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Tree removal prompts review in LCF

Unusual incident prompts City Council to make changes to ordinance.

February 20, 2014|By Sara Cardine,sara.cardine@latimes.com

A La Cañada resident living on the 700 block of Forest Green Drive was fed up last month with a neighboring sycamore tree that continually dropped leaves into his pool. Seeing that the property next door where the tree grew was unoccupied and in the process of being "flipped" by an investment firm, the resident instructed his gardener to remove the tree.

After the property owners filed a police report against the neighbor and the gardener, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department contacted the city's code enforcement division to weigh in on the matter, according to Vahe Massih, an enforcement officer.

For years, La Cañada had been refining its ordinance pertaining to protected trees — including sycamores, deodars and trees whose diameters exceed 30 inches — and outlining penalties and compensations for removing them, either through a permission process or illegally.

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Until recently, the ordinance concerned itself only with the owner of the property on which a protected tree was located. According to that section of the Municipal Code, the owner would be cited if a removal was done without permission, and required either to replace the downed tree at his or her expense or pay into the city's general tree replacement fund.

But as of Tuesday, language has been adopted specifying the city's response in rare instances when a property owner's tree is removed or significantly pruned without his or her permission.

That and information related to how lost trees are valuated, the restitution limits for downed trees of different sizes and how low-income offenders may appeal very high city fines were detailed for City Council members Tuesday as they approved amendments to ordinances initially adopted in July.

The council also adopted guidelines for tree preservation and protection, the publication of which they hope to circulate throughout the community.

Community Development Director Robert Stanley recounted the tale of the resident and the sycamore tree at Tuesday's meeting as he explained some of the new information staff members had included in the ordinance to cover unlikely occurrences that may surface.

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