Caltrans sues Wheatland business owner for cutting trees
Caltrans has filed a lawsuit over people who cut down trees, shrubs and other plants along state highways, including a Wheatland business owner who cut trees near his business last year.
According to the suit, filed in June in Yuba County Superior Court, business owner Raj Kumar Sharma had a crew damage, trim or destroy 16 trees along Highway 65 at Evergreen Drive, near where Sharma had an encroachment permit to allow a left-turn lane on and off his commercial property.
"The defendants, and each of them, intentionally or recklessly trespassed on State owned property and injured and destroyed State owned tress, in order to further their individual and collective gain," the suit states.
Sharma's permit allowed him to remove eight trees there, but the work done far exceeded the scope of the permit, the suit states.
But Sharma said the suit is a misunderstanding that he will work out.
"We had all the permits to do that work, and it's just a matter of interpretation," Sharma said.
The trees were leftovers from an almond orchard that once stood in the area, he said. Because the trees hadn't been maintained and became sickly, he worried one might topple over and injure an employee or customer at his nearby business.
"Now we have to sit down and I can show them I was right," he said, adding he expects such a meeting in the next couple months.
In the lawsuit, Caltrans is seeking at least $160,000 in damages and at least another $160,000 in statutory penalties, along with costs and fees and possible other damages to be determined at trial.
Sharma said he is not concerned about the dollar amount in the suit, which could be more than $400,000.
"In this case, I had a valid permit, and I paid a lot of fees to get it," he said.
Caltrans filed three other suits over similar issues in El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties.
According to a press release on the suits, Caltrans believes in some cases the trees were chopped down to increase visibility for a business.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at email@example.com or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.