La Cañada to trim list of protected trees

Deodar cedars, California peppers and Chinese elms all currently appear on the city's list of protected trees, but officials are expected to ax them in a simplified ordinance next week.

Protected trees under the proposed ordinance include the California sycamore and a variety of oaks that have a diameter of 12 inches or more at 54 inches above grade.

Officials say the revised ordinance, expected to be given the green light by the City Council at its March 18 meeting, is less complicated than the previous version. Supplemental charts and guidelines are also being designed to help the public understand the law.

The law has irked residents like Richard Cohen, who say it is difficult to understand.

“We've had a lot of problem with people who do not know that there's a tree ordinance, what the protected trees are, what you can do, what you can't do, etc.,” he told the council at the March 4 meeting. “There's new people who move into La Cañada, it might be possible to have the escrow companies give the new owner a pamphlet regarding the tree ordinance.”

Councilwoman Laura Olhasso agreed with Cohen and said that educating the public about the revised law is a priority.

“It's only as good as how people understand it and know about it,” she said, “and that is our next challenge, getting the word out.”

Director of Community Development Robert Stanley said the city is working on creating a tree-replacement chart that will be available after the ordinance is approved.

The city is also preparing a guideline for residents and businesses on how to care for a protected tree, said Stanley. “The whole intent was to simplify the ordinance and education the public.”

Under the proposed ordinance, an owner may be granted a tree removal permit if the tree is damaged or diseased, or is interfering with a structure. They may also apply to remove the tree for another reason that does not impact the neighborhood.

The law also calls for penalties against anyone caught damaging a protected tree, causing one to die or removing one without a permit. Violators will be charged a citation fee and a fee to replace the tree.

If a commercial tree service illegally removes or trims a tree, the company can be suspended from the city's approved list of arborists and tree trimmers.

Council members are in favor of removing the deodar species from the list of protected trees on the ordinance, even though some are worried that the character of the city's deodar-lined neighborhoods would change if the trees are destroyed or cut.

City Councilman Donald Voss said he doesn't believe the deodar should be on the list because it is not a native tree.

“Deodar tree is a national tree of Pakistan,” he said. “It grows in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Nepal. The word deodar is a derivative of a Sanskrit word that means wood of the gods. It's a beautiful tree, there's no doubt about it, but it's just not a native tree to La Cañada Flintridge.”


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