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City harassed me about trees, man says

July 22, 2010

A Huntington Beach man is suing the city for allegedly harassing him about palm trees in his front yard and forcing him to remove them.

Charles Atchisson filed a lawsuit June 12 against the city for being a nuisance and intentionally causing emotional distress by citing him about four Washingtonian palm trees in his front yard, inspecting his property a handful of times and requiring him to remove the trees without a hearing, according to the lawsuit.

City Atty. Jennifer McGrath said the city hasn't been served the lawsuit yet and can't answer questions until they are.

The trees were already on the property, adjacent to the sidewalk, when Atchisson purchased his home on Rhone Lane more than 35 years ago, according to the lawsuit.

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He put time and money into making his yard a kind of tropical oasis with a pond, and the palms played an important part in it, according to the claim.

"This garden is of greater than average importance to [Atchisson] because of his modest financial means, advanced age and lack of motorized transport generally," the lawsuit said.

Atchisson was cited three times for the trees being a public nuisance for five different reasons over a three-year period, according to the lawsuit.

In December 2009, Atchisson was served with a notice of violation requesting he remove the palm trees because they were obstructing the sidewalk, growing into electrical wires and blocking his view when pulling out of his driveway, according to city records.

Atchisson's property was inspected five times before the December notice of violation, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit names city code enforcement officer Richard Hedden, claiming he had an "inordinate concern" over the trees and "in bad faith has persistently and repeatedly harassed and annoyed" Atchisson by wrongfully accusing him of violating public nuisance ordinances.

The lawsuit accused Hedden of working with Atchisson's neighbors who wanted the palm trees cut down.

— Britney Barnes

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