Rules stump tree fans in La Cañada Flintridge

Since La Cañada passed its new tree ordinance in March, opponents have been crawling out of the woodwork.

One resident is circulating an online petition to repeal the ordinance, while another wants to look into having the city's "Tree City USA" status revoked by the Arbor Day Foundation, which has granted the title to 3,400 American communities since 1976.

Legally, according to city staff and one Arbor Day Foundation representative, those efforts are not likely to bear fruit, but residents are aiming to keep the issue in front of the public.

"If everybody cut down their trees, La Cañada would look like Palmdale," said Larry Moss, the landscape architect who posted the petition to the website "If the city has to be tougher to protect our trees, then they have to be tougher."

The document has garnered 61 signatures and will be presented to Council when the 100 signature threshold is met, he added.

Petitioners protest that, with the exception of native oaks, sycamores and deodar cedars planted in historic sections of town, homeowners may cut down any and all trees on their properties.

Some want protections to be more expansive, while others want to have more input into construction projects that threaten local tree canopies.

"When you compare our policy to our neighbor Pasadena, there's a considerable gap," resident Cameron Crosby said at a May 5 City Council meeting. "We have three protected species, Pasadena has 126 — there is a problem here."

Crosby and his La Forest Drive neighbors petitioned, unsuccessfully, in March to protect large pines on a lot being developed next door. He said La Cañada had no right to be considered a "Tree City" if it would allow a homeowner to remove 20 of the lot's 23 trees.

"I don't think we deserve it," he said of the designation. "It ought to be taken away."

The protestations come as the La Cañada Flintridge City Council prepares for a May 19 public hearing to amend the municipal code to include ordinance language regarding trees in the public right-of-way.

The discussion will not involve homeowners' rights to remove trees on private property, according to City Manager Mark Alexander.

Alexander said the 30-day window community members had to protest the ordinance through a referendum has passed, and that the petition could only request Council to reexamine the issue.

"Then the City Council would be required to consider either repealing the ordinance or putting it up to a referendum vote of the public," he added.

Anthony Marek, a spokesman for the Arbor Day Foundation, clarified that any city with a tree department and ordinance that spends $2 per capita on urban forestry annually and recognizes Arbor Day qualifies for the designation.

"If a municipality meets the Tree City USA criteria, they receive Tree City USA status," Marek said.

Georgie Kajer, a landscape architect who signed Moss' petition, said she's worried about people removing very large "heritage" trees.

"I think it would be simpler if there was a heritage designation, because people are concerned about the big trees," Kajer said.

But longtime builder Bill Abel, who lives just up Palm Drive from Moss, said too many trees pose a fire danger.

"The risk of losing homes is so high because (the fire department) can't get equipment in there and the tree canopy is so thick," he said.

Although Abel specially designed his house to accommodate the more than 30 huge cedars on his lot, he thinks tree removal should be up to homeowners.

"People pay a lot of money to build up here," Abel said. "For somebody to say to them you can't add a bathroom because it competes with a tree is silly."


Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.


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