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BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE?

Almond Blossom tenant hopes to save trees deemed a hazard by park owners

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BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE?

Alice Schlote has been told the two Italian cypresses in front of her home at Almond Blossom Mobile Home Park will be removed on Thursday because they are a safety hazard. Schlote has hung signs ac...

JAMES BURNS/The Bulletin


POSTED August 27, 2014 12:47 a.m.

Alice Schlote wrapped her arms around the towering Italian cypress in her front yard, pulling her body close to its brush. 

It was the kind of emotional embrace a woman would share with her husband or father – or anyone who stood watch over her welfare. And in truth, for the past eight years, these trees have been that sense of protection for Schlote.

The 80-year-old says she picked Lot 31 in the Almond Blossom Mobile Park, in part, because of these trees. There are two there in her small front yard, shooting 50 to 70 feet into the air, flanking each corner of the mobile home.

And if you couldn’t tell from the hug, she loves each of them dearly.

“People always tell me they’re beautiful and they are,” said Schlote, carrying Charlie, a 3-year-old Yorkie/Chihuahua mix. “They go straight up. They don’t shed. Nothing. They don’t stick out over the roadway. They don’t cause any problems, but they’re determined to take them out.”

And so the standoff between tenant and property manager began on Tuesday.

Manager Bertha Ford doesn’t dispute the cypresses’ beauty. She believes they are impressive in size. They hang over the 138-unit mobile home park and frame Schlote’s home like green pillars.

“I love them, too,” Ford said in the clubhouse. “I sympathize with her. I really do, but my hands are tied.”

The Pestana Family Trust, which owns the park, claims the trees have become a safety hazard, and for that reason alone they – along with two others trees on the grounds – have been marked for execution on Thursday.

Schlote cringes. 

Ford said the cypresses’ roots have interfered with the park’s utility lines, which run underground, cutting power to street lamps at four residences in the northwest corner of the property for the last two months.

What’s more, the roots appear to be pushing up on Schlote’s driveway, creating a tripping hazard for the octogenarian or any of her guests. 

Ford said Almond Blossom Mobile Home Park is ultimately responsible for all sidewalks and driveways on the property, and they – not tenants – would have to pay for any repairs, damages or lawsuits that would arise.

“It’s already costing us enough,” Ford said of the property’s ongoing tree maintenance. In the last three months, she says the Pestana Family Trust has paid in excess of $5,500 to trim and remove problematic trees.

With that in mind, Ford said she was instructed to have the Italian cypresses removed during last month’s board meeting. Ford hates to be the bearer of bad news, but the longtime property manager has a job to do. 

“I know she’s (80), but they’re just trees for Pete’s sake. I can’t go against orders from my boss,” she said. “If they keep buckling the driveway, we’ll have to take up the whole driveway, and we can’t allow streets lights to be out.”

Schlote isn’t letting go without a fight. 

On Tuesday, neighbors helped spread her story to Central Valley media outlets. 

There are three signs that hang across the front of her home, including a 20-foot banner that reads: “Please don’t take my trees.” They’re there “to let my neighbors know and to express my feelings.

“They’re beautiful, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s not about the trees,” she added. “It’s about the treatment of everybody. … Talk to some of the other people here. It’s not just this incident. They’re this way with everybody. They’re power mad.”

Naturally, Schlote believes Ford and the family trust are barking up the wrong tree. She doesn’t trust the report commissioned by an electrician hired by Almond Blossom Mobile Park. She contends the wiring was tripped elsewhere on the property – not by her beloved cypresses.

She even drafted a letter to the ownership group on Tuesday, citing her concerns about management and her desire to keep the twins trees standing watch over her home. 

“(Ford) said if I tried to stop them,” from removing the trees, “they’d call the sheriff on me,” Schlote said.

She hopes it won’t come to that. She hopes these desperate pleas will earn her a pardon in the 11th hour, but it’s not likely. 

Ford says four trees, including the cypresses, will be uprooted on Thursday, bringing the total number to 10 in the last three months.

It’s not personal, Ford says, just business. 

Schlote’s embrace suggests otherwise.

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