CITY HALL — The City Council on Tuesday endorsed what officials called a "complete revamp" of indigenous trees protections that three years ago left a Glendale couple with a $347,000 fine for illegal pruning.
The Indigenous Tree Ordinance was initially adopted in 2007 to appease community fears that developers would remove mature, indigenous trees to the clear the way for new projects. But the rules quickly landed the city in hot water after several residents were fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for pruning protected trees on their own properties.
Ann and Mike Collard were fined $347,000 for trimming 13 protected trees in August 2007, and John Oppenheim was slapped with a $170,000 fine for pruning nearly a dozen trees, two of which were allegedly in the city's right-of-way.
After enduring days of uproar among residents and on the talk radio circuit, the council set aside the fines and ordered city officials to revise the regulations and include safeguards to prevent large fines from being sent out without any top-level review.
On Tuesday, city officials presented the City Council with a revamped ordinance that eliminates the rigid formula for levying fines, allowing for more flexibility in how violations are processed.
"We primarily looked to find a balance between property owners' rights…and the desire of the community to maintain a healthy urban forest," said Assistant City Atty. Bobby Aldesco.
The proposal, which City Council members indicated they would vote to approve next week, also does not require a permit for "routine pruning," defined as removing dead or dying branches and trimming live branches up to 2 inches in diameter for up to 25% of the tree's foliage.
The proposal would also eliminate requiring property owners to hire a "qualified tree expert" for routine trimming.
Other amendments include capping civil and criminal penalties and restitution, while still giving officials discretion to recommend more severe penalties for egregious and repeat offenders. A formal review process would be established for those contesting their citations.
Still unclear is if tree trimmers will be required to show that they have a state license to operate. City officials are expected to report back to the council next week with possible impacts of the license provision.
"Let's be clear about unintended consequences," Mayor Ara Najarian said. "This can of worms suddenly got really big."
The revised set of pruning regulations are based on an extensive internal review, community outreach and input from arborists.
Many of the proposed changes have already been put in place informally, with tree fines being handled on a case-by-case basis, officials said.
Councilman John Drayman called the proposed changes a "huge improvement," but added that they would still likely require tweaking.
"I still think we are going to have to adjust it as we go along," he said.