Council considers care of public trees

Trees in the city's public right-of-way — namely how they should be selected, maintained and removed — were up for discussion Monday, as the La Cañada Flintridge City Council considered incorporating language from its newly revised tree ordinance into the city's municipal code.

After public hearings and talks with city staff, Council voted to continue the matter to its next regular meeting June 2, pending word changes and revisions to three related ordinances.

Although the public hearings were expressly about public trees, as opposed to those on private property, several residents attended the meeting in an attempt to talk about their frustrations with an ordinance they feel is too permissive to homeowners and developers.

But, sticking to the agenda, the Council kept the parameters of the discussion to the right-of-way.

Currently, the municipal code states the city shall maintain trees that grow on public right-of-way areas, through pruning, watering and the removal of sick or disruptive plantings. One new ordinance creates a means to allow residents whose properties abut these areas to "adopt" trees, working with the city and notifying officials if and when special care is needed.

"It was thought that, because private property owners are seeing the trees every day…they would be in a good position to maintain the tree," Deputy City Attorney Adrian Guerra told Council.

Another proposed ordinance outlines the means and conditions by which homeowners may request the removal of a public tree.

Resident Jay Johnson asked council members to reconsider language requiring homeowners to prove a city tree is causing "unreasonable burden" or "extraordinary economic burden" in their requests for removal, implying the terms seemed too suggestive and easy to deny.

He said a camphor tree in his yard had grown inconsistently large compared to other, similar trees planted in the right-of-way and constituted a burdensome mess. Johnson said he'd like to have the option of replacing it with a smaller, more aesthetic tree.

"We'd really appreciate that the property owner has a voice and some say about the overgrown trees in his neighborhood," Johnson said.

Council members discussed the matter, deciding to change "extraordinary" to "unreasonable" when replacement was part of the process, but keeping the burden of proof high in cases where the tree would not be replaced.

They also weighed whether to allow the city manager, instead of the Council, to have the final say should a resident appeal a Public Works decision on public tree removal.

Currently, appellants' cases are heard by a second body, the Public Works and Traffic Commission, though residents can make a final appeal to the Council. After a discussion on the role of the commission and the city manager, Council members Laura Olhasso and Don Voss said they'd prefer to let residents ultimately plead their cases to the City Council.

"Just the fact that the resident has the ability to bring it to elected officials seems an important piece of the puzzle," Olhasso said.


Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.


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