On Tuesday, the Oakley City Council discussed the idea of strengthening its tree maintenance ordinance at the request of city staff to assist in reducing complaints and neighbor disputes.
Upon finalization, anticipated within the next month, it will mandate tree and root maintenance in an effort not to interfere with public right of ways to prevent obstructions or damages while reducing liability for both the city and property owner.
According to the staff report:
Over the past several years, City staff have been asked about unpermitted tree removals, enforcement of tree replacements, and ownership of trees. The most common topic that members of the public have questions about are the mutual maintenance responsibilities of the City on one hand, and the adjacent land owner, on the other, related to street trees and other trees planted on public property.
The amendments will clarify existing law related to tree maintenance so that both City staff and members of the public have guidelines related to their respective responsibilities that are clear and fair, and reasonably balance the public interest in a thriving urban forest with the realities of limited government resources.
During the meeting, City Attorney Derek Cole explained what the ordinance will achieve.
“Basically, property owners will be responsible for their trees from the roots to the very top of the tree. That includes the trunk, the branches, the canopy, the roots and any manner which the tree can interfere with public rights of way or neighboring properties will now be regulated,” said Cole. “If you have excessive leaves falling, those have to be picked up. If roots are starting to grow under sidewalks or onto neighboring properties, the property now has an obligation to eliminate that problem. If branches are overhanging sidewalks, or overhanging neighboring properties, there now has to be some pruning.”
Cole said it was basically a municipal code to address the maintenance of trees on peoples property where the property owner could be liable for damages caused to neighboring properties or the sidewalks.
Cole said it could become a code enforcement issue which could begin with a citation followed by possible abatement process depending on the severity of the issue.
Oakley Public Works Director Kevin Rohani stated this issue was brought to the council because they get complaints on a regular basis involving trees and hoped this would clarify the code and allow them to execute their jobs.
Councilman Kevin Romick had concerns if this ordinance would create pettiness and ticky-tack issues between neighbors. Cole responded they have the ability to determine if this is a code violation or something between neighbors.
Councilwoman Sue Higgins explained how a developer had put in trees that drops a whole bunch of “junk” and so people buy a home and now you have a home that is littered with all this stuff. She also highlighted how the city has planted trees that cause a mess.
“The city has trees along Brown Road that drop these porky-pine balls that explode, and they make a huge mess right, so are we going to be able to call the city and come into my backyard and clean that up that those are the city trees,” asked Higgins. “Then it says a minimum vertical pedestrian clearance, well how tall is that? Because when I ride my bike a lot of times along Laurel, you can’t ride a bike, so how tall is that for pedestrian clearance? I just think there has to be more. If we are talking about the accumulation of leaves and a tree then our developers have to get on board with finding us trees that are not dropping all this stuff.”
Rohani stated that the city was making efforts over the last few years to develop new tree standards which developers are planting the right kinds of trees to prevent these issues 5-10 years down the road. Rohani said the minimum height would be 7-feet to ensure proper clearance.
He added that the ordinance gives them the tools to begin to determine fact from fiction when it comes to neighbor disputes—allows Oakley not to get involved with petty fights.
Vice Mayor Randy Pope asked for clarification on Section E, F & G – especially Section E to make it more clear for residents who may live next to a part and be allowed to trim trees and roots coming into their yards.
Councilman Doug Hardcastle confirmed that this ordinance was including leaves.
City Manager Bryan Montgomery chimed in saying most people already comply.
“95% of the time, everything we are talking about here people just take care of their things. They take care of the leaves, neighbors get along and work it through. If the lemons are hanging over in my yard I take them, but we work it out,” explained Montgomery. “But we have had some instances, let’s say 7-to-8 a year where we have someone who is actually damaging someone else’s property, now this codifies it, it gives us the tools for the very few cases when we need to act, but nothings really going to change.”
Montgomery added that those leaves that blow, if they are your leaves on your property or in the street, you need to pick them up.
Hardcastle stated his property was up against a vineyard and the leaves blow into his yard and was constantly cleaning them up. He added that he didn’t complain, but simply was left cleaning up the leaves since they ended up on his property.
Montgomery replied that technically those leaves were damaging Hardcastles property and should assist him in cleaning it up.
He continued by saying this was an ordinance that is in every city and everyone should just clean up their mess.
The council ultimately opted against taking action Tuesday and directed the city attorney to work on the language in Ordinance and bring it back at a future meeting.