City Council Takes First Step to Update Tree Ordinance

The city has updated the tree ordinance for first time since 2012. Photo by Nancy Lem

The City Council recently took the first step in updating the city’s tree ordinance to clarify the process of tree removals on residential properties along with increasing tree replacement requirements for development projects.

The council unanimously approved the first reading of an amendment to the city’s tree ordinance at its last meeting on Jan. 15. The last update to the ordinance was back in 2012, according to city officials. The amendment is expected to ensure the protection of the city’s tree canopy.

South Pasadena has an estimated 21,000 trees and is known as a “Tree City USA,” which is a national designation awarded to cities that meet the necessary requirements, including having a Tree Care Ordinance. The city adopted the ordinance on Feb. 20, 1991, according to the city staff report prepared for the City Council.

The existing 1991 tree ordinance was in need of an additional amendment to reduce confusion and remove some potentially conflicting directives, city officials said.

The updated ordinance is aimed at clarifying the process for tree removals on residential properties as well as in new commercial developments. It also ensures that trees are protected during construction of developments and it will increase tree replacement requirements for such projects, city officials said.

“South Pasadena, rightfully, takes a lot of pride in its trees – estimated at more than 21,000,” said John Pope, So Pas public information officer. “This updated ordinance will help clarify the rules and regulations so that the tree canopy can be preserved and enhanced for future generations.”

The current tree ordinance also apparently caused some confusion over what was required by the Natural Resources and Environmental Commission (NREC) and the city, Pope said.

“Before it wasn’t always consistent between the planning commission and NREC and wasn’t spelled out in the ordinance,” Pope said. “Now the process will be clear for residents and commissioners. This includes establishing criteria for when staff will refer tree removal applications to the NREC.”

The matter was reviewed by the NREC and it made “minor modifications and edits which have been incorporated into the proposed Chapter 34 (Trees and Shrubs) amendments,” according to the city staff report prepared for the City Council that was reviewed at its Jan. 15 meeting.

“The proposed Tree Ordinance amendments reflect the City’s goal of protecting and maintaining a healthy tree canopy,” the city staff report states. “Edits have been suggested throughout the chapter, some grammatical in nature, and others are points of clarification to better define the tree removal process, as well the level of care required by residents of trees on their property.”

Moreover, the amendment will ensure that trees are protected during development activity, improve the tree removal permit process and provide clarifications to help permit applicants, and increase the tree replacement requirements for trees associated with development projects, according to city officials.

“The entire Tree Ordinance has been reorganized to improve the flow and make it easier for residents to follow the process for the various types of tree applications,” the staff report states. “Some changes included requirements for tree trimming, process for appeals and additional development requirements for tree removal and tree trimming permits, which incorporates compliance with International
Society of Arboriculture (ISA) standards for tree care, irrigation, and maintenance (standard of care).”

The next step is to approve the second reading and adoption of the ordinances amending Chapter 34 (Trees and Shrubs) of the South Pasadena Municipal Code (SPMC) at the Feb. 6 City Council meeting.