HomeCity NewsCity Council Grows Protections for Glendale’s Urban Canopy

City Council Grows Protections for Glendale’s Urban Canopy

Updates to Glendale’s Municipal Code will expand the city’s existing tree canopy protection by 40% — an increase that will give Glendale the highest-ranking percentage of canopy protection proportionately in the state, according to Loren Klick, the city’s urban forester.
The City Council voted to amend several ordinances related to tree protection at its Feb. 13 meeting, including applying existing protections for street trees to city-owned trees such as in parks and open spaces.
Another major adjustment to the current code is the fee citation process and fee amounts. In the city’s previous ordinance, there was no distinction between enforcement standards for minor versus major violations for a first time offense. For example, the fee for a first offense minor violation such as improper pruning and the fee for a first time major offense such as completely cutting down a street tree illegally could both be $400 under the old law — though minor first offenses are often first met with a warning.
“Such minor consequences do little to dissuade parties motivated to destroy trees and limit the city’s ability to maintain existing tree canopy or plant enough trees to make up losses,” city staff’s report to City Council stated.
The city’s previous indigenous tree ordinance set a maximum penalty for illegally cutting down a tree at $10,000 but was “unclear as to what other amounts may be appropriate, meaning every case must be discussed with the city attorney’s office,” according to the staff report.
These fines have now been clarified and are calculated based on the city’s cost to plant a new tree and the appraised value of the tree. Fees range from $1,090 to $26,210, depending on a tree’s size.
Klick emphasized that in the last five years, he has only seen a $10,000 fine issued once or twice per year, calling it “very rare.”
If the city can prove that a tree removal was done with knowledge that city approval was required, damages can be tripled.
“While each situation is different, a theoretical example would be if a person pulls construction and tree permits, with conditions to preserve a specific city protected tree. If that person opts to remove the tree anyway during construction, this clause may apply,” Klick told the News-Press, adding that this can also happen if someone has been denied a permit to cut a tree and does so anyway.
Councilwoman Elen Asatryan voted against removing the $10,000 maximum fee. She said this was not because she did not believe in strengthening enforcement, but that she was worried the city’s public outreach would not sufficiently educate residents.
“The truth of the matter is I don’t have faith that we are doing our due diligence on [the outreach and education] front and I would hate to vote for something that results in someone unknowingly [violating the law] and getting a $26,000 fine for cutting a tree,” she said. “I can’t with a good conscience vote for that.”
During a Feb. 6 Council meeting, Councilmembers passed a resolution appropriating $134,000 in funding to hire a consultant to create a multimedia campaign — available in multiple languages — to educate the community in proper tree care, preservation and permitting, and to highlight key points of the revised tree ordinances.
To ensure proper replanting, the city also added specifications for replacement tree sizes and planting methods.
“If we are requiring trees to be planted, we would like to be able to require that those trees are set up to survive and planted properly,” Klick said.
The new ordinance also gives the city the right to mandate the replanting of a replacement tree if that tree dies before reaching protected size. The city can also now require an arborist report if construction may impact a tree.
Councilwoman Paula Devine and Mayor Dan Brotman asked city staff to explore requiring an arborist report for any development application where the site has trees. City Attorney Mike Garcia responded that this sort of specification was not in line with the ordinance items City Council was looking to amend at present, but that he will come back to the Council with a separate ordinance to include that requirement.
Brotman also brought up the idea of implementing a systematic tracking system to examine the impact of development on Glendale’s canopy. He wants to set up a comparative annual data collection to analyze how much of the city’s canopy is lost due to development each year.
The City Council maintained its protection of six indigenous trees including the bay tree, California sycamore and native oaks — though they tightened the definition of protected oak species such as the scrub oak.
Staff looked at options for protecting additional private trees, additional tree species and mature shade trees, but decided not to recommend these protections as they will cause “substantial” costs to tree owners and will require additional staffing and workload from city staff.
Public commenter Rondi Werner, a commissioner on the Sustainability Commission, said it was “disappointing” that staff did not add these additional protections.
“We have no plan to protect a single private tree, such as the wonderful heritage trees that give our city immeasurable environmental, aesthetic, cultural and economic benefits,” Werner said.
“The decrease in the city’s urban tree canopy over the last decade proves that we need to rethink how we protect trees and protecting the trees we already have is obviously the most efficient means of restoring the canopy,” she added.

First published in the February 24 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

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