Woodside man appeals $212K fine for cutting down 22 trees


To get an idea of how much the town of Woodside cares for the well-being of its trees, you need look no further than the four- and five-figure fines the town slaps on anyone who cuts down mature trees without having first obtained a permit.

The latest example, and by far the most dramatic, is set for review at the Town Council meeting on Tuesday, June 14, in Independence Hall at 2955 Woodside Road. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m.

The council will hear an appeal by resident Rudolph Koppl asking for relief from a $212,500 fine imposed by Town Hall staff for cutting down, without a permit, 22 mature trees — seven coast live oaks, 14 bay laurels and one madrone, according to a staff report.

Mr. Koppl applied for a tree-removal permit in July 2015, and it was in process when staff learned of the downed trees. The application identified 225 trees for removal, a number large enough to trigger delays as the town considered the potential impacts.

Citing the number of trees involved, the planning director exercised her option to pass the application to the town's Architectural and Site Review Board and commissioned a biological assessment, the staff report says.

The planning director also requested a photo survey, detailed justification for Mr. Koppl's claim that sudden oak death was a threat, and information on methods to be used to remove the trees and replace them.

In his appeal, Mr. Koppl said that " many of the live trees succumbed to Sudden Oak Death and fell on their own," a claim not substantiated in an arborist's report, the staff report says.

Mr. Koppl also claimed a need to establish emergency access and to remove trees "positioned ... to fall," but staff countered that these were matters that could have been resolved in the permitting process.

Removing any vegetation from a Woodside property has complications. To protect endangered or threatened species, including the dusky-footed wood rat and the California red-legged frog, the municipal code forbids removal of "existing vegetation" without having first established a purpose for the action, Principal Planner Sage Schaan told the Almanac.

The penalties for felling "significant" trees without permits, spelled out in an ordinance adopted in 2006, are particularly severe: $5,000 for the first tree, $7,500 for the second and $10,000 for each additional tree.

A tree's significance depends on its species. Native trees — including live oaks, bay laurels and madrones — become significant when they measure more than 9.5 inches in diameter at 4 feet above the ground.

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17 people like this
Posted by tree_hugger
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 13, 2016 at 12:26 pm

My Libertarian leanings aside, good for Woodside. The environment is a public good and there is a mechanism for redress. One may not like delays, but there are bigger tragedies in life than having to modify plans around trees that actually add value to a property (putting aside the public benefit).

Mr. Koppl: Boooooo! Pay up sir.

23 people like this
Posted by UGH
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 13, 2016 at 12:32 pm

So, so, so tired of these jerks moving to our area and then deciding to build monstrosities, destroying the rural character of our little towns. So many friends have moved away now, disheartened by the way Woodside has changed. After selling their (wonderful, well-maintained, well-built) homes and barns on acreage, they find that the new owners have leveled everything, and taken out trees. Plans to build essentially bunkers and hotels await.


11 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 13, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Good for you, Woodside! It's time someone representing its citizens acted on the majority's behalf. And that of the living trees and innumerable animals and critters that had their lives ruined.

For too many people, having to "get what they want!" has become too costly for all of us in this once-bucolic place and will only worsen severely if these fines are lessened.

33 people like this
Posted by Melanie
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 13, 2016 at 1:32 pm

There have been several instances in the past when similar large fines have been reduced. I hope they stand tough on this and all future violations. If the Town Council continues to undermine these requirements, the "it's better to seek forgiveness than ask permission" mentality will persist.

23 people like this
Posted by holdfast
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jun 13, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Stand your ground Woodside, once you get the rep for being easy everyone will cut and figure they will get it reduced later. Once you get a rep for being hard you will have less of these problems pop up. Many will think twice over a $200,000 fine verses a $10,000 fine, $10,000 is pocket change, make it hurt and it will stop.

11 people like this
Posted by Janet
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jun 13, 2016 at 2:02 pm

I hope Woodside makes them pay the full fine. It is disgusting the way people come to a beautiful place and then destroy it wholesale just to build a big house

8 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 13, 2016 at 2:24 pm

It's kind of amazing that he thought he could fell trees in Woodside without a permit. That's just not how it works around here ... It's called "Woodside" for a reason, not "Prairieside".

3 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 13, 2016 at 2:36 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

People do need to be honest. Sounds like Koppl was a liar to the town staff.

12 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 13, 2016 at 3:13 pm

212,000 are you kidding. Excessive and out of line. Sure he should have obtained a permit but how many of those trees are really needed. Woodside is full of houses that are over the top and bigger then then then they need to be. Can all his neighbors say they didn't do the same thing?
All those complainers are probably the same people who decided that the water restriction laws do not apply to them and watered their big lawns 4 days a week. Fight that fine and good luck.... You do need to get permits like everyone else though. Do it the right way

8 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Jun 13, 2016 at 3:49 pm

As a resident of Woodside who believes the General Plan actually means something, I'm gratified to read the many comments in support of the significant fine imposed on this apparent scofflaw.

However, I have little confidence that the Woodside Council--one that's dominated by pro development members--has the willingness nor courage to reject the appeal. Instead, they'll work assiduously to uncover some minor procedural error committed by either the Town staff or by a Town Board, Commission or committee. Then citing a wish to avoid a potential lawsuit, they'll reduce the fine to some trivial amount. At least, that's what the Council typically does.

It's unfortunate Woodside doesn't elect Council members who respect the environment as much as they do development.

6 people like this
Posted by Life Long Woodside
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 13, 2016 at 7:28 pm

I am SICK and TIRED of people moving here and not caring to assimilate to our way of life. The people fretting over illegal immigration forget that what we really need to focus our attention on how easily it is for people to legally immigrate into Woodside. They come from other areas of California, and in many cases, even other STATES. I once met a property owner that was born in Oregon, why are they allowed to move here and buy OUR land?? Was there a community vote to allow these people in? Where is our democracy??

Also, remember, we are moving towards the end of so called private property. People need to accept that. You do not own the trees on "your" land, the community owns them. We should move to a leasehold system where the government owns every parcel and leases it out to residents. This way we can achieve the twin goals of limiting individual's free use land and limiting immigration by preventing people from outside of the community from moving here.

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 13, 2016 at 8:34 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Life long woodside:


4 people like this
Posted by Linda
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jun 13, 2016 at 8:51 pm

The Woodside region has a biological fabric of trees shrubs creeks and Wildlife and weather impacts. It needs to be managed and protected to maintain its integrity..... for all residents, visitors and surrounding communities.

12 people like this
Posted by
a resident of another community
on Jun 13, 2016 at 9:01 pm

I used to commute through the beautiful avenue formed by those old trees and a goat farm on the other side of Woodside Road to go to Palo Alto before Mr arrogant felled all of them and another Mr. Gentleman Farmer removed the herd and planted his vineyard.
A very poor commute at present.
My community is La Honda.

7 people like this
Posted by Retired Realtor
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 14, 2016 at 8:20 am

Woodside residents need to show up at the council meeting, or this matter will be met with the same lackadaisical response the council has shown in the past to tree-cutting scofflaws.

Aerial views of the Bay Area show that our Peninsula greenbelt extends from approximately 280 west. Let's keep Woodside GREEN.

22 people like this
Posted by pamom
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 14, 2016 at 8:42 am

The fines are too low. $212K to someone who wants to build an ego palace - that's just the "cost of doing business". A small percent of the total cost won't bother them. They will still cut down trees and negotiate the fine and be happy they got away with it. Fines need to actually affect the gazillionaires who build these McMansions. Maybe it should go up to $100K per tree after 3 trees illegally cut. Fines at the level MIGHT influence their decisions and change their behavior.

6 people like this
Posted by Woodsider Lifer
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Jun 15, 2016 at 10:04 am

Woodsider Lifer is a registered user.

According to testimony at the town council meeting, it was far more than 22 trees removed without a permit. The vacant 3 acre parcel was purchased last year for $7,250,000 and resold at the beginning of this month. The trees were removed to create a building site and access driveway prior to flipping the property. The town council denied the appeal after hearing testimony from the appellant's attorney, civil engineer and arborist. The $212,500.00 fine stands after a unanimous vote by the town council.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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