Who Is Responsible for Fallen Tree? County and Residents Debate

The county says a tree blocking Silverbrook Drive is on private property, but residents say that's not true

Residents in the East County are furious that San Diego County will not remove a toppled tree blocking their neighborhood’s road.

Sunday’s fierce winds uprooted a huge tree and pushed it onto Silverbrook Drive in Harbison Canyon. Small cars are able to drive under it and people can walk around it, but the gap between the road and the tree will not fit vehicles like ambulances or fire engines.

Houses sit another quarter mile beyond the tree, and residents there have no other road to get out.

Homeowners began calling the county Monday to get the barrier removed. They were told the tree is on private property.

“Silverbrook Drive is partially a public road and segments where the asphalt ends, and it’s a privately owned road,” said Alex Bell, the county’s Public Works spokesperson.

“We are not able to use county funds or resources to maintain private facilities,” Bell added. “That would be up to people in the area, the homeowners.”

Mark Sandecki, one of the first Silverbrook residents to call, said that is not true.

He lost his home in the 2003 wildfires and had to undergo many property surveys. He said he knows where the property line is, and the land holding the tree has always belonged to the county.

“I’m boiling, but I’m trying not to because I don’t want to have a heart attack,” said Sandecki, who had major heart surgery two months ago.

When the tree came tumbling down, it landed on Sharie West’s car. She said county employees came, surveyed the area, “washed their hands and left,” telling the locals they needed to remove the tree themselves.

“It’s not privately owned,” said West. “It does not belong to us. It’s not deeded to us. We pay property taxes to maintain this road.”

She is worried for elderly neighbors, who live beyond the tree and could not be reached by emergency services if there is a need.

Bell told NBC 7 this sort of issue is fairly common in unincorporated areas of the county, where it’s “not as clear where the lines are.”

In the last couple of days, crews have received reports of more than 90 fallen trees needing removal across the county.

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