Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I started out in May of 2007 as I expect most everyone does with some altruistic idea of making a difference in my community.  I can't speak for everyone else but I know that this was why I got involved, I certainly had no intention of becoming a "politician", I simply wanted to contribute to the greater good of where I lived.  Over time, that concept would be more and more difficult to focus on until it all ended tonight, February 20th 2013, in my resignation as Chair of the Lomita Tree Commission.  
It is not a very high profile position by any means.  We were charged with maintaining the city trees according to the ordinances of the City of Lomita and to assure its continued status as a "Tree City USA".   We dealt with the day to day issues of trees within the city limits as one might expect; plumbing issues, sidewalk and curb damage, and your basic nuisance issues.  That is until after March 9th 2009.
On that date, a taxpayer of the City of Lomita came before the City Council. This taxpayer had an issue with an ordinance.  The question to the City Council was quite simple: if this ordinance applies to the "Lomita Pines", what are the legal boundaries of the "Lomita Pines"?
This simple question turned out to be not so simple.  The Tree Commission queried the city departments who should know this answer.  Every time, the query came back answered as "the Pines is what it always has been, there is no legally written down description."  The Tree Commission continued to pursue an answer to this question to no avail.  This became increasingly important as a number of taxpayers came before us as the Tree Commission asking for help with trees in the city owned parkway only to be met with the answer that they were being held to laws applying to the "Lomita Pines".
The Tree Commission could not find an answer to the question of the boundaries in any legal format anywhere within the city.  Finally after much research in July of 2011 a letter was presented formally to the City Council of Lomita.  In this letter the issue was detailed including all known laws of the City of Lomita which specifically apply only to the area known as the "Lomita Pines".   In September of 2011 the issue finally made it before the City Council where it was summarily dismissed as being "detrimental to property values".  A vote was held where several members of the city council who have a vested interest in the property values in and around the area of the "Lomita Pines" voted against the issue when they should have abstained. 
Since that time, several taxpayers who reside in the "Lomita Pines" have appeared before the Lomita Tree Commission seeking assistance with their trees.  Those taxpayers have always been met with the resistance of the "laws".  So in effect the city is holding taxpayers accountable to a law which applies to the area known as the "Lomita Pines" but yet having no legal definition of the area in question.  Most recently a homeowner in the area known as "Lomita Pines" came to the Commission asking if it would be possible to cut back a pine so that he might make use of his roof for solar panels.  While the Commission was fully in support of his desire to lower his carbon footprint and go solar we were forced to hold him to the law and not allow for his pine to be trimmed. 
The Commission again brought the question to bear of how could we ask homeowners and taxpayers to be accountable to a law that effectively had no boundaries?  Realtors have been know to call properties as far north as PCH "Lomita Pines" but yet we do not hold those properties to the same rules as those who reside further south.  They are not held to parking rules, requirements for Pines (and their care) nor the same side walk and easement rules.  In fact in many of those areas this same rules would be impossible to enforce.  So in effect we were enforcing rules without legal precedent to do so.  This was obviously an untenable position so the Tree Commission once again tried to bring the issue to the City Council of Lomita.  We were met with resistance every step of the way.
It became very clear very quickly that we were battling an unpopular fight.  It was very clear that this was not going to end well.  Rules began to change.  Suddenly everything we requested of the public works department became an insurmountable challenge.  Things as simple as a nuisance tree (ie one so known to cause issues as it is removed without question when it was requested by a homeowner) became a several month process.  Items on our agenda began to celebrate anniversaries of birthdays. Homeowners suffered long waits for legitimate issues and further were subjected to repeated requests for irrelevant information with little to no bearing on their issue. 
The issue became such a hot topic that our own requests for information became the subject of stonewalls and arguments outside of our meetings.
In late 2012 it became clear to me that there was a serious issue.  We were suddenly answering to public works rather than the City Council despite the fact that our charter is clear on this issue.  Repeated requests for clarity on this issue had been pushed back from month to month. 
This issuse became so clear that this month, I came to the meeting with a prepared statement for the open discussion segment of our meeting.  The statement was that I intended to resign.  It is clear to me that in continuing to try to support the taxpayers of the City of Lomita, I am actually doing them a disservice.  We are spending their money (having staff, city hall open, etc) to provide them a service that they are not getting.  For example, we agree to remove a nuisance tree for a taxpayer but then the tree is never removed forcing the taxpayer to continue to spend time requesting the tree which should be removed without question be removed over and over again, forced to spend money justifying the removal and so on.  All this because we had the audacity to suggest that we provide legal basis for a number of laws which we are regularly asked to uphold.  Why?  Because as I was told by one member of the city council, his mother who was adjacent to the area which should legally be the "Lomita Pines" might suffer a value loss on her property.  The issue is NOT about property values but rather about not holding property owners to a law with no legal basis.  In effect the City of Lomita is asking that people be held to a law which makes as much sense as saying that you are required to pay property taxes for a bridge in New York City.  I felt so strongly that this was wrong that I arrived tonight prepared to resign rather than spend even one more month enforcing laws that make no sense and worse cost hardworking taxpayers more money. 
Imagine my surprise when we were informed tonight that the Tree Commission would be "merged with the Parks and Recreation Commission" minor detail though that there are no open positions on the Parks are Recreation Commission so no member of the current Tree Commission will be on that commission.  All told there is some twenty plus years of experience on the Tree Commission that will no longer be in service to the taxpayers of the City of Lomita.  Why?  I can guess.  I can't say for certain.  What I would say is that if I were one of those homeowners in the "Lomita Pines" who was denied help due to their address, I would seriously be considering consulting a lawyer.  For me?  I went ahead and resigned anyway and will be relocating to my second property in the city of Torrance.  I will be also kicking myself for being naive the next time I am so silly as to consider that I might ever being doing something good by getting involved in city politics.  
Anyone who wishes more information on this subject can make a request to the city for items of public record with regards to the minutes of the City Council meetings as well as those of the Lomita Tree Commission dating back to 2007 (or even before) alternately, I can provide my own notes and public agendas of the Lomita Tree Commission. 
DeeAnne Sathe
(Formerly) Chair of the Lomita Tree Commission.

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