Battle to protect threatened trees can appear futile

For an advocate for trees not only in Curtis Park but also throughout Sacramento, trying to preserve city and private protected trees through the city’s tree appeal process can seem futile.

Urban Forestry has crafted a process so any tree can be removed, even if the tree is healthy, structurally sound and has public support for preservation.

Tree appeals are not all handled in the same manner. City trees being removed as part of Urban Forestry’s tree maintenance program are appealed to the Public Works director’s designee, which is Urban Forestry.

I have appealed a few city tree removals, but quickly realized it was useless. It’s like appealing a traffic citation to the police officer who issued it. Furthermore, it would reflect poorly on Urban Forestry staff if a tree they claimed warranted removal was preserved.

City trees and private protected trees that Urban Forestry has granted a removal permit cost $298 to file an appeal. This charge was instituted to discourage concerned residents from opposing tree removals.

There was a significant spike in tree removal when the paradigm shift occurred in Urban Forestry from protect-and-preserve to remove-and-replace.

A hearing officer who is not a degreed arborist hears appeals. Developers present arguments on why the trees can’t be preserved. But the hearing officer (who may not have an understanding of tree biology) must weigh arguments to preserve or remove and render a decision within 10 days of the hearing.

At a hearing last July, such a strong case was made to preserve a 34-inch diameter, 65-foot-tall London plane at 12th and O streets that the project manager requesting removal was allowed to submit additional information after the hearing was closed.

When a public records request was submitted for a public tree in the Land Park neighborhood, the city claimed there were no records. However, records that would have bolstered the case for preservation did exist but weren’t released until after the tree appeal hearing was over. Why? Because based on the information contained in these records, the hearing officer would have denied the removal permit.

Removal of city trees for public projects requires prior approval from City Council. City staff gets as much time as needed to present the project and trees proposed for removal. Residents opposed to the tree removals get only two minutes to testify. City staff also has the opportunity to respond to councilmembers’ questions after public testimony is closed.

A Curtis Park resident recently filed an appeal for a private protected tree in a front yard across the street from her home. I inspected the tree, but from the ground was unable to make an accurate assessment if it could be preserved. My recommendation was to withdraw the appeal and use the $298 fee to assist the tree owner in obtaining an advanced assessment by a qualified ISA certified arborist. However, Urban Forestry indicated there would be no refund even though the hearing hadn’t been held. In another case, a developer withdrew a tree removal permit request for four mature Canary Island date palms. There was no appeal hearing, but again Urban Forestry indicated there would be no refund.

The message is clear: Don’t waste your time or money trying to save trees because Urban Forestry is prepared not to allow trees to be saved.

Written by Dan Pskowski and posted on Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

Categorized: Editorial, SCNA Advocacy, Trees, ViewpointTagged: , , , ,