South County landowner chops 100 oak trees

October 17, 2014

Pasolivo'a mature olive treesA rural Arroyo Grande landowner has recently cut down approximately 100 oak trees on his property, angering neighbors about the devastation of nature. [New Times]

Nick Stephenson the proprietor of Arroyo Grande’s Pro-Tech Landscape Management, owns a 50-acre parcel near Corbett Canyon Road. Stephenson plans to plant a lemon grove on the property, and is thus chopping down oak trees and building a road, according to San Luis Obispo County Code Enforcement Supervisor Art Trinidade.

Stephenson is within his rights to do so, Trinidade said. He does not even need a permit, so long as he moves less than 50 cubic yards of material.

The engineer’s report on the project states the he is only moving 41 cubic yards, Trinidade said.

In addition to reporting the project to regulatory officials, neighbors are calling for the county to adopt an ordinance protecting inland oak trees. No such ordinance is on the books.

County Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes Stephenson’s property, said the county has discussed an inland oak tree ordinance for years, but the issue has taken a back seat to drought-related items.


Where is the Lorax when we need him.


I read the New Times article. The loudest complaints against the removal of these oak trees is from Jacqui McChesney, the next door neighbor. Her brother-in-law sold the property to Nick a couple months ago. WHAT? She’s complaining while her brother-in-law made an ungodly profit? Let me guess. She didn’t vote for Romney. Jeeze, the nerve of some people.


Also, I looked at the pictures taken by Ms. McChesney. I’m not seeing a half barren hill side. It looks like the only trees taken out were for the road. There are tons of trees left. It looks like pretty steep terrain. What did Ms. McChesney think? Someone who bought the property would just leave it for nature and not use it? Don’t laugh. I bet if she replied to this, that is exactly what she would say. “Mr. Stephenson, even though he paid a lot of money for the property, shouldn’t do ANYTHING to it but leave it like it was for the squirrels and deer and for my dogs to run around on!”


Check the public record. When this guy bought his property, he got a title report that disclosed restrictions that run with the land. This document states that no more than 9 oaks may be removed, and even then there must be replanting. Stephenson is hiding behind “agriculture.” He also paid an engineer to “certify” that he wasn’t grading. This is a classic case of strategic avoidance of environmental regulations. He must have a developer or real estate attorney coaching him, because these are not novice moves.

Download the document for yourself:

This was a REQUIREMENT in order to allow that land to be subdivided in the first place.

Neighbors should (1) file a public records act request to get this certified 41 cubic yard statement; (2) hire an engineer to peer review that estimate; (3) challenge county code enforcers to uphold the law. There were very clear restrictions here about not only oaks, but also other rare species like manzanita and clarkia, which were undoubtedly removed.


While I appreciate and respect private property rights, this story leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

I certainly wasn’t aware that AG was a suitable micro-climate for growing lemons.

I’m guessing, there are future plans for this property down the road….mark my word…and it ain’t lemons.


Land out around Thompson rd seems to work for Lemons,and thru to upper Los Berros Cyn so why wouldn’t this area.


Thank you Nick Stephenson for paying your taxes, providing a business for our community and for working within the system. I’m sad to see oak trees go, but I cannot afford 50 acres in the best area in the US or I would have bought that land and kept them. They are beautiful. I hope you wait until the drought is over before you plant your lemons, but THIS IS YOUR LAND. YOU PAID FOR IT.

I hope our overreaching, ever inflating, cancerous government doesn’t tell you what you can and can’t do any more than they do now, but I cannot guarantee it.


I followed the link to the article in the new times. There’s a telling quote from a neighbor Janine Stillman who says “You can almost hear the trees screaming.”

I wonder if the trees screamed on her property when her home was built.

If a tree screams in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?


It is critical that we reduce greenhouse gasses. The two biggest sources of greenhouse gasses are termites and fungi that result from decaying wood. Thank you Mr. Stephenson for your environmental stewardship. I also love the fact that the complainant sold him the land.


Planting lemon trees, in a drought? Seriously?


I don’t understand. Are you going to stop consuming lemons due to the drought? Or are you going to buy them from far away where you can’t see water being applied? What are you saying?


Planting anything, other than native, drought-tolerant vegetation is very water intensive at the beginning to insure that your plantings take hold and live. And especially during a drought it is irresponsible.

That is what I’m saying.


Kind of hard to eat native, drought-tolerant vegetation.


Yes, he’s saying during the drought in California, NEW groves should maybe be put off for a bit until our water supplies return. We can buy lemons from all over including “far away” places like Arizona where they have LOTS of rain. Duh.


Here’s another way to look at it. We are in a drought. The existing trees and all the grass and shrubs around them use water. Clearing the trees and brush away reduces evapotranspiration. Planting new trees that are small will use much less water than the existing foliage until they are fully grown in about 3-5 years. Hopefully we won’t still be in a drought in 3-5 years. As long as the water balance over time is sustainable, we should be good.

This differs from the North County, which gets much less rain on average. Also, the grapes were planted in grassy areas (not enough rainfall to sustain lush trees, except by the creeks) where the grass used much less water annually than the grapes. The North County is definitely in overdraft. I built a couple houses in the Jardine Road area in the 80’s while getting my masters in agriculture at Poly. I had to drill wells for each house. I drilled them deeper than the typical wells (380′) because I guessed the water table would be dropping over time. Now it sounds like those wells would be dry.

It all boils down to the water balance and what is sustainable. Science isn’t perfect and mother nature doesn’t always cooperate, but you can come up with reasonable conclusions. My guess is that this lemon orchard won’t have a detrimental impact on the existing aquifer and the way California water law is written presently, the land owner is within his rights to use the ground water.

Mitch C

There is an easy way protect antthing that you want, including trees, just buy the property and you are now the decider as to what occurs on your property. If you don’t own the property you have no business telling the owner what to do with what he owns. Anyone who wants control put your money down.

Mr. Holly

Yes, it’s real easy for other to tell people what to do with their property and how to spend their money. Usually these comments come from dead beats who have nothing nor the will to get ahead, or the government.

Mitch C

I’d love to hear the relational from those who believe that you have no right to decide what to do with your property. It was your hard earned treasure that purchased the property … Why should someone without an economic interest in the property have any concern what trees you plant or decline to plant on it. Lets have some reasoning applied here.


Property owners do not appear to be the ultimate “decider.” In our unincorporated neighborhood, our neighbors have all had to pay the County [dearly] for permits prior to removing even a single tree. Government maintains the upper hand.


Supervisor Hill’s back-seat approach to protecting our precious, native oak trees is an uncanny dead ringer of our governments’ hands-off approach to the Ebola virus. Just as our County Supervisors KNOW and HAVE KNOWN there are precious, native oak trees requiring our protection, our “leaders” also KNOW and HAVE KNOWN—for years—that Ebola is a real threat to our society, as we know it. Their inertia up until the last few days is costing us dearly. The difference—irreplaceable HUMAN LIVES are at stake here, not oak trees. Our government in all its glory. Pitiful.

Ted Slanders


With this Ebola situation, and in a godly manner, do you feel it right for everyone to have access to affordable healthcare now, where before, they didn’t?

Republicans want to eliminate Obamacare with absolutely no altertnative, and since you’re so concerned with peoples lives at stake, would you be comfortable in them doing so with a possible worse case scenario of Ebola on the horizon?


Mr. Slanders, I’m not sliding down that slippery slope with you. Our Supervisors should have established an “inland oak tree ordinance” way before October 2014. And the burgeoning USA Ebola situation sprouted way before anyone even heard the name Obama. The time to establish a well-thought-out response [v. reaction] plan that is regularly tested and rehearsed is not DURING the crisis. That’s why PG&E in conjunction with SLO County has installed emergency sirens and tests the system on a regular basis. Fortunately, for the welfare of our County residents, they didn’t wait until a real emergency develops. Again, it’s about responsibility v. inertia.


thought we were all talking lemons


This is what Liberty looks like in Free America…..seldom seen here in California.


And if you want to see what an entire planet would look like with all of the “Liberty” from permits, planning and regulation, take a look at the fictional world of Giedi Prime from the original Dune series. I remember watching the movie and seeing this dark, dank wasteland of a planet thinking that is what Earth could become if the conservative, no-regulation, no environmental concern attitude ever took control of most of the countries of the world.

Yeah, Liberty, Freedom; never mind what is best for the environment, what is best for the ecosystem, what is best for everyone else living in an area- rape that land as much as you want, because, you know, Liberty, freedom ….


I think you’re getting a bit overstimulated, with all due respect. Oak trees are wonderful, and I love them, but we are in a free society (at least ostensibly, and at least for now) where one does in fact have the right to utilize one’s own property within reason. Oaks are actually pretty fecund and will readily populate any available space; witness their proliferation along the 101 where they are shielded from grazing. Lemon trees have value too, not merely for their fruit but also for their attractiveness to pollinators. One man replacing a finite number of oaks with a finite number of lemons does not the apocalypse make. Everyone calm down. And really, can anyone take Adam Hill seriously anymore? The man lampoons himself every time he utters a statement. A complete waste of skin and a total embarrassment to SLO County.