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Morro Bay couple held in contempt for not cutting shrubs 

The latest decision in a two-year legal battle over the height of their trees held Carl and Judy Grilli in contempt of court.

At issue is a line of myoporum trees along the back fence of the Grillis’ Morro Bay residence. The trees, which have grown to approximately 22 to 23 feet tall, violate the city’s municipal code, which limits hedges to a maximum height of 6-feet, 6-inches.

The city filed criminal charges against the Grillis for violating the municipal code, but those charges were dropped in October.

The Grillis received a court order on Dec. 26, 2013, to begin trimming the trees to a lower height. That ruling was made after their neighbor, Robert Kraus, filed a civil lawsuit. Kraus’ suit asserted that the height of the trees—which block his view of the ocean—violated the city’s municipal code and brought undue harm to his property. Kraus said a portion of his backyard landscape died as a result of shade, root intrusion, and residue created by insects on the plant.

After the 2013 ruling, the Grillis refused to trim the trees, saying that the trees became an important bird habitat and that they were afraid cutting the trees could be in violation of the California Coastal Act.

City officials contend that no permit is necessary to trim or remove the trees.

During a Nov. 30 hearing at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court, arguments from attorneys representing both sides hinged on whether the Grillis knew that they did not need a permit for the work.

After hearing testimony from two city officials, SLO Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera said the evidence indicated the Grillis learned around June or July that they did not need a permit and that after learning that, they had ample time to arrange for the trees to be trimmed.

“[The Grillis] continued, apparently, to resist complying from a very simple court order,” LaBarbera said while delivering his ruling on Dec. 1. 

Some recent trimming was done on the trees, but it was found to be insufficient. The Grillis now must trim the trees 5 feet down from their original height, and continue to remove 5 feet each year until they are no more than 6-feet, 6-inches tall.

While the Grillis were found in contempt, LaBarbera declined to assign any jail time or monetary penalties. The court did order the Grillis to partially reimburse Kraus for attorney fees.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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