Shady law revisited

In a showdown between trees and solar panels, the trees ultimately won in a California dispute over a very modern problem.

Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett were criminally convicted in December for allowing the redwood trees at their Sunnyvale home to shade the 10-kilowatt solar system of their neighbor, Mark Vargas. One of the trees had been there 10 years before Vargas arrived. The other eight were planted after he moved next door but before he’d installed his system. The couple was forced to trim their trees and have paid $37,000 in legal fees.

Six months later, Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger signed a law to prevent similar disputes. The new law says it’s a matter of which came first. If trees were planted before solar panels were installed, the solar-power owner can’t make the tree owners trim or chop them down. If the solar panels were there first, a civil lawsuit can be filed, but there can’t be criminal prosecution for planting trees.

In a further twist on the story, Vargas has sued the tree-loving couple again. The New York Times reports that, this time, Vargas claims the trees’ roots are damaging an underground storm drain and that their redwood row violates state laws that disallow spite fences.