The Chino Hills residents who were criminally charged for destroying mature oak trees and toyon shrubs on the trail behind their homes on Rancho Hills Drive have been ordered to pay $69,000 in restitution to the City of Chino Hills.
Superior Court Judge Michael A. Camber on Sept. 10 ordered the restitution for the hacking of 11 fully mature California Live Oaks, the topping of two oaks, and the destruction of six toyon shrubs, according to a press release issued by the city Thursday afternoon.
The defendants are Romeo and Edilyn Oriel, Uday Dinesh Parikh and Waimin Liu.The city was seeking $234,728 in restitution based on the actual value of the trees that were illegally cut on May 9, 2020.
The defendants accepted a plea deal in which they did not plead guilty but were instead granted a period of diversion for two years as permitted by state law, according to the press release.
As part of the diversion conditions, the judge ordered $23,000 to be paid per household, for a total of $69,000.
The restitution will provide funds to the city to plant young trees to replace those destroyed, but it does not prevent the city from pursuing civil remedies in the future to collect the rest of the $234,728, according to the press release.
The $69,000 includes $58,000 to replace the trees and $11,000 for the city’s tree expert and legal costs.
The residents had been complaining to the city that their views were obstructed by the oaks and shrubs.
They moved to their homes for the panoramic views, but the trees and shrubbery grew thick and tall over the next two decades, wiping out their views.
The May 9, 2020, incident was one of multiple incidents of tree and shrub destruction along the public trail at Rancho Hills Drive and Vista Dorada Place from May until August, for a total loss to the city of $845,000, according to the city’s legal brief and a tree appraisal report conducted by James Komen of Class One Arboriculture, Inc..
City Manager Benjamin Montgomery said the city is pleased with the award of $69,000 but is still seeking information on those responsible for the other tree destruction incidents.
“Trees are one of the most important features of our city’s natural environment and provide our community with many benefits,” he said. “City trees belong to the community and Chino Hills will continue to seek prosecution and restitution of any illegal cutting to the fullest extent of the law.” According to the Chino Hills Police Department, which investigated after witnesses reported the incident, cutting trees on public land is a violation of Penal Code 384a(2). The Coast Live Oak is a native species protected by the State of California as well as the city’s municipal code. Anybody with information on the tree-cutting incidents that took place along the public trail at Rancho Hills Drive and Vista Dorada Place from May to August 2020, are encouraged to call the Public Works Department at (909) 364-2800.