Meghdadi prevails in city lawsuit

Andrew Meghdadi, who was vilified by the Chico City Council and many in the community a year ago for cutting down 110 oak trees on his Terra Bella subdivision in southeast Chico, has won his lawsuit against the city.

Meghdadi filed the suit a year ago, claiming the City Council did not have the authority to order a supplementary (and costly) environmental-impact report (SEIR) based on the fact that the property was significantly altered by the tree removal.

Butte County Superior Court Judge Steven J. Howell ruled July 25 that Meghdadi was correct because the council did not have the “substantial evidence” that an SEIR was needed. Howell ordered the council to “set aside” its decision and reconsider its actions.

On March 19, 2002, the city stopped Meghdadi from cutting down any more trees on his property after neighbors complained. Meghdadi said he had the city’s permission to cut down the trees. City staff said he was allowed to cut only 24 oak trees.

In April, Meghdadi came before the council and a council chamber filled with angry citizens hoping to see the alleged excessive tree cutter roundly punished. And they were not disappointed, as the council, acting on a report from City Planning Director Kim Seidler, ordered Meghdadi to do the supplemental report, which was not only costly in itself—$50,000—but also expensive in that it delayed the project. (Meghdadi estimates the delay has cost him as much as $3 million, money he says he can recoup if and when the project moves forward.)

The ball is now in the council’s court, said City Attorney Dave Frank.

“There is no question that the conditions of approval were violated,” Frank explained. “But there was just no evidence to support the council’s directive to do an SEIR.”

The city could appeal the judge’s ruling, come back with more substantial evidence or simply approve the project’s final map, should Meghdadi file one with the Planning Department.

For his part, Meghdadi said he feels vindicated by Howell’s ruling and is waiting to see what the city does before moving forward with the project.

The city, which spent about $240,000 in defending itself, must also pay court costs, not including Meghdadi’s attorney fees.

Meghdadi had offered to settle out of court last spring, but the city rejected it and stayed in court.

"Every time the attorneys get together it costs each side $10,000," Meghdadi said.