City Council members contemplated Tuesday whether and to what extent residents should be allowed to construct tree houses on their properties, after a structure built among oaks at a Patagonia Drive home recently caught the eye of city code enforcement officers.
La Cañada homeowner John Womack first addressed the council at an April 3 meeting, after a wooden play platform he'd built for his children was declared a violation of the city's zoning code regarding the treatment of protected trees on private property.
Womack said he didn't believe he harmed the oaks, as no limbs were cut or damaged, and asked the council to reconsider allowing residents to build play spaces for their children. On Tuesday, he said he read the code and found nothing that prohibited him from placing stainless steel screws into the trees.
"We intentionally made sure we did not violate the code," he told the council. "We intentionally designed this to cause the least amount of stress to the tree, and we made a point not to cut off any branches."
Rebecca Latta, an arborist consultant who examined the structure, said screws, nails and staples can cause harm by puncturing the bark and providing entry points for insects, bacteria and fungus.
"Trees don't heal like people — the tissue just grows over the damage," Latta said. "[So] when you have a tree that's been damaged, the damage is permanent."
Council members weighed the merits of protecting trees against families' rights to enjoy their homes, but unanimously agreed protected species such as oaks and sycamores should never be built upon.
As for building in unprotected tree species, the council said homeowners should have some rights to install structures if they were willing to assume the risk.
Community Development Director Susan Koleda said while the city's zoning code does not specifically address residential tree houses its building code, it was adopted from that of L.A. County, which does exempt tree houses of 64 square feet or smaller and do not exceed 8 feet in height from requiring a building permit.
Councilman Greg Brown said he'd like those specifications included in the city's zoning code, to give homeowners some guidance.
"I would not allow this sort of damage to protected trees, but I would like to see our code provide an exception for … something small that's reasonable. Then we wouldn't have this issue in the future where we've just got a silent code people have to try and figure out."
City Manager Mark Alexander suggested the council put the matter before the Planning Commission, for input and further consideration about placement, size and possible setbacks. The council voted 3-1 to follow that suggestion. Mayor Pro Tem Len Pieroni, leading the meeting while Mayor Terry Walker was out of town, cast the dissenting vote to avoid over-regulation.
"If you own a house you should be able to enjoy it," Pieroni said.
Council members were not asked to rule on Womack's situation, which will continue to be handled as a code enforcement issue.
New Public Works director hired, city bids Armas farewell
The city manager thanked Interim Public Works Director Jesus Armas for his service and informed the council Tuesday's meeting would be Armas' last, as he's leaving at the end of the month.
Armas has led the department since November, since previous Public Works Director Edward Hitti left in October for a position in Glendale.
Alexander confirmed after the meeting a new public works director has been hired — Patrick DeChellis, retired former deputy director for Los Angeles County Public Works Department, was scheduled to start work on Wednesday.
Youth Council gets 2 new members, loses 2 seats
Also Tuesday, the City Council unanimously appointed two local teens to serve on the city's Youth Council. La Cañada High School freshman Emily Strauss and Chase Kerstein will fill two of four vacancies on the panel.
The 11-member group was reduced by council resolution Tuesday to nine, comprising four representatives from each of the city's high schools and five at-large members.
Councilman Greg Brown called both candidates incredibly qualified, adding, "You're full of good ideas, energy and enthusiasm — everything we want to see."
CV Sheriff’s Station to participate in memorial torch run
In a public safety presentation, Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Capt. Chris Blasnek informed council members May 15 is nationally recognized as Peace Officers Memorial Day, a time to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department members will join in a memorial torch run beginning Friday morning outside Downtown Los Angeles' Hall of Justice. Over the weekend, participants will travel through each of the department's 23 patrol territories (with a separate run planned for Santa Catalina Island's Avalon Station).
Crescenta Valley Station employees will take over the torch Sunday morning at the Monte Cristo campground in the Angeles National Forest and run through La Cañada as they head toward the Altadena Sheriff's Station, the final leg of the 300-mile journey.
"You may see us coming down Angeles Crest Highway and coming through the city on Foothill Boulevard," Blasnek told council members.
This year, officers will honor former co-worker and friend Deputy Steven E. Belanger, who was shot in the line of duty 20 years ago and died Feb. 8.