An ordinance that city officials say will better protect Sacramento’s existing trees and foster expansion of the urban forest received unanimous approval from the City Council on Thursday night.
Councilman Jeff Harris said at the meeting that he had been working with city staff and the community on an ordinance that provides greater clarity and accountability on how the city manages trees on public and private property. The ordinance, he said, provides more certainty for developers, so they don’t receive entitlements for projects only to have development delayed by appeals on tree removal.
It also is designed to increase protection of city trees by requiring a 15-day posting of a notice to the intent to remove a city tree due to normal maintenance operations. Harris asked that tree removal notices be posted online along with a photo of the tree.
The ordinance creates a funding source and regulations for planting new trees when older ones are removed. It also imposes higher fines for removing trees in violation of the ordinance. The plan allows the city to pursue civil penalties ranging from $250 to $25,000 a day for violations such as removing a major tree without a permit or topping protected trees.
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It also makes it a misdemeanor to fail to treat Dutch elm disease when the city has tagged a tree on private property. Bonnie Hansen, vice president of the Elmhurst Neighborhood Association said residents in her area of the city are particularly concerned about preserving their threatened elm trees and asked that an arborist be assigned to monitor the treatment and proper removal of diseased trees.
The ordinance received the backing of groups such as the Capitol Area Development Authority and the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which argued that it would aid developers of infill projects.
While clarifying requirements for developers regarding tree preservation and removal, council members also called for measures to ensure that tree removal permits are not issued ahead of building permits. They said they want to avoid situations in which trees are removed and development then is delayed or never occurs.
Residents and council members also stressed the need for more trees in many of the city’s low-income areas. Councilman Larry Carr said particular attention should be given to some of the commercial corridors and parking lots that were built before the city had landscaping standards for projects.
Harris said the new ordinance will help address tree equity issues by providing funds for tree planting and replacement through fees paid when trees are removed.