A man being sued after refusing to pay about $90,000 for cutting down 153 trees in a popular park next to a wetlands in Seal Beach now faces a misdemeanor charge, prosecutors said Thursday.
Rocky Gentner faces a charge of unlawfully injuring the greenery in Gum Grove Park near his home, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.
The city of Seal Beach filed a civil lawsuit against Gentner, alleging that he hired a local tree removal company in March to chop and grind up 153 Brazilian pepper trees.
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The sprawling shrub trees that can grow up to 33 feet formed a canopy of about 1,800 square feet, according to the city.
"The canopy is gone, the public no longer has shade in that portion of the park, and habitat and nesting areas have been taken," the lawsuit says.
Gentner did not return calls seeking comment.
But earlier this month he told The Orange County Register in a brief phone interview that the trees were dead. He also told police they were a fire hazard and that he had been asking the city to cut them down for 15 years, according to the Seal Beach Sun, which cited police reports.
City officials demanded he pay about $90,000 to cover the cost of replacing the trees, which he refused, said Seal Beach City Councilman Mike Varipapa.
Gum Grove is a popular park for dog walking. It sits next to Los Cerritos Wetlands, the largest salt marsh in Los Angeles County and one of only about 30 Southern California coastal salt marshes still in existence.
"People worked hard to preserve this open space," Varipapa said. "Every park is important, especially these days. We're very saddened by these circumstances."
Mario Voce is one of several who have spoken out about the destruction.
"If there was a problem with the trees, any problem, he should have contacted the city," Voce said. "That's not his part. It's the community's park."