The Monterey County Board of Supervisors faces an unusual decision at its May 12 meeting: whether the restoration of a private landowner’s denuded landscape would, according to county code, “endanger public health and safety.”
At issue is the 6-acre property of Paul and Linda Flores on the border of the Aguajito Oaks neighborhood in Monterey.
The county issued the Floreses multiple permits in 2013 to grade their property and build a 3,200-square-foot barn. But when the Floreses applied for a permit to build a 7,200-square-foot house in 2014, the county realized something was amiss: Multiple trees – the county estimates 25 in all – had been cut down on the property in the previous year, without a permit.
The Flores’ sought an after-the-fact use permit to remove the trees already cut, and remove 15 more trees in poor health, a solution county staff recommended for approval when it came before the County Planning Commission Jan. 28.
The commission saw it differently.
“I think it encourages people to clear-cut a property and build a tall pad, and then say ‘Oops, I didn’t know,’” said Commissioner Amy Roberts.
That sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Jose Mendez.
“You had to know that what you were doing was obviously illegal,” he said. “I feel that applicant willingly circumvented county policy in this process.”
The commission voted unanimously for the property to be restored to its pre-violation state, a decision the Floreses’ attorney, Tony Lombardo, appealed a few weeks later.
“I always thought there was just a fine if you cut trees down. I’ve never heard anything like this,” Paul Flores says. “I should take the punishment for it, but not a death sentence.”
Flores, who describes himself as an “owner-builder” who works only on properties he owns, says he’s spent about $300,000 on the work he’s done so far. He estimates it will cost that much to restore the property to how it was.
Residents of the Aguajito Oaks neighborhood have attended hearings regarding the Flores property. Some expressed concern about the property’s drainage, erosion from the tree-cutting and the potential impact on nearby wells.
According to County Planner David Mack, Paul Flores initially stated an existing Cal Am connection would serve the 7,200-square-foot home. But then Flores said at the Jan. 28 hearing that a well on the property would serve the house and provide irrigation. That fact was not reflected in the county’s negative declaration of the project.