Tree Ordinance Information

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Introduction

On July 21, 2022, the City's updated Tree Protection Ordinance went into effect. The updated Tree Protection Ordinance better reflects existing city policies and protects a larger part of our urban forest. The ordinance also has new requirements for owners of protected trees. Please see the details on these new requirements and review the components of the ordinance below.

To learn more about the Tree Ordinance Update process, visit the Tree Ordinance Update 2022 page.

Tree Ordinance Components

Tree Protection Ordinance (PAMC Title 8)

The full text of the Tree Protection Ordinance (PAMC Title 8 - Trees and Vegetation) can be viewed and downloaded at the link below.

Definition of a Protected Tree

PAMC 8.10.020 describes the specific categories of Protected Trees. These categories are:

Locally Native Protected Species Trees

Protected Mature Trees

  • Any mature tree measuring 15" or more DBH
  • Invasive species trees and high water use trees are excluded. See our list of excluded trees included on this page.

Designated Trees

  • Any tree designated for protection during review and approval of a development project.

Public Trees / Street Trees

  • "Public trees" include any tree, in any street, park, or public place in the city of Palo Alto. "Street Tree" refers to the Public Trees located in the city road right of way.

Carbon Sequestration or Environmental Mitigation Trees

  • Any tree designated for carbon sequestration and storage and/or environmental mitigation purposes.

Heritage Trees

Replacement Mitigation Trees

  • Any replacement mitigation tree or other tree designated to be planted due to the conditions listed in the ordinance.

Trees Exempt From Protection

PAMC 8.10.020 includes the following exemptions from the Protected Mature Trees category:

"...except those invasive species described as weeds in Section 8.08.010 (Invasive plants, shrubs, hedges, and trees having high potential to invade adjacent properties and high ecological impacts in the region as defined by the California Invasive Plant Council.) and those species classified as high water users by the water use classification of the landscape species list approved by the California Department of Water Resources (with the exception of Coast Redwood)."

The following table lists tree species currently exempt from protection as a member of the Protected Mature Trees Category. For a full list of species considered invasive, please see the California Invasive Plant Council website. For a full list of landscape species and their associated water requirements, please see the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species (WUCOLS) List.

   Species Name        Common Name       List Category   
Alnus rhombifolia  white alder  High Water Use 
Alnus rubra (Alnus oregona)  red alder  High Water Use 
Araucaria columnaris (A. cookii)    New Caledonian pine   High Water Use 
Betula spp.  Birch Species  High Water Use 
Metasequoia glyptostroboides  dawn redwood  High Water Use 
Populus trichocarpa (P. balsamifera)  black cottonwood  High Water Use  
Populus x canadensis  Carolina poplar  High Water Use 
Salix spp willow species  High Water Use 

 

 

  Species Name     Common Name     List Category  
Acacia dealbata Silver wattle  Invasive, Cal-IPC 
Acacia melanoxylon  blackwood acacia    Cal-IPC, PlantRight  
Ailanthus altissima  Tree-of-heaven  Invasive, Cal-IPC 
Cotoneaster spp.  Cotoneaster species  Invasive, Cal-IPC 
Crataegus monogyna  English hawthorn  Cal-IPC, PlantRight
Elauagnus angustifolia Russian olive  Invasive, Cal-IPC 
  Eucalyptus camaldulensis    Red Gum   Cal-IPC, PlantRight 
Eucalyptus globulus  Blue gum  Cal-IPC, PlantRight
Fraxinus uhdei  Evergreen ash  Fruit 
Ficus carica Edible fig  Invasive, Cal-IPC 
Ilex aquifolium  English holly   Cal-IPC, PlantRight
Melaleuca quinquenervia  Cajeput tree  State of CA 
Myoporum laetum  ngaio tree  Cal-IPC, PlantRight
 Olea europaea European olive   Cal-IPC, PlantRight
Phoenix canariensis    Canary Island date palm    Cal-IPC, PlantRight
 Populus spp. Poplar, cottonwood  Downy fruit 
Prunus cerasifera  cherry plum   Cal-IPC, PlantRight
Robinia pseudoacacia  black locust   Cal-IPC, PlantRight
Schinus terebinthefolius  Brazilian pepper   Invasive, Cal-IPC 
Washingtonia robusta  Mexican fan palm  Invasive, Cal-IPC

  

Protected Tree Maintenance Notification

PAMC 8.10.070 covers the maintenance requirements for owners of protected trees. Trees are a city's most valuable living resource. By ensuring trees are properly maintained our community secures the benefits granted by our urban forest for years to come. The following resources can help tree owners learn more about proper tree maintenance.

 

Owners of protected trees are now required to notify the public and the Urban Forestry Section a minimum of 7 days in advance of protected tree maintenance.  Minor maintenance such as what would be required to remove a dead, diseased, or broken branch or branches as well as work on protected trees less than five years old is exempt from notification. Simply use the form below to complete the notification process.

Click here to view form.

Protected Tree Removal Process

PAMC 8.10.050 covers the removal of protected status trees. Allowable reasons for removal and the process required will be determined by the specific situation. Details on the most common situations are itemized below.

Protected Tree Removal in the Absence of Development (residential)

If a protected status tree must be removed from a residential property in the absence of development a Tree Permit is required. Tree Permits are issued by the Urban Forestry Section. The following are the allowable reasons for removal in this situation:

  • The tree is dead, is hazardous, or constitutes a nuisance under PAMC 8.04.050
  • The tree is a detriment to or is crowding an adjacent protected tree
  • The tree is impacting the foundation or eaves of a residence or any covered parking required under PAMC Title 18

To apply for a Tree Permit, simply fill out and email the Tree Permit application along with an arborist report confirming one or more of the above allowable reasons for removal.

Protected Tree Removal in the Absence of Development (non single family residential)

If a protected status tree must be removed from a commercial, industrial, or multi unit residential property in the absence of development, a Staff Level Architectural Review for Tree Removal is required. Architectural Reviews for Tree Removal are issued by the Planning & Development Department. The following are the allowable reasons for removal in this situation:

  • The tree is dead, is hazardous, or constitutes a nuisance under PAMC 8.04.050
  • The tree is a detriment to or is crowding an adjacent protected tree
  • The tree is impacting the foundation or eaves of a residence (structure) or any covered parking required under PAMC Title 18

To apply for an Architectural Review for Tree Removal, contact the Planning & Development Department.

Protected Tree Removal as Part of Development (residential)

If a protected status tree must be removed from a residential property as part of a development project, in most cases no separate Tree Permit is required. Approval of the development project serves as approval for the proposed tree removal. Urban Forestry Section staff will review the development application for compliance with the Tree Protection Ordinance and all applicable tree related policies. Notification requirements may still apply. The following are the allowable reasons for removal in this situation:

  • The tree is dead, is hazardous, or constitutes a nuisance under PAMC 8.04.050
  • The tree is a detriment to or is crowding an adjacent protected tree
  • The tree is impacting the foundation or eaves of a residence or any covered parking required under PAMC Title 18
  • The tree is so close to the proposed development that construction would result in the death of the tree, and there is no financially feasible design alternative that would permit preservation of the tree, where financially feasible means an alternative that preserves the tree unless retaining the tree would increase project cost by more than twice the reproduction cost of the tree or ten percent of the given project valuation, whichever is greater.

Protected Tree Removal as Part of Development Involving a Subdivision of Land

If a protected status tree must be removed from a property as part of a development project that includes a subdivision of land, in most cases no separate Tree Permit is required. Approval of the development project serves as approval for the proposed tree removal. Urban Forestry Section staff will review the development application for compliance with the Tree Protection Ordinance and all applicable tree related policies. Notification requirements may still apply. The following are the allowable reasons for removal in this situation:

  • The tree is dead, is hazardous, or constitutes a nuisance under PAMC 8.04.050
  • Removal is unavoidable due to restricted access to the property or deemed necessary to repair a geologic hazard (landslide, repairs, etc.), in which case only the protected tree or trees necessary to allow access to the property or repair the geologic hazard may be removed. 

Protected Tree Removal as Part of Development Requiring Planning Approval 

If a protected status tree must be removed from a property as part of a development project that requires planning approval (excluding residential projects or projects including a subdivision), in most cases no separate Tree Permit is required. Urban Forestry Section staff will review the development application for compliance with the Tree Protection Ordinance and all applicable tree related policies. Approval of the development project serves as approval for the proposed tree removal. If the applicant wishes to remove a protected tree between the planning approval phase and issuance of a building permit, a Tree Permit may be required. Notification requirements may still apply. The following are the allowable reasons for removal in this situation:

  • The tree should be removed because it is dead, hazardous, or constitutes a nuisance under Section 8.04.050. In such cases, the dripline area of the removed tree, or an equivalent area on the site, shall be preserved for mitigation purposes from development of any structure.
  • Retention of the tree would result in reduction of the otherwise-permissible buildable area of the lot by more than twenty-five percent, and there is no financially feasible design alternative that would permit preservation of the tree, where financially feasible means an alternative that preserves the tree unless retaining the tree would increase project cost by more than twice the reproduction cost of the tree or ten percent of the given project valuation, whichever is greater. 

Tree and Landscape Technical Manual

PAMC 8.10.030 outlines the City's Tree and Landscape Technical Manual (TLTM)

Updates to the new TLTM are still in process. Until the new document is approved and released to the public the existing Tree Technical Manual (TTM) may be used. Where the updated ordinance and the existing Tree Technical Manual conflict, the ordinance takes precedence.

Designated Arborist System

PAMC 8.10.020 defines a Designated Arborist.

 "Designated arborist" means an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture or another nationally recognized tree research, care, and preservation organization, selected by the urban forester for inclusion in a list of approved arborists to be hired by:
   (1)   An applicant at their own expense, or
   (2)   The city at an applicant's expense, if a project includes a public hearing.

 

The City will be implementing a Designated Arborists list for all arborist work required as part of development applications. This list will go into effect around the first of the year 2023. Urban Forestry is still exploring best practices for creating and maintaining such a list. It is important that our requirements for inclusion to the list are fair and equitable. Urban Forestry staff will be reaching out to inform local arborists and tree care companies as the process is finalized.

Until the official list is established, anyone that is an ISA certified arborist or registered ASCA consulting arborist may submit any required reports, plans, or documents associated with development applications.

Tree Disclosure During Development

PAMC 8.10.040 covers the disclosure of tree information during development. All development applications are subject to tree disclosure requirements except for those that do not involve any change in an existing building footprint, nor any grading, trenching, paving, or any change in landscaping which could alter water availability to established plants, hedges, shrubs, or trees.

Tree disclosure information is submitted by completion of the Tree Disclosure Statement by a certified arborist. This form can be found at the link below as well as included as part of the T-1 Tree Protection sheets that are required on all non-exempt plans.