Tree ordinance returns to dais

CITY HALL — Three years after Glendale became a widespread subject of scorn for fining a husband and wife $347,000 for illegally trimming 13 trees, the City Council today is slated to discuss easing some rules, while giving officials more discretion to punish egregious violators.

The City Council initially adopted the Indigenous Tree Ordinance in 2007 to appease community fears that developers would remove mature, indigenous trees for new projects. But within six months, controversy erupted when news spread of massive fines levied on residents.

Ann and Mike Collard were fined $347,000 for illegally trimming 13 protected trees in August 2007. The fine was eventually rescinded. Around the same time, John Oppenheim was slapped with a $170,000 fine for illegally pruning nearly a dozen trees, two of which were allegedly in the city's right-of-way.

Now, more than three years later, the City Council will consider a series of changes to the ordinance to allow routine pruning without a permit, while giving city officials greater flexibility in how they levy fines.

Public Works Director Steve Zurn said the proposal is the result of extensive deliberation, including community outreach and research on other city ordinances.

"We went over line by line of the ordinance. There was a lot of thought put into it," he said. "I think we found what I believe is a good compromise to protect our indigenous trees and at the same time give folks options."

Among the proposed changes is eliminating the permit requirement for "routine pruning" — defined as the removal of dead or dying branches and the trimming of live branches up to 2 inches in diameter for up to 25% of the tree's foliage.

Also on the chopping block is requiring property owners to hire a "qualified tree expert" for routine pruning.

"I'm glad it's coming back," Mayor Ara Najarian said. "I think the amendments to the ordinance are an attempt to really discriminate between accidental cutting, intentional cutting and assessing fines and levies accordingly to the intent and the seriousness of the actions."

Many of the proposed changes have already been put in place informally in recent years, with tree fines being handled on a case-by-case basis, Zurn said.

The City Council will also consider capping civil and criminal penalties and restitution, but giving officials discretion to recommend more severe penalties for egregious and repeat offenders.

City officials have also recommended a formal review process for those contesting their citations.

Najarian — who in the wake of the 2007 controversy had broached the idea of scrapping the ordinance altogether — indicated he would support the changes.

"We want to make sure that those people that have reckless disregard for our laws and our trees are punished, but those 'innocent' homeowners who make a mistake by not pulling a permit, or not thinking they need a permit are not inordinately fined," Najarian said.

The City Council will meet at 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 613. E Broadway.

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