$15,000 fine proposed for Redondo Beach homeowners taking out a tree

Trees which provide a canopy along Redondo streets, and cool asphalt by their shade, are one focus of the proposed tree ordinance. Photo by Garth Meyer

by Garth Meyer

A new tree ordinance for private property to “regulate the unfettered removal of trees in an effort to preserve, and grow a desirable tree canopy in Redondo Beach” was proposed by Fourth District Councilman Zein Obagi, Jr., at the March 15 city council meeting.

He called for no-front yard tree removal without a replacement with a 24-inch box tree from the city’s species list.

A permit should be obtained first before hiring a Tree Removal Service. If no permit is obtained, the homeowner could be fined $15,000, and required to pay for the planting of five mature trees somewhere in the city for each tree taken out. 

No criminal enforcement would occur.

“Education will be key, once the policy is finalized,” Obagi said.

The council voted 4-1 to direct City Attorney Mike Webb to draft the proposed ordinance for review and public comment in July.

Councilwoman Laura Emdee cast the dissenting vote.

“We already have these policies, except for on private property,” she said. “Most of the trees along the street belong to the city, anyway.”

Emdee noted that the city has a list of 2,000 locations where more trees may be planted.

South Bay Association of Realtors president Theresa Bruno also spoke against the council’s move.

“In addition to tying the hands of property owners from managing the vegetation on their own parcels, the proposed punitive fine of $15,000 is massive,” Bruno told Easy Reader. “It equates to multiple mortgage payments and/or annual property tax payments, potentially for new buyers, who may have unknowingly violated the tree ordinance.” 

Emdee asserted that trees are most often cut down on private property for safety reasons.

“People don’t just take out trees for the heck of it,” she said. ”Is the goal to increase the tree canopy or have a system to call on neighbors when they take out trees?”  

Councilmember Todd Loewenstein put forth the hypothetical case of a family who wanted to build an accessory-dwelling unit (ADU) in their backyard for an elderly parent, which would require removing a tree. He said the action should be allowed, but with the requirement to replace the tree with five others elsewhere in the city. 

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be five. We can look at that,” Loewenstein said. 

Realtor Bruno had a suggestion. 

“Instead of overreaching into property rights and imposing exorbitant penalties, the City of Redondo Beach should invest in planting more trees in its public rights-of-way,” she said. 

The issue came to the council’s attention in 2018 when resident Mara Lang, a South Bay Parkland Conservancy board member, complained to the council that a neighbor had removed a tree in their front yard. 

A 24-inch box tree is a young tree 6-10 feet tall with its roots encased in a 24” X 24”  wooden box. ER

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