Almost a year after being mocked by its critics, the Alhambra City Council conducted the first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit removal of any oak or native tree that is taller than 15 feet, wider than 12 inches in diameter or 36 inches in circumference.
In addition, a permit would be required to remove any non-native tree that’s taller than 19 feet and wider than 24 inches in diameter or 75 inches in circumference.
“I have to emphasize how huge of a step this is for the city to be considering this, going from zero to something on our books that covers all the industrial zones, all the commercial districts,” said Mayor Jeff Maloney. The ordinance also applies to most residential districts.
The ordinance will come back to the council for a second reading and final approval at a future council meeting.
Several residents favored the new law, but some said it didn’t go far enough.
“There are lots of loopholes about the ordinance as I understand it, and it has minimal teeth,” said Melissa Michelson, who helped organize a rally to save 268 trees last which were ultimately uprooted. “I’m unclear what the citation fee will be if someone removes a tree without going through the process because if it’s just $25 for the loss of a protected tree. That’s not a deterrent.”
According to the ordinance, which currently does not include a schedule of fines or fees for felling protected trees, exceptions could be made if protected trees are designated for removal. The director of community development would then decide the issue. The ordinance also establishes an appeals process through the city’s Planning Commission and City Council.
Violation of the ordinance could lead to a one-year building permit ban.
In residential areas, the ordinance would only protect trees in front yards. Trees in backyards and on the sides of single building homes would be exempt.
Last September, the Alhambra council voted to uproot 268 trees despite outcry from Michelson and other residents. After the vote, the group gathered near the cars of council members and continued a mock circus performance that had started in the council chambers.
“The criteria for approving the permission process for removing perfectly healthy, mature and protected trees is unclear and I would like there to be an element of transparency about that application process,” Michelson said.