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L.A. council wants to level $1,000 fine against those who illegally remove trees

September 22, 2009 |  4:50 pm

Looking to protect more of its urban forest, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to draft a law allowing city inspectors to issue a $1,000 fine for anyone who illegally removes a street tree.

Under the proposal, citations would be issued to those caught chopping down a tree without city permission in a median strip or on a parkway — the area between the curb and the sidewalk, said Bill Robertson, general manager of the Bureau of Street Services.

The fine also would apply to trees that are on private property but have other city laws protecting them, including California bay, western sycamore and Southern California black walnut trees. Three violations within a year would result in the filing of misdemeanor charges in Superior Court, according to the proposal.

“The problem we’re trying to address is the illegal removal of trees, especially protected trees” such as native oaks, said Cynthia Ruiz, president of the Board of Public Works, which supports the proposed fine.

The proposal comes more than three years after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched his initiative to plant 1 million trees. That program drew fire after The Times reported that organizers were handing out seedlings with a high mortality rate and counting them as planted. Since then, Villaraigosa’s team said the program has surpassed the 245,000-tree mark.

The council voted 14 to 0 to seek the new fine, which would be imposed on anyone caught causing major damage to a street tree’s root system or pruning in a way that causes a tree’s premature death, officials said.

Once a new law is drafted, the council will need to cast a final vote on the fine.

The tree protection measure drew support from Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose Watts-to-San Pedro district was identified in a recent study as the section of the city with the least tree “canopy.” Still, Hahn said the city would need to do more to help its residents lawfully remove trees whose invasive roots cause damage to sewer lines and other infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of frustrated people out there in the city who feel these trees were planted a long time ago, they were the wrong kind of tree and now they’re wreaking havoc on their sidewalks,” she said.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who pushed for the new fine, said residents who need to remove an aging tree can call 311 and ask for a visit from a city arborist.

“They will come out. They will inspect it. And if they agree with you, they will issue the permits” for the tree’s removal, Rosendahl said.

-- David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall