Tree Ordinance Update

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Introduction

The City is working to update its Tree Ordinance to complement current policy documents, strengthen requirements and procedures for when protected tree removals are proposed, and comply with new state legislation. The first tree protection ordinance was added to the Palo Alto Municipal Code in 1951 and its last substantive update was in 2001. Since then, the City implemented new policy documents such as the 2015 Urban Forest Master Plan (UFMP), which contains goals and policies to sustain and enhance Palo Alto’s Urban Forest. Many of these policies and goals are also tied to sustainability efforts contained in the 2030 Comprehensive Plan and the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP).

The current Tree Ordinance update under consideration generally includes proposed changes that would protect more native California species, promote drought resistant and tolerant species, and protect most other tree species over a certain size. Check back on this web page for updates, community meetings, and other ways to provide input.

NEW! What's Next?

The City Council voted to adopt the Tree Ordinance Update at their June 6 meeting. So, what happens next?

  • A second reading of the new ordinance is scheduled for the June 20, 2022 City Council meeting
  • Pending the second reading on June 20, the new ordinance would have an effective start date of July 21, 2022

June 6 Council Meeting Consideration of Tree Ordinance Updates

After outreach and community engagement about the new Tree Ordinance in advance of the June 6 meeting, the City Council voted to adopt the Updated Tree Ordinance at their June 6 meeting. Included in the updated ordinance:

  • Expanding the definition of protected trees to incorporate four additional protected native tree species, and all trees (except high water users) with a diameter at breast height of 15 inches or greater
  • The proposed ordinance describes criteria for removing protected trees in specific scenarios outside of a development process and creates more stringent requirements when related to a development project
  • Maintenance requirements for property owners who have a protected tree on their property including noticing ahead of pruning work
  • New posting requirements for proposed protected tree removals and an appeals process when removals are approved
  • Increase staffing resources needed for development plan review, tree removal permit review, violations investigation, and enforcement

Some revisions that were added after conducting engagement and outreach include tree damage language to accessory dwelling units (ADU) and required covered parking as an allowable reason for protected tree removal, further definition of “financially feasible design alternate,” creation of a Public Works Department appeal process for tree removal in the absence of development, reduction of the notification requirement from 600 ft to 300 ft, and other language updates to align with industry terminology for tree appraisals. 

Read the full staff report and Tree Ordinance here.

Goals for the Tree Ordinance Update

  • Achieve a greater percentage of native, drought-tolerant and climate adapted species
  • Ensure no loss of community benefits
  • Increase habitat, health, and social benefits
  • Strive for no net loss/increase in canopy cover
  • Minimize negative effects on the urban forest from development

Summary of Proposed Tree Ordinance Changes

  • Expand the number of protected native species to preserve and expand the urban forest
  • Introduction of a protected tree size threshold of 15-inch diameter at breast height (DBH) for all other species excluding invasive and high-water users
  • Introduction of a Designated Arborist system that would create a list of City-approved arborists for residents to choose from when submitting development applications
  • Inclusion of a development moratorium when protected trees are removed outside of the development process.
  • Revisions to reasons for allowable removal of protected trees to reflect situations where protected trees are negatively impacting structures
  • Expand notification requirements and appeals procedure for the protected tree removal process

Timeline to Adoption

March: Start receiving public input and feedback on the Update

April: Community Information Session on April 6

April: Study Sessions to review the Update and receive feedback from the Architectural Review Board and Parks and Recreation Commission

June 6: Council approval of the updated Tree Ordinance

July: City Manager approval of Tree and Landscape Technical Manual

Ways to Stay Informed and Involved

Join an upcoming community meeting, read previous staff reports, and watch presentations.

On June 6, the City Council at their meeting will review the proposed ordinance, community input and feedback, and will be asked to approve the proposed ordinance. If you would like to provide input, there is opportunity for the community to provide public comment before or at the meeting. Learn about how to submit public comment here and join the meeting here

Review the June 6, 2022 City Council Staff Report(PDF, 957KB).

Note: The open forum with questions, answers, and comments begins at 23:31 after the staff presentation.

Helpful Resources

Title 8 Trees and Vegetation (Current Tree Ordinance)

Draft Proposed Updated Tree Ordinance-June 2022(PDF, 513KB)

Urban Forest Master Plan

Tree Technical Manual

2030 Comprehensive Plan

Sustainability and Climate Action Plan

August 10, 2021 Policy and Services Presentation

August 10, 2021 Policy and Services Staff Report

October 18, 2021 City Council Presentation

October 18, 2021 City Council Staff Report (begins on page 343)

April 6, 2022 Community Meeting Presentation Slides(PDF, 7MB)

Draft Updated Ordinance-April 2022 (redline)(PDF, 404KB)

Draft Updated Ordinance-April 2022 (clean)(PDF, 343KB)