Westlake Village officials growing fond of their trees

SCENIC CITY—A new ordinance will expand the definition of which trees the city would like to see protected. Acornfile photo

SCENIC CITY—A new ordinance will expand the definition of which trees the city would like to see protected. Acornfile photo

The Westlake Village City Council voted last week to expand its protection of trees throughout the city.

The city already has an ordinance in place that designates all oak trees as heritage trees—those that have a significant aesthetic, ecological or historical value. The passage of the new ordinance allows city staff and members of the public to nominate other trees that they feel deserve to be recognized and protected as heritage trees.

Mayor Mark Rutherford said he supports the ordinance because the city has previously faced backlash over permitting tree removal, and choosing specific trees allows the city to balance development with its history.

“I’m from Oregon, I like trees. I’ve got 13 in my front yard and 15 down my side yard,” Rutherford said. “I think we really do need this. It’s not saying that trees are going to stay here forever, and at the same time, we’re not allowing trees to be taken down willy-nilly. It’s a balancing act. You’ve got to present a reason to take it down or to have it designated, and it’s got to be reasonable. Quite frankly, I believe it’s long overdue.”

The new ordinance is the result of a 2016 City Council goal. The initial draft of the ordinance was modeled after the oak tree ordinance. It designated heritage trees based on the species. Concerned that its effects were too far-reaching, city staff rewrote the ordinance to protect specific trees.

Scott Wolfe, deputy city manager for Westlake Village, said the revision allows the council to designate trees based on several factors.

“This is very much the Westlake way, as we like to say. It’s an incremental approach. Rather than taking a large step forward and designating a large number of trees, we would propose this step to identify specific trees,” Wolfe said. “Not just large trees but (ones that are) specific in some other way, be it a historic or cultural context, or some special ecological habitat the tree provides.”

Under the ordinance, trees on private property could receive city protection. Potential buyers would have to be made aware of the protections in such cases.

Once a tree is designated as a heritage tree, its status as such is not permanent. If a homeowner with a heritage tree on their property wants to redesign the property and the tree is an obstacle, they can present their case to the public at a City Council meeting. The council can vote to repeal the protection if the property owner presents a compelling case.

The ordinance also expanded protection of the city’s oak trees. Wolfe said the language in the oak tree protection ordinance wasn’t as clear as it could be.

“The tweaks to the oak tree provisions simply add a couple of words to what constitutes a violation of the oak tree ordinance to try and tighten it up for enforcement’s sake,” Wolfe said.

“We’ve had a couple of incidents in the past few years where our definition of what constitutes a violation was a little bit vague in some instances,” he said.