Residents slapped with fine for aggressive tree trimming

William McKinley

A La Cañada Flintridge resident who is facing thousands of dollars in city fines for excessively trimming oaks on his property says the punishment is unfair.

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FOR THE RECORD: This story incorrectly states that Franklin Wang will have to pay a $3,650 fine. In fact, that figure was the city staff’s recommendation, and the Planning Commission reduced the fine to $2,000.

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The Planning Commission on Tuesday held Franklin Wang responsible for hiring a pruning service not approved by the city, and for over-pruning six coastal live oak trees, a species protected by city ordinance. Wang will have to pay a $3,650 fine and deposit $1,500 so that an arborist can inspect his trees three times during the next five years. The tree-trimming project was reported anonymously to the city’s code enforcement officer.

Wang, who lives on Berkshire Avenue, said he was a victim of the pruning service he hired, Royal Landscaping, which he said was misrepresented as being licensed with the city.

“[Royal Landscaping] gave me a postcard that said ‘licensed and bonded’,” Wang said. “I was not aware there were only few companies that were approved by city of La Cañada … to do tree pruning.”

Wang also says that the city is overstating the damage done to the trees on his property.

The city arborist’s report, prepared by William McKinley of McKinley and Associates, stated that the oak trees on Wang’s property had between 30% to 70% of their foliage removed, above the 25% threshold permitted by the city’s tree preservation and protection ordinance.

Wang, however, said that these numbers didn’t pass the eye test, and that he thought the city was too strict.

“If you look at trees pruned beautifully by the city, and compare to the ones I have, there’s not much difference,” he said. “We’re not here to run our lives based on what an arborist has to say.”

Commissioner Michael Cahill said that McKinley was a well-regarded arborist, and that the city had to respect his expertise.

“Look at some of these trees — there’s barely any branches left,” Cahill said. “I think they were excessively trimmed. If [McKinley] says the trees need to be monitored, then monitor them.”

As for Royal Landscaping’s culpability, Commissioner Rick Gunter said that ultimately Wang was responsible for decisions made on his property.

“I, too, feel the owner’s pain,” Gunter said. “It’s frustrating if you get a card and it says on it ‘licensed and bonded,’ and you’re trying to do the right thing. The unfortunate fact is, if I hire a contractor and he does something on my property, that’s still my responsibility, and I think we’ll have some sharp words for the contractor.”

Elizabeth Casimiro, who owns Royal Landscaping, said she and her husband Gilbert recognize their errors in the Wang project, and have paid of fine of about $400 to the city. She said that in Van Nuys, where her business is based, no additional permitting is required for tree pruning beyond a business license.

Casimiro said that they were following Wang’s requests to prune the oak trees as heavily as they did.

“I didn’t actually know that we needed a permit to trim oak trees, because we’ve never had a problem, but now that we know we’re not doing it again,” she said.
 
 

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