First Test Of Newly Strengthened Tree Ordinance
In a test of Emeryville's newly strengthened tree ordinance, a Park Avenue commercial property owner that in Janurary cut down three mature street trees without permission is being notified that he could be penalized $13,800, triple the value of the trees, according to a City Hall interdepartmental letter received by the Tattler.
The February 8th letter, written for City Manager Pat O'Keeffe by the Public Works Department, says the three trees in question were recently inventoried by the city's arborist as part of a city-wide tree count and that their value was determined to be $4,600 a piece. The tree ordinance allows the City Manager to waive the fine but in that case the city council must hold a public hearing and the full fine can be reinstated and imposed at the council's pleasure.
Scene of the crime
Should the fines be successfully imposed as the ordinance calls for, it would be a first in Emeryville public policy; the business sector being held accountable, at least as far as the tree ordinance is concerned.
This case of the tree ordinance, first enacted in 2003 and strengthened by amendment in May 2010, will be the first test of the fortitude of the amendments.
The triple value fine and the requirement for a public hearing were among the amendments, added after several residents pleaded to the city council to better protect Emeryville's publicly owned street trees. Before the amendments, the ordinance, known as the Urban Forestry Ordinance only fined illegal tree cutters the value of the tree removed and allowed the Director of Public Works to waive the fine at his discretion with no possibility of a public appeal in front of the city council. Many residents at an August 2008 council meeting decried that the result of the lax penalties and low fines in the ordinance was that developers kept cutting the street trees.
Before the ordinance was amended, developer Pulte Homes 'Glasshous' project was involved in a particularly egregious violation. In order to save money and to ease construction of the condos, the developer illegally cut every large mature street tree for one full block on 65th Street east of Hollis Street; some 20 trees in all. The Public Works Director, Maurice Kaufman waived Pulte's fines with no explanation offered to the public. Mr Kaufman also allowed the developer to replace the formerly spreading 30 foot tall trees with small six foot saplings. If the newly amended tree ordinance were in effect at the time, such large fines would be levied against Pulte, it's unlikely they would have cut the trees, opting instead to work around them.
The trees illegally removed on Park Avenue were 25-30 feet tall locust trees, located on the south side of the street between Harlan Street and Haven Street just east of City Hall. The owner of the commercial property adjoining the trees was identified as the responsible party according to the February 8th letter.
In addition to the $13,800 fine, the owner of the property could be charged for an arborist fee and also be responsible for replacing the three trees. The ordinance also provides for criminal penalties as well as civic penalties but a city official said it's highly unlikely any criminal intent will be asserted by the city. The City Attorney wrote a letter to the property owner notifying him of the violation and the right to appeal any fines imposed.