La Canada tree

La Cañada City Council members recently voted to impose steep penalties for the removal or damage of trees in the public right of way. (File Photo / July 25, 2014)

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Anyone who removes or critically damages a tree in the city’s public right-of-way could face stiff penalties — up to $18,000 — after the La Cañada Flintridge City Council recently determined restitution amounts for such violations.

The discussion came during a public hearing in which the council voted to adopt an official map of city trees. This document will act as a guide for determining, area by area, which trees should be planted given the local aesthetic and botanical history.

At the end of the session, council members unanimously voted to impose new penalties for removing a city tree or for causing damage that results in the death of one. The fines amount to five times the wholesale cost of installing a replacement tree.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Voss said he agreed with making the fees high enough to act as a deterrent.

“These are not an individual’s trees,” Voss said. “They belong to the entire city.”

Removal of a tree 12 to 23 inches in diameter will net a $1,770 fine, while the loss of trees 24 to 35 inches across will come with a penalty of $3,525. The maximum fee of $18,000 will be imposed when trees with diameters of 36 inches or more are harmed.

In most neighborhoods, the public-of-way comprises the first 20 feet of a residential property line measured from the street. Though this is primarily the case, several streets and drives within city limits are private or semi-private and have different right-of-way designations.

That’s why La Cañada officials are trying to raise awareness of the city’s newly approved tree ordinance and penalties homeowners could face should they dig up or detrimentally prune a city tree on or near their property.

In addition to door-hanger notifications, city staff have created a book of Tree Preservation and Protection Guidelines, which highlights the new rules and offers tips for the watering and caring of different tree species.

Councilman Dave Spence said he hoped the steep penalties would inspire the community to learn more about right-of-way and the new tree guidelines. If you don’t know what the rules are, he advised, ask someone who does.

“When you do cut a tree in the public right-of-way, it’s going to cost a lot more than if it were privately owned,” Spence said. “If you have a question about a tree, just call city staff — they can give you an answer in 24 hours.”

For more information on the city’s tree ordinance or trees in the public right-of-way, contact the Public Works Department at (818) 790-8882.