Thursday, November 12, 2009
After a wild storm snapped a 30-foot Monterey pine in Georgia Booth’s yard, the Del Monte Park resident not only paid $4,000 to remove it, but also $250 for the arborist’s report and tree removal permit required by the city of Pacific Grove. When a city form asked about her plans to replace the tree with two more native pines, she checked a box saying she’d prefer not to: “I already had a landscaped yard.”
But nine months later, in fall 2008, a volunteer with the city’s Beautification and Natural Resources Committee – the appealing body for the city’s two-for-one tree replacement policy – stopped by to see if she’d planted the new pines yet. She balked, but the city held its ground.
The last straw fell in February, when Booth received a notice threatening jail time if she didn’t comply. So she started Residents for Responsible Change, a group targeting the two-for-one policy.
“They said I’d go to jail, but I marched forth,” she says. “Everybody has a tree story in Pacific Grove.”
Article V of P.G.’s Tree Preservation and Protection Ordinance, regarding trees on private property, states: “To the extent feasible, every tree which is removed shall be replaced on site by a minimum of two trees” of a “comparable” species, at the owner’s expense. Noncompliance is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail, plus as much as $250 per day in civil penalties.
Trees are a touchy topic in P.G., which recently saw a heated showdown between parents and school administrators over the guerrilla-style planting of four apple trees at Robert H. Downs Elementary. (On Nov. 5 the school board unanimously granted clemency to the non-preapproved saplings.) Now the controversy over the city’s two-for-one policy is inching toward resolution.
Mark Travaille, acting BNRC chair, says the ordinance isn’t as draconian as some believe. The phrase “to the extent feasible” leaves wiggle room: In September about one-third of private property owners weren’t required to replace lost trees at all, he says, and others were allowed to plant only one. “Like all things in P.G., there are some people who have good reason to be upset, and it gets bantered around,” he says. “People continue to think you have to plant two-for-one, and that’s just not the case.”
City Councilman Bill Kampe, who formerly served on the BNRC, concedes that parts of the ordinance are excessive. “I think the council will be open” to the revisions, he says.
About 20 residents attended the BNRC’s Oct. 27 meeting to voice their objections to the ordinance, which the committee is reviewing at the council’s request. “I’d like to use the word ‘reasonable,’ so that people not only can adhere to it, but they want to,” Mayor Carmelita Garcia says.
Booth hopes substantial revisions will make the policy more flexible and site-based, incorporating concerns about utility access, fire safety and homeowner’s insurance.
Public Works Superintendent Celia Perez Martinez says while the two-for-one policy will likely remain on the books, it makes sense to liberalize it, especially since the current version is rarely enforced. The BNRC may revise the policy to allow “up to two [replacement] trees” of a “suitable” species, she says, and soften the penalties so noncompliant residents don’t face jail time.
Travaille confirms any changes will likely be subtle. “We’re tweaking some of the language,” he says. “Maybe it should be relaxed a little bit, but I wouldn’t say we’re abandoning it.”