Council Splits Tree and Parkway Ordinance
May 29, 2013
Council Splits Tree and Parkway Ordinance
Mulling an introduced ordinance to amend and clarify regulations for tree removals and standards for parkways in Culver City, the City Council Tuesday decided to split the ordinance.
It asked city staff to create two separate ordinances to cover what they felt were separate issues.
Council member Andrew Weissman, after hearing the city’s staff report, noted that the topic of parkways had not been the subject of community meetings and he wanted the public to have more time to consider options for parkways.
Weissman asked Public Works Director Charles Herbertson if this could be done by having the city draft separate motions for trees and parkways.
Herbertson said the city could rewrite the ordinance but it would take some time. Helen Kerstein of Public Works agreed that staff would come up with a separate, revised tree removal ordinance by July 10.
As submitted, the proposed ordinance outlined several revisions to the Culver City Municipal Code (CCMC) for the removal of trees.
The current guidelines list the following criteria: “Whether the tree or trees pose a potential for safety problems despite a sound maintenance program; whether the roots from adjacent parkway trees are interfering with sewers or utility lines….. whether the tree is dead, dying or incurably diseased; whether the tree is diseased and weakened by age, storm, fire or other injuries so as to pose a danger to persons, properties, improvements and other trees; whether the tree(s) is of an undesirable species; whether the tree poses a hardship to the adjacent property owner.….. and whether removal is necessary for construction of a street improvement project or other public improvement/repair work.”
Staff recommends that these criteria be updated. A provision that the applicant for tree removal must prove that the damage inflicted by a tree or trees to private property will cost at least $5000 “is especially burdensome as it often precludes the Public Works Director from recommending removal of a tree that may otherwise merit removal.”
Staff recommends that the CCMC for tree removals be updated with additional clarity and flexibility and that cases involving the $5000 in damage to private property be documented.
Added also would be a procedure for cases where tree removal would be necessary for the construction of a private improvement project. Redundant language would be deleted and more specified criteria for which trees should be removed individually or in combination would be added.
In regard to parkways (defined as the land area between the street curb and the sidewalk), staff proposed revisions in regard to defining what plants can be used for parkways, due to the increasing awareness about sustainable vegetation. Property owners are also seeking guidance as to what plantings and other improvements are allowed for parkways.
Two aspects of the parkway section of the ordinance that seemed vulnerable to public protest involved the banning of benches on parkways and also the use of edible plants and fruit-bearing trees.
The prohibition of benches was included because staff regarded benches as being a safety hazard as well as creating a risk of loiterers. Fruit trees were banned because their fruit, when it drops on the sidewalk, can also be hazardous.
Because a dozen speakers had signed up for public comment on the tree removal/parkways ordinance, the Council allowed them to speak, despite their postponement of a vote.
As might have been expected, the bench and fruit tree issue was raised. Colleen Brown, one of several speakers who represented the activist group Transition Culver City, said she appreciated drought-resistant plants (which the city is encouraging) but also said she supported Vice Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells who backs the idea of benches and fruit trees on parkways.
A woman pointed out that it was hypocritical to ban fruit trees and not ban ficus trees on parkways because not only do ficuses shed “purple berries” that get mushed on the sidewalk but they also have large roots that grow through the sidewalks and push the concrete into upheavals.
Stephen Murray argued that edible vegetation in parkways would be sustainable and urged that there be public input on the proposed parkway regulations.
Michelle Weiner proposed allowing curbside vegetable boxes, pointing out that Culver City has limited vegetable garden space.
And Rich Waters, a perennial advocate for trees at City Council, warned that palm trees ought to be excluded from the definition of trees as they are more related to grass and their leaves, as such, do not provide enough CO2 to be considered sustainable.