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Tree ordinance raises residents’ ire

Angry arborists argued against Nevada City’s proposed tree ordinance Wednesday, decrying its strict “hands-off” approach. The critics said the plan could convert Nevada City into a sea of cedar and tree-of-heaven that is ripe for forest fires and bark beetle attacks.

“They’ve defined the problem only (as) homeowners cutting trees,” said Eldon Cyrus, an arborist and owner of Cyrus Tree Service. “The problem of tree preservation is how do we save trees from things that hurt trees – fires, beetles.”

Saving big and old trees was the primary goal when the City Council embarked on its tree ordinance revision this spring. Dismayed the Grass Valley City Council had allowed the felling of a 130-year-old redwood tree, Nevada City members of council felt compelled to act.



They decided to write a new ordinance protecting the city’s trees, but first, to block any last-minute cutting, they halted all tree downing for 45 days.

Meanwhile, a committee was formed, charged with the task of creating an ordinance to seal a loophole. Previously, property owners were allowed to clear 20 percent of their land with a permit obtainable at City Hall. A large, stately tree could be cut without Planning Commission approval, a situation viewed as problematic by the council.




Nine meetings later, the committee has a draft ordinance it likes, but one opposed by many Nevada City residents.

“I love trees more than anybody, but I want (trees) that are diverse, safe, and healthy,” said Randall Frizzell, a tree consultant and Nevada City resident.

Frizzell has many misgivings about the ordinance, which he said is unnecessary. The ordinance protects any tree that reaches a certain size, favoring fast-growing species such as cedars and the weedy tree-of-heaven, he said.

It requires property owners to cut diseased trees and penalizes those who don’t comply with the ordinance.

Cyrus is particularly concerned the ordinance violates the recently passed Nevada County Fire Plan, which requires property owners to groom their property to reduce fuel.

Nevada City Fire Chief Sam Goodspeed could not be reached for comment Thursday. Tony Clarabut, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection unit chief, and Rich Reader, a member of the Fire Plan committee and a county administrator, both declined to comment on the proposal.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday returned the draft ordinance to the City Council on a 3-2 vote, overriding concerns from several commissioners the ordinance does not address arborists’ concerns.

“Once the newspaper gets ahold of this, we will look like big ol’ meanies,” said Commissioner Evans Phelps.

Several commissioners acknowledged the need to return the ordinance to the council with haste, allowing officials to lift the moratorium – which continues to prevent the removal of trees that don’t qualify as “dead, dying, diseased, or about ready to fall on your head,” in the words of City Planner Ed Martin.

At least 12 trees are waiting to be cut, Martin said.


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