Santa Barbara Tree Chopping Charged as Felonies

Ripping 50-Year-Old Eugenia Trees from City Property Prosecuted as Vandalism

An image from January 2019 shows the three Eugenias on Paterna Road that the city is fighting to replace after the homeowner chopped them down in December 2020. | Credit: Google Maps

The City of Santa Barbara claims it will cost more than $100,000 to replace three of its 50-year-old Eugenia trees along Paterna Road that were cut down without permission. Homeowner James Allen Carr and landscaper Enrique Calles Vasquez are named in a new felony complaint filed by the District Attorney’s Office after they allegedly took out three trees on city property and one in Carr’s front setback in December 2020. The result could be an increase in property value of $2 million if Carr gets what he’s now asking for the property, which he bought a month before the trees were felled.

Noted for evergreen leaves and magenta-colored berries, the Eugenias were among dozens planted by the city decades ago along the sidewalk of Paterna Road, a one-block street above Alameda Padre Serra on Santa Barbara’s Riviera, with capacious views of the Pacific Ocean. Removing trees of more than four inches in diameter in front setbacks requires a permit, which is free, but Carr and Vasquez, who both live in the Sacramento area, did not obtain a permit or permission before firing up the chainsaws, much to the neighbors’ fury.


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The city filed misdemeanor charges of unlawful tree removal against them in December, which carry a maximum fine of $1,000 per tree. The DA included those charges with the felony vandalism and conspiracy complaint filed on June 21. Under the Penal Code section cited (section 594(a)(3)), the felony charges apply to any loss greater than $10,000.

According to county property and real estate records, Carr bought the Paterna Road property on November 3, 2020, for $2.7 million. He listed it on June 21 at $4.75 million, after ripping out hedges and plantings and opening up a green and grassy front yard to the road and “epic” views. Should Carr and Vasquez lose the case, they face fines of up to $50,000 and possible jail time, as well as an order to replace the trees.

It’s not going to be easy to find such large Eugenias, which most often are sold as bushes. As prosecutor Brian Cota said, “These trees are irreplaceable. They’re not going to be able to put back a 50-year-old tree.”


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