Public looks again at trees

GLENDALE — City officials who endured a firestorm of criticism over how Glendale’s newly fortified Indigenous Tree Ordinance was enforced against a handful of homeowners last year are preparing for series of public input meetings that will kick off Wednesday.

The meetings, which the City Council requested in December, will solicit ideas on how to modify the ordinance, or determine if residents want it, said Public Works Director Steve Zurn, whose department oversees a major portion of the ordinance’s administration.

“That will certainly be a central question, if residents even want the ordinance,” he said.

If so, city officials will be at the meetings to take down suggestions on how it could be changed to better reflect public sentiment, he said.

Broad community support for the beefed-up protections that were adopted in March 2007 gave way late last year to widespread criticism of the ordinance after reports surfaced of several fines to homeowners totaling more than $500,000.

Intense regional public and media scrutiny prompted the city to scrap almost all of the fines, impose a temporary moratorium on fine collection and prepare a set of draft changes to the tree ordinance in December.

“A lot of things occurred that we couldn’t anticipate, and unfortunately they were negative,” Zurn said.

Part of the flaw, city officials told the council, was in the administration of the restitution formula, which charges violators a fee amount equal to twice the value of the damaged trees. In issuing the steep fines, city administrators said they were simply sticking to the formula approved by the council.

City Council members, having received the brunt of the criticism, admonished city managers for not alerting them of the large fines before mailing them out to homeowners, and instead voting on proposed safeguards, directed staff to hold a series of public input meetings to make sure their next step would meet what residents wanted.

Some of those residents, arguing the ordinance was an intrusion on private-property rights, called for the city to do away with the tree protections altogether — an idea that drew tentative interest from Mayor Ara Najarian.

But Ann Collard, who with her husband quickly became the face of the tree debacle with their $347,000 fine, said over the weekend that shelving tree protections wasn’t part of the intent behind protesting her fines — which came in August after illegally trimming 13 trees.

“I do think it’s a worthwhile effort to protect the trees,” she said. “It would be sad to see them just throw the whole thing out.”

The Collards said they trimmed the trees back after receiving a fire-abatement notice, and were unaware of the specific need to obtain a tree-trimming permit from the city.

Clarifying the ordinance to be more proportionate in how it deals with illegal trimming might be a more prudent approach, she said.

“Obviously, there’s some sort of disconnect between the intent of the ordinance and how it’s actually carried out,” she said.

City officials will compile input gathered at the meetings, look at surrounding tree ordinances in other cities and put in a report for City Council discussion, City Atty. Scott Howard said.

Direction on how, if at all, to modify the ordinance will come at that time. Meanwhile, the city is still administering the program and investigating violations, Howard added.

“If there’s a an egregious case, we will pursue it,” he said.

The first meeting will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Brand Library, 1601 Mountain St. A second will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Sparr Heights Community Room, 1613 Glencoe Way.

Two more meetings will also take place next week — one from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 6 at the Chevy Chase library branch, 3301 E. Chevy Chase Drive; and another from 10:30 a.m. to noon March 8 inside the Glendale Police Community Room, 131 N. Isabel St.

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