Tree and Stump Removal

The City of Palo Alto manages approximately 37,000 trees on City property including along streets, in parks, and around city facilities. The Urban Forestry Section provides all required care (using both City and contract resources) for public trees during the tree’s lifespan including planting, pruning, line clearing and tree removal.  Acknowledging the ultimate decline of a tree, eventual removal of a public tree will be necessary.  All Urban Forestry Section staff actions are directed toward building and enhancing the urban forest, and public trees are removed only when necessary as a last resort.

Why do we need to remove trees?

In wild-land areas, forests follow natural life processes. The trees of the natural forest grow old, contract diseases and eventually die. After the tree falls on the forest floor, it eventually decays and supplies nutrients back into the soil. This self-sustaining natural process, unfortunately, cannot take place in urban areas because of the nature and conditions of the urban forest. The Palo Alto urban forest needs to be conscientiously managed in order to protect the health, safety and property of the residents and businesses.

Approximately 1-2 percent of public trees are removed annually. The decision to remove a public tree is based upon the condition of the tree in question.  The primary reasons for tree removal are: the tree is dead, dying, diseased, or is considered hazardous. It is important to note that hazardous conditions may exist above and/or below ground and may include significant root, trunk or crown decay, split trunks and crotches, and large dead limbs. In addition, trees may be identified for removal when they have declined beyond the point of recovery and are no longer meeting the functional requirements of a street tree (i.e., providing shade canopy). Typically, a tree with 30 percent or less of its foliage remaining would meet this criterion. Fatally diseased trees (e.g., Dutch Elm Disease) may be removed before they meet the primary or secondary thresholds in order to prevent the spread of disease to healthy trees. In some rare cases when a tree is creating significant, burdensome litter (such as a fruiting Ginkgo tree), the Urban Forester may determine that the tree is a removal candidate and replace it with a more suitable species. Less commonly, trees may be identified for removal when unavoidable construction work will immediately compromise the stability or viability of the tree. 

The Removal Process

Trees that are removal candidates are identified by requests from residents or businesses, through the development process (as described below in Private Development Projects), through routine field work by Urban Forestry Section staff, or by other City staff or contract employees. All potential public tree removals are inspected and may be approved by Urban Forestry Section staff arborists (Urban Forester, Arborists, Project Managers, and Tree Trim-Line Clear Leads). Inspections may require multiple site visits and are often a collaborative effort between staff members.  

Once a tree becomes a removal candidate, staff take several steps to provide public notice prior to any trees being removed. The tree is first marked with a red or orange paint dot on the street side of the trunk. Written or telephone contact is made with the owner and/or tenant (if not the initial contact) of the property adjacent to the tree. The written or telephone contact is documented in the tree record database. Additional properties are notified when the tree is located very near the side property lines. When applicable, written or telephone contact is made with the initial contact. After notifications are completed, tree removal lists are compiled from the database and submitted for approval.  After approval, a fourteen-day Tree Removal Notice is also posted on the tree prior to removal. A replacement tree is planted at or near the location when there is an appropriate site. If the removal includes a significant tree or a number of trees, a letter is also sent to the affected neighborhood association. In an emergency or when an immediate hazard exists, Urban Forestry Section staff have authority to remove a tree without approval or notification.

Private Development Projects

Proposed private building projects with potential negative impacts to publicly-owned trees are subject to the Planning Department's permitting and public hearing process which includes the Public Works Urban Forester's inspection and approval.  Removals caused by private projects are considered a taking from the public tree-scape. Trees that fall under this category are not permitted for removal unless the final planting plan results in an overall improvement to the public tree-scape. Typically, healthy and viable trees are protected through these projects. Occasionally, removals are permitted to facilitate an improvement to the public tree-scape. To be considered an improvement the project must include at least one of the following criteria:

Removal and replacement of a tree or trees that are hazardous or in poor health.
The proposed planting configuration results in a substantial improvement to the public treescape (i.e., an increase in tree numbers in viable sites or improvements to existing planting sites).
The applicant shall submit their arborist report for Urban Forestry review.
Contingent upon approval of the arborist's report the by Urban Forestry, the applicant shall be responsible for all public outreach and posting. Signage will be provided by Public Works.

Stump Removal

Stump removal occurs after the tree has been removed to the ground.  Because of the specialized nature of the work and the equipment required, the City contracts with a private company to remove stumps.  For cost efficiency, the project manager waits for an accumulation of stumps before the removals proceed, and stump removal may be delayed for up to six months after tree removal.  Once the appropriate quantity of stumps are accumulated, a list is compiled and the contractor will commence removal.  The contractor will temporarily remove all public and private improvements within the stump removal site and will remove all stump and roots using specialized grinding equipment.  The hole created by stump removal is filled to grade with native soil and mixed with the ground stump chips.  This prepares the area around the stump for replanting.  If the site is found suitable to support tree growth, a new tree will be planted.  Replanting will occur during the optimum replant season, which is generally November through March.

Replanting After Removal

If a vacant site (where a public tree was removed) is suitable to support a new tree, the site is replanted with a suitable tree species.  Because the stump has to be placed on a stump removal list and because the planting season is typically during the dormant season, this process -- from removal to replanting -- may take up to 1.5 years.

Notice of Special Utility Infrastructure Project

The City of Palo Alto Utilities Department is working on a project to enhance the security of the local electric utility grid by providing for proper tree abatement, fence realignments, equipment access routes and other improvements at the City's Colorado Ave. substation

This project came about in part from the Electric Substation Physical Security recommendation report, dated 2017, from the City of Palo Alto's 3rd party Consultant, Burns & McDonnell, in compliance with recent Federal Department of Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulatory standards to enhance the security of the electric grid.

In getting all nine of our electric substations secured, we are directed " ... to remove as many trees and shrubs as practical from a 20' radius inside and outside our electric substation fences". Fences are to be "replaced to bring up to current standards" with a goal to "increase the space between the fencing and the utility assets within the electric substation". There is to be a 'clear-zone' to eliminate hiding places for any potential saboteurs, show an 'occupied' appearance, open up the view for outward pointing security cameras and lighting, and eliminate climbing aids for potential saboteurs to gain entry over the fences. With regulatory responsibility for the 'electric grid', FERC is stepping up the enforcement of protection for our nation's electric assets.

For a list of trees to be removed, please see the Tree Removal List.(PDF, 73KB) Final removals for this project take place no earlier than the week of April 25th-29th 2022.    



A current list of tree removal locations including a brief reason for the removal can be found here: Tree Removal List.(PDF, 73KB)   If you have further questions, please call  the Urban Forestry Section at 650-496-5953.