Tree removal process pruned

La Cañada Flintridge City Council members have extended a contract with West Coast Arborists for tree care and removal services, but the new deal eliminates the firm paid to cut a tree down from making the decision to remove the tree.

Monday's 3-0 decision by Mayor Don Voss, Councilwoman Laura Olhasso and Councilman Dave Spence exercises a one-year contract extension but shifts tree-health analysis duties to other arborists not affiliated with the company.

The move was generated by concerns brought up at an Oct. 18 study session considering revisions to the city's tree ordinance, said Public Works Director Edward Hitti.

"People were saying there was a conflict of interest," said Hitti. "There was a perception out there that [West Coast Arborists] would benefit by saying to remove a tree because they would be compensated for removing it."

Going forward, the city will rely on the opinion of one of three independent arborists who have previously done work for the city.

Mayor Donald Voss said the perceived conflict of interest was brought to the city's attention several months ago after residents fought to save an oak with a split trunk on Encinas Avenue.

"If anybody had any confusion, we're trying to eliminate that. The arborist who will make recommendations on the status of a tree will not be from the same firm that would cut it down," said Voss.

The mayor said council members will soon consider changes to the city's tree ordinance that will make it easier for residents to challenge tree-removal orders.

"We're seeking to make the process completely transparent and ensure property owners have the right to appeal all along the way," said Voss.

The city renewed its contract with West Coast Arborists at a favorable rate compared to other area cities. While South Pasadena and San Gabriel pay the firm $110 per hour for tree removal, La Cañada Flintridge held on to an hourly rate of $79.20.

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