"I've never picked a lemon," she writes, "but I've asked my husband and he says that it would be wrong. If the owner of the tree was in his backyard, I could ask him for a piece, but usually that's not the case.
"Those luscious lemons just call out to me at times," she writes.
But picking a piece of fruit from the tree could be considered stealing, she admits.
"Is it illegal," she asks, "or could the owner sue me for taking a piece of fruit?"
Actually, it's the owner of the tree who could find himself on the wrong side of the law: "The City of Cypress does not have ordinances against picking fruit from a tree that overhangs a public sidewalk," says Khuong Truong, a code-enforcement officer for the city, but it does have one that "disallows vegetation to grow into or over the public right of way -- including alleys, sidewalks and streets -- to the extent that passage of pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles is impeded."
Such conditions fall under the category of "public nuisance" and, if the lemon trees' owner lets their branches grow so unruly that they block the passage of pedestrians with their alluring fruit, he could be charged with violating the municipal code.
Supposing that there were no law to keep my reader from plucking a lemon, however, is it right for her to do so, knowing that the tree belongs to someone else?
No. Her inclination to ask the owner's permission is correct. If he's not there, she should wait for an opportune moment when he happens to be in his yard to ask him.
Or, if she simply can't resist the tart temptation, she should knock on his door and make the request. She'd have to be pretty hungry for the fruit to do that, but it's the right course of action if her desire tugs strongly enough.
The owner of the trees should make sure to keep them pruned so as to be in compliance with the city's code. Letting them grow wildly out over the sidewalk, within reach of passing pedestrians, not only plants temptation in their path but also could cost the owner if the city decides to cite him.
There may not be a city rule prohibiting her from taking a piece of low-hanging fruit, but my reader knows that the tree and its fruit belong to someone else. Even if the owner is wrong to leave the fruit so close to her grasp, it's still his tree. She should do the right thing and ask his permission.
c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)