Heritage Tree Ordinance

Every Heritage Tree in the City of San Mateo contributes positively to the quality of life for our entire community. The Heritage Tree Ordinance was created to maintain the welfare of these community treasures, so that all may continue to enjoy their many benefits for generations to come.

Chapter 13.52: Heritage Trees

13.52.010 Intent--Purpose.
13.52.020 Definition.
13.52.025 Tree protection and preservation.
13.52.030 Violations.
13.52.040 Removal--Permit.
13.52.050 Reforestation.
13.52.055 Remedies.
13.52.060 Applicability.
13.52.070 Notification.
13.52.080 Appeal.

13.52.010 INTENT -- PURPOSE. This chapter is adopted because the city has been forested with a variety of healthy and valuable trees which must be protected and preserved, the preservation and reforestation of which is necessary for the health and welfare of the citizens of this city in order to preserve the scenic beauty; maintain property values; prevent erosion of topsoil; protect against flood hazards and the risk of landslides; counteract the pollutants in the air; maintain the climatic balance and decrease wind velocities; and relieve the public costs of installing and maintaining storm water drainage systems. To this end it is reasonable to expect property owners to maintain their trees in a satisfactory condition to keep the City of San Mateo as a sylvan place to live.
It is the intent of this chapter to establish regulations for the protection, removal and preservation of heritage trees within the city in order to retain as many trees as possible consistent with the purpose hereof and the reasonable economic enjoyment of private property. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004; Ord. 1997-24 § 1, 1997; Ord. 1984-7 § 1, 1984; Ord. 1968-35 § 3 (part), 1968: prior code § 65.50).

13.52.020 DEFINITION. Terms used in this chapter shall be defined as follows:
(a) Heritage tree is any of the following:
(1) Any bay (Umbellularia californica), buckeye (Aesculus spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), cedar (Cedrus) or redwood (Sequoia) tree that has a diameter of ten (10) inches or more measured at forty-eight (48) inches above natural grade;
(2) Any tree or stand of trees designated by resolution of the City Council to be of special historical value or of significant community benefit;
(3) A stand of trees, the nature of which makes each dependent on the others for survival;
(4) Any other tree with a trunk diameter of sixteen (16) inches or more, measured at forty-eight (48) inches above natural grade.
(b) Remove.
(1) Cutting to the ground, complete extraction, or killing by spraying, girdling, or any other means of a heritage tree.
(2) A heritage tree pruning permit will contain conditions for pruning. If pruning actually done is not in conformance with said conditions or without permit, it shall be deemed a removal.
(c) Prune. Removal of more than one quarter of the crown or existing foliage of the heritage tree, or more than one third of the root system.
(d) Director. The Director of Parks and Recreation or designee.
(e) Replacement Value. Replacement Value for the purposes of this chapter shall be determined utilizing the most recent edition of the Guide for Plant Appraisal, published by the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers.
(f) Damage. Damage to a heritage tree shall mean the removal of bark greater than 3” across, the breaking or splitting of the main trunk, or the dislocation of the main trunk or any act compromising its health or structural integrity according to accepted industry standards or to cause damage that is severely detrimental to its overall aesthetics.
(g) Tree Protection Plan. A Tree Protection Plan is one that is in compliance with Section 13.52.025(c).
(h) City Arborist. The City Arborist is any certified arborist designated by the Director of Parks and Recreation.
(i) Development Project. Any exterior construction work associated with or requiring a building permit for any new building, building addition, building demolition, site grading, excavation or site paving.
(j) Certified Arborist. An arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004; Ord. 1998-8, § 3, 1998; Ord. 1997-24 §§ 2 and 6, 1997; Ord. 1984-7 § 2, 1984; Ord. 1982-7 § 1, 1982; Ord. 1979-29 § 3, 1979; Ord. 1968-35 § 3 (part), 1968: prior code § 65.51).

13.52.025 TREE PROTECTION AND PRESERVATION. Any person who owns, controls, has custody or possession of any real property within the city shall use reasonable efforts to maintain and preserve all heritage trees located thereon in a state of good health, pursuant to the provisions of this Chapter.
(a) Any application for discretionary development approval for real property or for any other Development Project shall be accompanied by a signed statement by the property owner or authorized agent which discloses whether any heritage trees exist on the property and describes on the plans associated with the application the location of each such tree, its species, trunk size and drip line area. In addition, the location of any tree within thirty feet of the area proposed for construction that is within the public right-of-way shall be shown on the plans and identified by species.
(b) With regard to any tree required to be identified under section (a) above, (hereafter “protected tree”), any exterior construction work associated with any Development Project performed within a radius measured from the trunk center equal to ten times the diameter of the tree trunk measured at 4’ above grade shall require the preparation and submittal of a Tree Protection Plan for review and approval by the City Arborist prior to the issuance of any permit for a Development Project. The Tree Protection Plan shall be prepared by a certified arborist.
(c) A Tree Protection Plan shall at a minimum include the following requirements:
(1) Prior to the commencement of any Development Project, a chain link fence shall be installed at the drip line of any protected tree which will be affected by the construction and shall prohibit the storage of any construction materials, equipment or other materials inside the fence. The drip line shall not be altered in any way so as to increase the encroachment of the construction.
(2) Prohibit excavation, grading, soil deposit, drainage and leveling within the drip line unless approved by the City Arborist.
(3) Prohibit disposal or depositing of oil, gasoline, chemicals, paints, solvents or other materials within the drip line or in drainage channels, swales or areas that may lead to the drip line.
(4) Prohibit the attachment of wires, signs and ropes to any protected tree.
(5) Utility service and irrigation lines shall be located outside of the drip line when feasible.
(6) Include provision for the retention of the services of a certified arborist for periodic monitoring of the project site and the health of protected trees. The arborist shall be present whenever activities occur which will pose a potential threat to the health of the protected trees or whenever any work needs to be done within the drip line of such tree.
(7) Include other provisions as deemed necessary by the City Arborist to preserve the protected tree and insure compliance with those provisions.
(8) Require that the City Building Official be notified whenever any damage or injury occurs to a protected tree during construction so that proper treatment may be administered.
(9) Contain the signature of the property owner and building permit applicant.
(d) Tree Protection Plan Review. The Tree Protection Plan described in Section (c), above, shall be reviewed by the City Arborist. If the plan is sufficient to prevent harm to protected trees from reasonably foreseeable construction activities, it shall be approved and related building permits otherwise complete shall issue. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004).

13.52.030 VIOLATIONS. (a) It is unlawful for any person or entity to remove, or cause to be removed any heritage tree from any property in the city without obtaining a permit to do so. This applies to any owner, possessor or manager of property who removes or allows or instructs another to remove a heritage tree and to any other person, tree removal company or other entity that actually removes or participates in the removal of the heritage tree.
(b) Exception. In case of emergency when a tree is hazardous or dangerous to life or property it may be removed by order of any member of the police or fire departments. Provided further, that any franchised public utility or representative of the city may remove or prune trees which interfere with the safe and efficient operation of the public service for which they are responsible, but only to the extent made necessary by such interference. Subject to the provisions of Chapter 7.24 and 13.35, trees not covered by this Chapter may be removed without permit.
(c) It is unlawful for any person or entity to cause damage to a heritage tree compromising its health or structural integrity according to accepted industry standards or to cause damage that is severely detrimental to its overall aesthetics or to remove fencing or other protective barrier surrounding a heritage tree that was required as a condition of development on the property or to violate the terms of any Tree Protection Plan.
(d) Any violation of the terms of this Chapter or any permit issued under this Chapter is unlawful. Knowingly or negligently providing false or misleading information in response to any disclosure requirements of this Chapter or in application for any permit issued under this Chapter, shall constitute a violation of this Chapter and is unlawful. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004; Ord. 1984-7 § 3, 1984; Ord. 1968-35 § 3 (part), 1968: prior code § 65.52).

13.52.040 REMOVAL -- PERMIT. Any person or entity desiring to remove or prune one or more heritage trees shall apply to the Director for a permit. The application for a permit shall be made on forms provided for this purpose and shall state, among other things, the number and location of the trees to be removed or pruned by types and the reason for removal or pruning of each. The request for such a permit may only be made by the owner or owners of the property on which the trees are located or for pruning by an adjacent property owner of heritage tree limbs extending onto that adjacent property, after notice of the application to the property owner where the heritage tree is located. Heritage tree permits are valid for six months from date of issue. Extensions may be authorized by the Director. The applicant may submit an arborist's report with the permit application to show cause for removal or pruning. Pruning permit applications shall include pruning specifications prepared by a certified arborist.
The Director shall review each application and shall consider and determine the following in rendering a decision:
(a) The condition of the tree or trees with respect to disease, danger of falling, proximity to existing or proposed structures and interference with utility services;
(b) The necessity to remove the tree or trees in order to construct any proposed improvements to allow reasonable economic enjoyment of the property.
(c) The topography of the land and the effect of the removal of the tree on erosion, soil retention and diversion or increased flow of surface waters.
(d) The number of trees existing in the neighborhood on improved property and the effect the removal would have on the established standard of the area and property value.
(e) The number of trees the particular parcel can adequately support according to good arboricultural practices.
In reviewing applications, the Director shall give priority to those based on hazard or danger of disease. (S)he may refer any application to another department, committee, board or commission of the city for a report and recommendation or may require the applicant to supply a certified arborist’s report. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004; Ord. 1998-8, § 3, 1998; Ord. 1997-24 § 6, 1997; Ord. 1984-7 § 4, 1984; Ord. 1968-35 § 3 (part), 1968: prior code § 65.53).

13.52.050 REFORESTATION. Permits for heritage tree removal, removals without permits and causing damage to heritage trees shall require replanting conditions in accordance with the following guidelines:
(a) Trees removed under jurisdiction of a planning approval pursuant to Chapter 27.71 shall conform with the replacement conditions specified in the planning approval.
(b) Trees removed with a valid tree removal permit shall be replaced in accordance with the direction of the Director. Replacement direction shall include direction on the location and species of the replacement tree. Tree replacement shall be one 24" box size tree approved by the Director, for each tree removed.
(c) Trees removed without a valid tree removal permit shall be replaced by a 48” box size tree for each tree removed. Enhanced replant conditions may be imposed if it is determined by the Director that the value of the removed tree was significantly greater than that of a 48” box tree. In such cases, the determination of the level of replacement shall be within the discretion of the Director, but shall not exceed the actual tree loss as determined by the Replacement Value. In addition to the requirements of this subsection, penalties under Section 13.52.055 or other sanctions allowed by law may be imposed for removal of heritage trees without a permit.
(d) Where the Director determines that replanting is not feasible and/or appropriate, e.g., sufficient trees exist on site, the Director (1) may require that a payment of equal value to the cost of the purchase and installation of the replacement tree(s) be made to the City tree planting fund or (2) may place other conditions on the permit which are of equal value to the cost of the purchase and installation of the replacement tree(s).
(e) Any person causing damage to a heritage tree shall be required to take such steps as may be required by the Director to assure the future vitality of the tree, including costs of treatment and/or construction of protective barriers, or if the Director determines that the damage is so great that the tree is no longer reasonably sustainable, replacement of the damaged tree per subsection (c), above. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004; Ord. 1998-8, § 3, 1998; Ord. 1997-24 §§ 3 and 6, 1997; Ord. 1989-36 § 1, 1989; Ord. 1984-7 § 5, 1984; Ord. 1968-35 § 3 (part), 1968: prior code § 65.54).

13.52.055 REMEDIES. (a) Penalties. In addition to the Reforestation requirements described in Section 13.52.050(c)(e), if the Director finds that any person has violated this Chapter by participating in any act constituting a violation under Section 13.52.030, the Director may impose a penalty of up to $5,000 per participant per tree for such illegal act.
(b) In addition to all other remedies set forth in this code or otherwise provided by law, the following remedies shall be available to the city for violation of this chapter:
(1) Any person or entity violating the provisions of this Chapter may be directed by the Building Official or inspector to stop work and to prepare a mitigation plan to correct the violation and mitigate the damage inflicted. Once the violation is corrected and mitigation implemented, the Building Official or inspector shall allow construction to resume. The mitigation plan shall be filed and approved by the City Arborist, agreed to in writing by the property owner(s) and either implemented or guaranteed by the posting of adequate bond or other security. The mitigation plan shall include measures for protection of any remaining heritage trees on the property and shall provide for replacement of each tree removed or damaged on the property or at locations approved by the Director. The replacement ratio shall be determined by the Director according to the provisions of this Chapter.
(2) If a violation occurs in the absence of development, or while an application for a building permit or discretionary development approval for the lot upon which the tree is located is pending, the Building Official may condition the issuance of any building permit or approval upon the completion of a study, to be conducted by the City or consultant designated by the City, but in either case at the expense of the property owner, for the purpose of providing the City an opportunity to consider and determine appropriate mitigation measures for the tree removal and to insure measures are incorporated into any future development approvals for the property for the protection of any remaining heritage trees in the area.
(3) Administrative Citations may be issued under Chapter 1.10 of the Municipal Code. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004).

13.52.060 APPLICABILITY. The provisions of this chapter shall apply to all persons or entities, including the City of San Mateo, or as specifically regulated under other provisions of the San Mateo Municipal Code. A person or entity who has received approval of a planning application which is also subject to the landscape regulations contained in Chapter 27.71, need only obtain a site development permit pursuant to Chapter 23.40 from the planning division for the removal and/or pruning of heritage trees on the property proposed for development. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004; Ord. 1989-34 § 5, 1989; Ord. 1984-7 § 6, 1984; Ord. 1974-50 § 1, 1974; Ord. 1968-35 § 3 (part), 1968: prior code § 65.55).

13.52.070 NOTIFICATION. A decision by the Director shall be rendered for each permit application. If a permit is approved, it will include conditions for the tree removal in accordance with Section 13.52.050. The Director shall give written notification of the decision to the applicant and abutting property owners and include therein a copy of Section 13.52.080. If such real property is occupied by other than the owner, a like copy shall also be left with the occupant. The failure of any property owner to receive the notice shall not affect the validity of any proceedings taken pursuant to the notice. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004; Ord. 1997-24 § 4, 1997; Ord. 1989-36 § 2, 1989; Ord. 1984-7 § 7, 1984).

13.52.080 APPEAL. (a) Permit Applications. Any person may request the Director to reconsider the decision on a permit application made under this Chapter. Such a request shall be in writing, signed by the person making the request, state the reasons the request is made and be filed with the Director not later than five p.m. of the tenth calendar day after the decision. The Director shall review the request and render a decision.
Any person may appeal the reconsidered decision of the Director to the Park and Recreation Commission by filing an appeal in writing with the Director not later than five p.m. of the tenth calendar day after the decision. The Director shall set the matter for review by the Commission at its next convenient regular meeting and provide notice by mail of the Commission hearing to the appellant and applicant at least five days prior thereto. The decision of the Commission shall be de novo.
This decision may be appealed to the Council in the same manner as to the Commission by filing a written appeal with the City Clerk not later than five p.m. of the tenth calendar day after the final decision.
If appealed, the City Clerk shall set the matter for hearing before the Council at the next convenient regular meeting thereof which is at least ten days after receipt of the appeal. Notice of the time of hearing shall be given the appellant and the applicant for permit by mail at least five calendar days prior to the date of the hearing. The decision of the Council shall be de novo.
(b) Appeal of Penalties, Restrictions or Replacement requirements. Any person required to provide replacement under Section 13.52.050 or assessed penalties or restrictions under Section 13.52.055 shall have the right to appeal that determination to the City Manager or designee using the procedures set forth in Chapter 1.11 of this Code. Notwithstanding the limitations set forth in that section regarding Civil Penalties, Civil Penalties under this Chapter shall be limited to the amounts allowed under Chapter 13.52.055. (Ord. 2007-1 § 3; 2007; Ord. 2005-3, § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-6, § 1, 2004; Ord. 1997-24 §§ 5 and 6, 1997; Ord. 1984-7 § 8, 1984).