To: Rules Committee From: Councilmember Dave Cortese
Subject: Tree Preservation in San Jose Date: January 17, 2007
It is recommended that the Rules Committee agendize the following for the 1/30/07 City Council Meeting or the soonest City Council Meeting by which city staff can have the necessary documents prepared and properly noticed (but no later than the February 13, 2007 City Council Meeting); the Rules Committee should also discuss the possibility of an urgency ordinance on this topic:
Discussion and direction regarding illegal tree removal in San Jose and protecting San Jose's urban forest. The framework for this discussion shall include but not be limited to:
1) Possible revisions to city ordinance to reflect increased fines for illegal tree removal. Fines should be increased to be commensurate with age and quality of the tree.
2) Possible revisions to city ordinance to require a one-to-one mitigation for trees illegally removed. Such mitigation would mean replacement in the exact location with a tree of equal or greater current value (size, shape, health, age, etc).
3) Development of a workplan and associated fiscal impact analysis for a comprehensive inventory of San Jose’s urban forest utilizing existing resources.
4) Review of staffing in the City Arborist’s Office for possible recommended adjustment as part of Mayor Reed's NIUP Budget Session.
5) Possible revisions to city ordinance that reflect a clear and proactive process, including broad public dissemination, for heritage tree nomination and preservation for trees on public and private properties.
6) Development of an outreach plan to key stakeholders related to the outcomes of the City Council discussion and/or direction on this topic.
The protection of San Jose’s urban canopy is of vital importance. From an ecological perspective, studies show that just one shady tree can save a homeowner $80 a year in energy costs. Street trees cool the air, reduce pollution, and absorb storm-water runoff. As far as non-ecological benefits, property values are seven to twenty-five percent higher for houses surrounded by trees and consumers spend more time at shops near green landscapes. At least one study suggests that patients who can see trees out their windows are hospitalized fewer days than patients who cannot see trees out their window.
Despite evidentiary support for the value of a healthy and growing urban forest, San Jose’s current regulations seem to fall short of achieving this important vision. The recent events in Willow Glen are only an example of what is occurring across the city, oftentimes without vigilant neighbors and public procedures to alert us to these violations. The City Council should use this as an opportunity to further strengthen our own regulations and add increased protections to our municipal code. This will send a strong signal to individuals and/or companies intending to perform illegal tree removals that such acts will not be tolerated.
Increased Fines for Illegal Tree Removal
Although fines were increased in 2006, this should be revisited for possible sharp increases, tied to the age and condition of the tree. The older the tree, the higher the fine should be. Staff should assess the implications of a fine up to $2,000 per year of age of the removed tree. This would result in the removal of a 40 year-old tree (commonly found in San Jose’s older neighborhoods) costing the remover at least $80,000 in fines. Such a fine, although high, will act as a true deterrent and would become a lien on the property. Staff should also review how to extend the fine to not just the property owner but anyone who actively participated in the removal process, such as the tree removal company.
True One-to One Mitigation for Illegal Tree Removal
Besides penalties, mitigation should require an exact replacement of the removed tree in terms of size, shape, age and health. A strict replacement policy will act as a true deterrent because it would in essence put a moratorium on development or certain uses of the property until such time as a satisfactory transplant could be located, or a new, younger tree could reach maturity.
Inventorying San Jose’s Urban Forest
Until we undertake a comprehensive documentation of the existing locations of trees we will have a difficult time enforcing tree removal provisions in instances (unlike Willow Glen) where there are not always vigilant neighbors to report the violation and/or there is not a pre-existing record attesting to the tree’s health, age, etc. Previous efforts to launch such an inventory were met with resistance due to budgetary constraints. Staff should investigate how to launch an inventorying effort utilizing existing resources and initiatives such as city staff already deployed in the field, vendors (i.e. AT&T Project Lightspeed) undertaking field projects, contractors, Our City Forest, SNI volunteers, and others.
Staffing in the City Arborist’s Office
Of continual concern to the City Council is the necessary staffing to protect and grow our urban forest. The Council should review options for increased staffing in this office for further discussion as part of Mayor Reed’s Budget Priority Setting Session to be held on February 20, 2007.
Heritage Tree Nomination and Preservation
Section 13.32.140 of the Municipal Code sets forth certain provisions with respect to heritage trees. For trees on private property, it is my understanding that the onus rests on an individual citizen to nominate a tree for heritage status (it could be the property owner or someone who has the consent of the property owner), at which point the city examines the tree and if believed to be worthy of heritage status, will forward the candidate tree to City Council for approval. It is also my understanding that a process does not exist for nominating trees for heritage status that are on public property. Staff should bring forth options for City Council discussion and possible action on improving the proactive nomination of trees for heritage status on public and private properties.
Outreach Plan for Illegal Tree Removal and Protecting San Jose’s Urban Forest
Street-lined trees are throughout San Jose, from commercial centers to neighborhoods. Any discussion and possible action on this topic will affect various sectors of our community and therefore a comprehensive outreach plan to key stakeholders must be put in place to make sure the final product reflects the ideas and concerns of all affected.