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Crown Harbor Homeowner Association

Tree Policy

One of the benefits of life at Crown Harbor is the beauty of surrounding environment: the landscaping, the green belts, the proximity to the bay and regional path, full and partial water views. Crown Harbor's trees are a prominent element that provide benefits of beauty, shade, and moreover contribute to property value; however, as trees grow, they can obstruct the view of the greenbelt and water for one homeowner while providing benefit to another. This policy provides criteria to govern maintenance of the trees, their pruning, removal, and planting.

The views are the primary reason that owners opt to live in Crown Harbor. In a minority of cities that recognize scenic views of prominent geographic features as a valuable part of a home purchase (generally cities with panoramic ocean views or rustic backdrops), view ordinances have been enacted to help settle disputes and provide guidelines for landscaping practices; however, the City of Alameda does not have a view ordinance to provide an avenue for dispute resolution. Alameda does protect Oak trees with trunks at least a 10 inches in diameter and trees in specific locations. The applicable San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission regulations only apply to the 100 feet adjacent to the bay. The Crown Harbor CC&Rs are not specific regarding the Association's actions on this issue. Hence this policy enacted by the committee and approved by the Board is in place to manage the landscaping to provide a balance between views and vegetation.

All pruning, removal, and planting of trees will be treated equally throughout the community; however, the landscaping committee gives special consideration to Heritage trees because they significantly impact property values. Heritage trees are defined as the large Eucalyptus and Willow trees that were planted by the original developer to define the character of the green space. The Cottonwoods and Pines along the seaside path are also Heritage trees. The Heritage trees in Crown Harbor typically have a dbh (diameter at breast height) of at least 12 inches.



  • An owner makes a request to have a tree pruned, removed, or planted. This can be done in writing or via email to Facts and circumstances for such a request must be detailed.
  • The committee adds the request to a project list.
  • A member of the committee does a walk-around with the arborist and shares the request.
    • The arborist evaluates the request and recommends an appropriate course of action that is provided in a proposal.
    • In cases where an owner's request and the arborist's plan of action differ, the committee opts to follow the advice of the arborist.
  • The project list is circulated to the community.
  • The funds for the arborist's proposal are approved by the Board.
  • The arborist executes his proposal.
  • The project list is updated to reflect the completed request.


Based on the advice of an arborist specifically for Crown Harbor:

  • All trees are pruned to maintain or improve their structure.
  • Not more than one-third of the volume of foliage can be removed in a single pruning.
    • The ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) standard pruning for a tree must first consider the health and age of the tree.
    • Trees that are considered healthy and actively growing can have up to one-third of the canopy pruned within one growing season.
    • Trees that are newly planted, mature, or overly stressed should have less than one-third pruned per growing season.
  • The ISA does not find it acceptable to ever top a tree. ISA classifies pollarding as a specific type of pruning only for certain species such as London Plane and Mulberry trees.
  • Drop-crotching is an acceptable form of pruning as long as:
    • No more than one-third of the canopy is pruned (assuming it is of age and healthy).
    • ISA standard pruning practice requires that a heading cut (limb reduction) must not exceed one-third the diameter of where you are cutting back to.
    • If the limb that you drop-crotch or reduce is greater than one-third the size of what is left the remaining limb will not be able to support itself and will most likely die.
  • Vista pruning (i.e., creating visual access to lakes, rivers, and valleys) is possible without the need to top a tree.

The landscaping committee works to maintains views as much as possible with annual pruning of trees. Every effort should be made to maintain the Heritage trees in a healthy and responsibly pruned condition.



The landscaping committee will consult with an arborist (or similar expert) about a tree's condition and have the expert provide his expert opinion on a course of action.

  • The arborist will indicate whether a tree is healthy, and if not, will explain the tree's condition and impact on its surroundings (e.g., what is impacting the tree's health, whether the tree poses a risk to other vegetation or structures).
  • Trees that are healthy and pose no risk to property or people will not be removed.
  • Trees that the arborist recommends for removal will be removed.

It is recognized that in some scenarios, a tree may grow in an unintended space or obstruct a homeowner's view. It is also recognized that a tree that obstructs one homeowner's view may provide benefits for another homeowner (e.g., shade). The following criteria will provide the basis for deciding how / when to prune and remove trees if and when removal is not recommended by an arborist:

  • Proximity of the tree: The location of the tree with regard to proximity to other units (as measured by the shortest straight line to an external wall of a unit's exterior wall). Units situated closer or closest to the tree will have more weight when the committee considers its decision.
  • Heritage trees: Heritage trees are removed as a last resort, only as the result of a specific recommendation from the arborist.

After considering the criteria, the landscaping committee can opt to have a healthy tree removed. The tree will be added to the project list and circulated to the community via the landscape committee's normal process. Owners have the option to appeal the decision to the Board for further consideration.



When an existing tree dies or an owner would like a tree added, a replacement or new tree is planted with the following conditions:

  • The location has a water supply that supports the nurturing of a newly planted tree. As a counter-example, the memorial trees planted at the intersection of Kings and Queens did not survive.
  • The location is on Association property. Trees on the other side of the property line adjacent to the Federal property will not be replanted in that location.
  • The timing of the planting gives the new tree the best chance for survival — typically in January. The plan is to replace dead trees with new ones at the time that the irrigation zone is improved to ensure that it would support the growth of a tree at the desired location.

Background Information

Crown Harbor CC&Rs

The following excerpts from the CC&Rs are relevant:

  • Section 3.1, paragraph (n) states: The erection, construction, Maintenance or placement of any object, vegetation or Improvement that would (or may) obstruct the view, the visual corridors and/or the open spaces within the Complex is prohibited without the prior written approval of: (i) the Association; and (ii) the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The views, visual corridors, and open spaces are required to be retained and maintained by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The views, visual corridors and open spaces are required to be retained and maintained by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
  • Section 3.4, paragraph (d) states: Persons within the Common Area are prohibited from engaging in any conduct that would obstruct or impair the view, the visual corridors, and/or the open spaces within the Complex that are protected by this Declaration and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
  • Section 4.7, paragraph (b) states: This Complex is located within the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. Use and development of property within the commission's jurisdiction may be subject to special regulations, restrictions, and permit requirements. You may wish to investigate and determine whether they are acceptable to you and your intended use of the property before you complete your transaction.

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission jurisdiction covers up to 100 feet from the shoreline. As such, no tall vegetation can be grown in that space. Unfortunately, the Crown Harbor CC&Rs do not define "visual corridor" although it may be reasonable to surmise that this would apply to the green belt and path along the bay. As written, the CC&Rs restrict owners from placing objects that block the visual corridor (unless approved by the Association) but make no stipulation about what objects the Association can or cannot place in the Complex. The fiduciary duty of the Board to maintain property values appears in other parts of the CC&Rs.


Related Crown Harbor Policy

For decades, Crown Harbor has had a policy with regard to the maintenance of bushes and shrubs for units along the seaside path. A tree policy could be crafted similar to the policy that has been in place for bushes and shrubs.


California Case Law

This information comes via Davis-Stirling:

  • Absent a specific provision in an association's CC&Rs, Californians have no right to air, light, or an unobstructed view (Pacifica HOA v. Wesley Palms) because of the chilling effect such protections have on real estate development.
  • Trial courts do not consider deprivation of a view, per se, as an injury.
  • In Ekstrom v. Marquesa, the CC&Rs had a provision that protected views by requiring all trees be pruned so they not exceed the height of the house on the lot. The board exempted palm trees because pruning them would kill them. An owner sued and the court found that the restriction was clear and unambiguous in the CC&Rs, and the board's actions were inconsistent with that provision. The trees had to be pruned.
  • The Davis-Stirling website makes no mention of how trees relate to privacy as other owner-controllable remedies such as window shades are available.
  • The Davis-Stirling website makes no mention of how to mitigate light pollution nor its priority in relation to view preservation.

When the Board sought legal advice on this matter based solely on the content of our CC&Rs, the lawyer did not offer to rule generically. Instead he inquired about the specifics of the tree in question as in "Who planted the tree?" and "How long has the tree been there?" The Board interpreted this as that he was going to simply note that the tree was in place before the current owners and thus, they had no reasonable expectation that the tree would be pruned to provide an unobstructed view. Since the Board was looking for guidance on how to set policy rather than a ruling on a specific tree, the Board opted not to spend $350 per hour to obtain information that the Board was not looking for. It is still an option to get a legal opinion on a specific tree.

Since the Crown Harbor CC&Rs contain no specific stipulations on view preservation, it is up to the Board to set a policy.


Around the Worldwide Web

Although it is generally acknowledged that trees enhance the quality of life and add property value, there are conflicting statements as to how HOAs should act in terms of balancing tree growth versus view preservation.

Trees Add Value

  • From "How Your Garden Grows: The Effect of Trees on Property Value": Your next home improvement project may be as simple as planting a tree. What's the best return on investment for home improvements that increase your home's value? What are some of the common characteristics of old, wealthy neighborhoods? Think about it. Most of them have big, old trees! Plant a tree in your yard. The value of a tree in your yard will increase as it grows
  • EarthShare notes that the top 10 benefits of trees include: clean air, jobs, clean water, carbon sequestration, reduced crime, increased property values, mental health, temperature control, flood control, and wildlife habitat.

Strategic Pruning versus Topping

  • As an example of industry-standard practice, Peterson's Tree Works notes that:

    • Topping reduces a tree's food-making capacity.
    • Topping stimulates the regrowth of dense, unattractive, upright branches (water sprouts) just below the pruning cut.
    • Topping leaves large wounds so insects, and fungi can attack and decay the branch and spread to the trunk, killing the tree.
    • Topping creates a hazard as weakened stubs are more prone to wind and storm breakage because they generally begin to die back and decay.

    To avoid topping, when a mature tree's height must be reduced, an alternative to topping is drop-crotching. Drop-crotching is a type of thinning cut that reduces a tree's size while preserving its natural shape. This type of thinning cut stimulates growth throughout the tree and discourages water sprout development.

  • Wikipedia notes that "Tree topping is the practice of removing whole tops of trees or large branches and/or trunks from the tops of trees, leaving stubs or lateral branches that are too small to assume the role of a terminal leader. Other common names for the practice include hat-racking, heading, rounding over, and tipping." Tree topping causes significant stress and future safety issues. A popular misconception is that a topped tree will benefit from increased light penetration. Some people have been known to top trees in order to stimulate new growth, but the tree's response to the sudden loss of leaves is able to produce an abundance of "suckers" that are susceptible to numerous problems. "Aesthetics is another reason why people hire arborists to top their trees. A tree may be blocking the mountain view, shading the garden, or interfering with solar energy collection. However, topping a tree can leave the tree in an unflattering and unattractive state. As a result, the tree never fully returns to its initial natural form."

Conflicting Keep versus Remove References

  • According to "Tree Disputes in HOAs: What the Law Says": View/privacy issues usually come up when a tree is removed. We all like to look at trees, but sometimes they block views and must be removed. Privacy issues come up when trees serve as noise or privacy barriers. This must be balanced against the needs of the association. For example, if someone lives in a condo, and a neighbor plants a tree on his first floor balcony that grows to block the view of the person on the third floor, guess what is going to happen? The tree will be removed.
  • Find Law on its "Views and Trees FAQ" notes that in most cases where a neighbor's tree is blocking another neighbor's view, aggrieved homeowners do not have any right to force a neighbor to prune or remove a view obstructing tree. Unless the tree is violating view ordinances, zoning laws, subdivision rules, or existing easements, homeowners have no zoning rights to light, air, or view. This means that a neighbor can generally place as many trees as they like on their property with no concern for the neighbor's view. The FAQ notes that the most effective strategy is not a legal one — plain neighborly charm and an open discussion about concerns generally works best.

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