the other HOA members about whether pine trees are more dangerous than other trees as far as fire risk goes. Dugan also said he would have liked to have seen a tree replacement plan.