Protecting Our Urban Forest


Did you know that Los Angeles has a large urban forest, including an extensive network of mature trees that line our streets? If you've driven through the hills and the San Fernando Valley, including many parts of Council District 2, you surely do. These trees are often decades old and provide shade, aesthetic beauty, improved air quality and myriad additional benefits to our unique and precious urban ecosystem.

Unfortunately, an average of 2,000 street trees get uprooted citywide each year. This happens for a variety of reasons: some are dead or badly declining, some are structurally unsound, some are storm damaged, and some are obstructing pipes, water lines, sidewalks or other public infrastructure that needs to be maintained and improved. Many of those reasons are impossible to avoid, but there is at least one that isn't - the removal of trees due to private development and new construction. 

The city already has a set of street tree policies that are supposed to protect trees from being uprooted unnecessarily. They allow for a permit to remove street trees for the installation of driveways and new curb cuts and for expanding existing driveways. These kinds of permits usually accompany major home or building renovations and new construction projects. 

While the existing street tree policies have provided a small measure of protection, what's on the books now clearly is not good enough. The departments tasked with carrying out the policies need to improve their internal procedures and better coordinate their efforts in order to limit the number of trees that are removed.

I introduced a motion to accomplish those important goals. My motion instructs all relevant city departments to come up with recommendations on how to create new policies that consider the location of existing trees before construction permits get approved. The policies should require any building plans to relocate new driveways and curb cuts, when possible, in order to keep the trees.

For those projects where tree removal is required, I want to increase the tree replacement requirement considerably by mandating the planting of one new 15 gallon tree - at least seven feet tall with a trunk that's one-inch or more round - for each diameter-inch of the tree being removed. 

And for those few bad actors who remove street trees without a permit, I believe they should face harsher fines and penalties to make an example of their bad behavior. A simple slap on the wrist won't do. They need to pay for despoiling our neighborhoods.

My goal is to preserve as many of our neighborhood street trees as possible, while allowing smart construction projects to move forward. 

My motion was just approved by the Public Works Committee this week and will go to the full City Council for a vote on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 10 a.m. See item 11 on the agenda. Please feel free to attend the meeting if you agree that our urban forest should be cherished, not chopped down.