Tree Ordinance Update Frequently Asked Questions

What type of trees will be protected under the updated ordinance?

Under the updated ordinance, the following types of trees would be protected:
*denotes trees that are currently protected in the Palo Alto Municipal Code

  • Selected locally native species 11.5” in diameter or greater when measured 54” above grade.
    • Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)
    • California Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) 
    • Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)*
    • Blue Oak (Quercus douglasii)
    • California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii)
    • Valley Oak (Quercus lobata)*
  • Any Coast Redwood tree (Sequoia sempervirens) that is 18” in diameter or greater when measured 54” above grade.*
  • Any other tree species that is 15” in diameter or greater when measured 54” above grade.
    • Invasive species as defined by California Invasive Plant Council (CalIPC) excluded.
    • High water use species as classified by the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species list (WULCOS) approved by the California Department of Water Resources (with the exception of Coast Redwood) are excluded.
  • Any tree included in a previously approved project or landscape plan. Under current ordinance these are called Designated Trees.*

What is changing about the parameters of when I can remove a protected tree from a single-family lot?

A tree permit must be issued by Urban Forestry to legally remove a protected tree. The tree must meet certain conditions to qualify for removal. All permit applications must include a report by a certified arborist that demonstrates how a tree meets these conditions and that treatments or corrective practices are not feasible. Under the existing ordinance the conditions that may prompt removal on residential lots are as follows. Additions in the proposed ordinance are shown in italics below.

  • With no development in progress:
    • The tree is deemed to be dead or hazardous. 
    • The tree is deemed to be a nuisance under municipal code. Common reasons to be classified as a nuisance include trees that are damaging public infrastructure, blocking safe sightlines for motorists and pedestrians, or infected with a disease or pest that might spread. 
    • The tree is a detriment to, or is crowding an adjacent protected tree, or is impacting the foundation or eaves of a primary residence.
  • During the development process:
    • All the reasons listed above.
    • the trunk or basal flare of the protected tree is touching or within the building footprint,
    • If no building footprint exists, protected trees shall not be removed unless the trunk of the tree is located in the building area 
    •  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 and reasonable design alternative that would permit preservation of the tree.

Do I need a permit to prune a protected tree on my property?

No. A permit for pruning your own protected trees will not be required. 

However, there are new notification requirements for protected tree maintenance. You will need to notify the City by filling out a simple online form and notify neighbors by posting a notice on the tree or in the front yard visible to passersby about the pruning in advance of the work. Minor maintenance such as removing dead or broken branches will not require notice.

My neighbor’s protected tree is damaging my property. Does the new ordinance address this?

It is suggested that the neighbor be notified, and that some resolution be agreed upon. The updated ordinance includes damage to a neighboring primary residence as a qualifying reason for removal. The removal application still must be submitted by the tree owner, not the neighbor.

Damage to things other than a primary residence, such as lifted or cracked patios or walkways, damaged fences, broken sprinklers, or cracked pools do not qualify as a reason for removal. This applies to both protected trees in your yard or in a neighboring yard.

Please note that the City does not enter into any dispute between neighbors on this matter.

My property is located in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) area south of the Foothill Expressway. What do I do if a protected tree needs to be removed to comply with defensible space guidelines for wildfire prevention?

The Palo Alto Municipal Code fire code regulations take precedence over the tree code in the WUI area. Future ordinance updates may contain a separate set of tree protection guidelines specifically for properties in the WUI area.

The updated ordinance says I need a tree report prepared by a “Designated Arborist”, what does this mean?

Under the updated ordinance, when hiring an arborist for any report that will be submitted to the City, you must choose from a designated list of arborists. These arborists will be added to the list after a review by the Urban Forester to ensure that their work meets arboricultural standards. For certain types of projects that require a review hearing, the designated arborist may be selected by the City.

When would the updated ordinance go into effect?

The ordinance is scheduled to go to the City Council in June 2022. Depending on what action the Council chooses, the ordinance could go into effect summer 2022.