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Tree fines at root of many queries

NORTHWEST GLENDALE — Lingering concerns over the effects of the citywide Indigenous Tree Ordinance took up most of City Atty. Scott Howard’s time Monday night in a rare appearance before a coalition of homeowners association members.

In the wake of two major fines against two Glendale homeowners in September for illegally pruning protected trees on and off their properties that total about $517,000, several members of the audience at the Glendale Homeowners Coordinating Council meeting peppered Howard with questions about the city’s role in enforcing municipal fines that could financially ruin their colleagues.

Conceding that the fines were high, Howard told the council that his office had issued notices to both homeowners informing them that the city would not take any action until the City Council reviewed forthcoming reports on ways in which the ordinance might be amended.

“They don’t have to take any action until they hear from us,” he said.

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Small comfort for Michael and Ann Collard, who said they remain in legal limbo as they try to fight the $347,600 fine the city issued in September for illegally pruning 13 trees — including five that are reportedly on city-owned land — without a permit at their home on the 500 block of Whiting Woods Road.

The fines were equal to twice the value of the damaged trees, a computation called for under the newly revised tree ordinance.

The Collards, who were not at Monday’s meeting, confirmed that their attorney received the notice, but the uncertainty of the matter has them on edge.

“We’re just trying to make sure we do what we can, and try not to worry about the things we don’t have control over,” Michael Collard said.

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John Oppenheim, who lives on the 3300 block of Park Vista Drive, was fined $170,000 in September for illegally pruning two California sycamores on his property, and an Italian stone and Japanese black pine on city-owned land.

He could not be reached for comment Monday night, but has said he was unaware of the ordinance or its details, and that the city has done little to educate residents.

Oppenheim and the Collards say that unless the fines are reversed or significantly reduced, they risk financial ruin and the loss of their homes.

Howard assured the council Monday night that his office was putting together a report outlining the fee computation process other cities with tree ordinances use as a way to give the City Council some ideas for possibly amending Glendale’s.

The City Council amended the tree ordinance in March under pressure from the public to add teeth to fines that were meant to discourage property owners from illegally pruning or removing indigenous trees for development purposes.

Since then, the city has posted the ordinance on its website and produced pamphlets detailing the rules.

Mayor Ara Najarian and Councilman Frank Quintero, who were at the meeting, said after the question-and-answer period that they would consider changing the fine structure to take criminal intent into account when determining the fine.

But that would introduce an element of subjectivity into the process — one in which residents were clear when it was under development that steep fines were what they wanted, Najarian said.

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“I think the intentions were good,” he said.

A report on the fine structure would likely be ready in about a month, Howard said. A draft ordinance that would impose an up to 10-year development ban on properties that are intentionally cleared of protected trees will also be introduced for the council’s consideration at the same time, he added.


 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.


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