Sparked by Twin Palms incident, officials strengthen penalties in city’s tree ordinance

Months after the Pasadena Weekly reported two historic and supposedly protected palm trees had been illegally cut down by a developer, officials strengthened penalties contained in the city’s tree ordinance.

Last week, the Pasadena City Council directed the City Attorney’s Office to increase penalties for violators of the law. Under the amended penalties, anyone who removes a public or protected tree without permission could face fines, jail time and be forced to pay the city the value of the tree.

“We have experienced night raiders that have done this type of bad act,” said Councilman John Kennedy, who called on the City Prosecutor’s Office to add language that would punish offenders. Under the revised ordinance, trees must be protected and construction crews could be asked to submit a bond to cover the value of the tree.

According to the city, Pasadena has an “urban forest” of about 60,000 city-owned trees growing in parks, open spaces and along city streets. A 2015 study by the US Forest Service estimated that 12.5 million trees in California died as a result of drought conditions.

In December, the PW discovered that two iconic namesake palm trees at the site of the former Twin Palms restaurant had been cut down without permission.

The removal of those other public trees led to accusations of arborcide against the city by some local residents.

But the city wasted no time in showing local residents that it did not support the removal of the two palms, and immediately threw the book at the company.

Jack Guiragosian, who owns Sunshine Management Group LLC and the property, was fined nearly $6,000 for cutting down the trees without a permit.

According to Pasadena Public Information Officer William Boyer, the dormant restaurant’s two enormous namesake Canary Palm Trees were protected by the city.

The city forced Guiragosian to stop work on the project after the trees were cut down until the fines were paid.

Last month, the city Design Commission approved the project, allowing it to proceed.

Under the new ordinance, anyone who illegally cuts down a protected tree could be charged with a misdemeanor, and face a $1,000 fine per day until the tree is replaced and a year in jail.