Tree wrangle won’t go away |

Tree wrangle won’t go away

Despite impending winter weather and an emergency rule halting the removal of trees in Nevada City, city officials were unable to reach a decision on a proposed tree preservation ordinance Monday evening.

Therefore, Nevada City residents must still wait and hope that at the next meeting in two weeks there will be sufficient agreement to lift the moratorium and allow for permits to be granted for potentially hazardous trees.

The proposed ordinance – meant to protect healthy trees from cutting – has already undergone nine revisions, all of which have included contributions from residents, experts, and city staff, officials said. On Monday evening, however, several area residents spoke at public hearing and blasted the proposed ordinance for being “piecemeal,” with some speakers even calling the committee who created it “uninformed.”

Nevada City has had a tree ordinance since 1973 and many agree that, for the most part, it has worked. A 1997 amendment to the ordinance added a clause allowing for 20 percent of trees on a lot to be removed “if there was a finding that their removal was necessary to allow for reasonable use of the property,” City Engineer William Falconi wrote in a recent memo to the City Council.

The “20 percent” rule raised concern among some residents and city staff because it failed to address the specific protection of trees in Nevada City. In 2000, there were applications for the removal of several large trees sparking concern about ensuring that the city’s trees would be preserved.

Other vagaries and inconsistencies in the original one-page ordinance prompted the City Council to pass an “urgency ordinance” in April 2004, suspending tree removal permits until Jan. 1, 2005.

In the meantime, city officials would work together on amending the “tree removal” ordinance into a “tree preservation” ordinance.

After a four-month process in which the committee considered similar preservation documents from several other cities – including Jackson’s nine-page document and Santa Cruz’s 105-page document – they were hoping the City Council would move the ordinance forward Monday.

However, opponents called the ordinance “not historically consistent,” lacking a section on liability, failing to address safety concerns, potentially raising property values, and infringing upon the ability for residents to thoroughly enjoy their own land.

Resident Bill Newton warned that the proposal could cause vigilante behavior between neighbors over trees because of lack of enforcement. Foresters and tree removal contractors said they were concerned about falling trees in heavy winter winds.

Others were concerned about the lack of communication between the city staff and residents on the issue. Many were confused about whether they had the most updated version of the ordinance or not.

“Tonight, I don’t think I have the right ordinance. It seems like it is way more complicated,” said Andrew Cassano, a former city planner for Nevada City.

One of the lone supporting voices was resident Kevin Thompson, who said: “On the whole, I think (the proposed ordinance) is great. I think it is more important that these types of decisions go to deliberative bodies.” Thompson said he thought the simpler version would give the planning commission more leeway to make the important decisions on a case-by-case basis.

At the end of the four-hour meeting Monday night, the City Council opted to take the proposed ordinance back to the committee’s table to draft a simplified version – and hope for agreement.

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