Kaddis tree trial prosecutor calls witnesses
By Kelly Feser Eells
William Kaddis, the Los Angeles
real estate agent charged with the unauthorized removal of 301
protected oak trees on his Lake Casitas-area property, waived
his right to trial by jury, so the case will be decided by Ventura
County Superior Court Judge Kevin McGee.
The long-delayed trial began Tuesday, with Kaddis pleading not
guilty to the 13 misdemeanor criminal violations leveled against
him and McGee confirming that Kaddis had agreed "to give
up his right to a jury of 12 citizens."
Deputy District Attorney Karen Wold's opening statements included
a Power Point presentation that summarized the 13 counts (altering
a streambed, violating an erosion ordinance, and filing a false
police report among them); events leading to the county's decision
to file criminal charges and anticipated testimony of corroborating
Kaddis' attorney, Roger Diamond (who defended convicted rapist
and fugitive Andrew Luster in January), had indicated earlier
that he would confine his arguments to the county's "questionable"
property rights and land use policies and made no opening statements.
Wold called Bruce Keller, a permit planner with Ventura County
Resource Management Agency, to the stand.
Keller said he'd become familiar with the 220-acre property -
Kaddis owns one of four subdivided parcels - in early 2000, "when
(landowner) Joseph Macaluso came into my office to submit an
application for a parcel map waiver."
Parcel map waivers, Keller explained, show where a property's
subdivided boundaries are. "I sent his application to the
appropriate agencies, including the Department of Fish and Game."
"Why them?" Wold asked.
"Because there may have been flora and fauna issues; it's
Zoning allows for no smaller than 40 acres (per parcel) in these
particular cases, Keller added. Macaluso's waiver, along with
a Mitigated Negative Impact Declaration "and a deed restriction
that runs with the ownership of the property in perpetuity -
meaning, it doesn't go away when the property is sold" was
recorded in March of 2000.
The deed restriction precludes any construction, building or
earthworks outside the areas where agriculture or clearing has
occurred, "... and requires parcel owners to abide by the
county's tree ordinance, limiting the impact on oak and other
Diamond said, "Your honor, I don't want my failure to object
to this witness to be deemed as an acceptance of his testimony
about county codes and ordinances in place."
McGee said, "Okay with you, Ms. Wold," who nodded her
approval and then continued her line of questioning, aimed at
proving that Kaddis was aware of the restrictions on the property
when he bought it in July of 2001.
"Could Mr. Macaluso unilaterally revoke these restrictions?"
"No," Keller replied. "That's for the county and
related agencies to decide."
Keller further noted that, "Two out of four of these parcels
had archaeological restrictions," including one sold to
Peter Brooks, which parallels Kaddis' parcel. "He, (Brooks)
wanted an easement, and I got involved in his project because
I was most familiar with the property."
Wold displayed aerial photographs taken of the property in July
of 2001, which Keller identified, as well as photos taken in
October of that year, "when the property was 100 percent
Diamond asked Keller "What additional restrictions could
the county impose on a property that wasn't yet subdivided? If
I'm the property owner, and I want to, say, change the doorknobs
on my property, could the Coastal Commission come in and impose
restrictions that wouldn't or didn't exist when the property
was one, big piece? What is it about dividing parcels,"
he said, "that gives yours and other agencies the right
to impose conditions that, presumably, didn't exist before?"
Keller indicated that he was unclear as to what, exactly, Diamond
"You're not an expert in this, are you?" Diamond said.
Wold objected, asking, "What does all this have to do with?"
Diamond smiled and said, "The field of subdivisions,"
"Are you saying that I can't do anything to a property with
tons of trees on it that I own?"
"No," Keller said.
"So you agree that I could knock down some oak trees as
long as the property wasn't subdivided?"
Again Keller said "no," referring Diamond to the county's
"Where are all these rules and regulations?" Diamond
"They're part of the Ventura County Code, where the (tree)
"How can an ordinance reside within a code?" Diamond
McGee said, "That's argumentative, Mr. Diamond."
Local arborist Paul Rogers, who had been hired by Brooks to conduct
a tree survey study in May of 2001, testified that, out of the
145 trees he'd surveyed at that time, "71 were on the property
(not yet purchased by) Mr. Kaddis."
Rogers explained that he had tagged and photographed every tree,
"documenting sizes, general health, and any just cause for
removal. I didn't identify any that were unhealthy or hazardous."
On Oct. 12, 2001, "I was asked, on behalf of the county,
to go out and inspect the property. I met (Zoning Administration
manager) Todd Collart and Code Enforcement officer Carole Aragon
out there; they asked me to confirm which trees were down."
Wold asked, "Did the property look any different?"
"Oh, decidedly. The trees were no longer standing. Including
many trees that I hadn't documented (in May)."
Rogers added that he had adhered to county and city ordinances
when he counted the felled trees, and "didn't count any
with trunk diameters of less than three inches."
"And how did you go about counting them?" Wold asked.
"Very difficultly," Rogers joked, noting that, because
the trees were stacked in piles, it was "a Herculean task."
Rogers then performed an appraisal, per Collart's request, concluding
that the projected value of the felled trees was $941,948.
Diamond questioned the methodology behind the assessment, saying,
"Do you, the county, determine whether or not there's someone
willing to buy that tree and what they'd be willing to pay for
it? As I understand valuation, there needs to be a willing seller
and a willing buyer, with two parties negotiating (for something.)"
Wold had previously displayed a receipt for 340 avocado trees
Kaddis had bought shortly after the oaks were cleared, and Diamond
wondered why these trees weren't acceptable "exchanges."
Also testifying were Aviram Soltes, the son of one of Kaddis'
business associates, who had, until April of this year, denied
Soltes admitted that he had been hired by Kaddis in August of
2001, and had bulldozed the trees at Kaddis' request.
Wold displayed photographs of the bulldozers Kaddis had rented,
one of which suffered $4,000 in "tree sap damage."
Larry Rose, of Brokaw Nurseries (where Kaddis purchased the avocado
trees); Greg Nicholl, of Nations Rent (where Kaddis had rented
one of two bulldozers); Carole Aragon; Betty Courtney, a biologist
for the Department of Fish and Game; and neighbor Mike Barnard
(whose fence had been allegedly knocked down by the bulldozer)
Courtney noted that, while conducting a streambed report for
(Peter) Brooks in August, 2001, " ... the property looked
However, "after getting an anonymous tip about a possible
streambed alteration" in October of that year, she flew
over by helicopter and saw "extensive bulldozer damage."
Courtney positively identified a video that was taken on Oct.
10, 2001, as well as an aerial photo of the property, taken on
Aug. 9, 2001, when it was still "pristine."
The trial is expected to conclude today.
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