Department of Public Works

  • Tree Protection Ordinance Summary

    In recognition of the significant aesthetic, environmental, and economic benefits to the community provided by trees, and to increase the tree canopy in Pasadena, the City Council adopted measures to protect public trees, landmark trees, native trees and specimen trees in certain areas of the city. 

    Public, Landmark, Specimen and Native Trees  

    1. Public trees are those trees located on property under ownership or control of the city.
    2. A landmark tree is a tree designated under chapter 2.75 (Cultural Heritage) because it is one of the largest or oldest species located in the city; it has a historic significance due to an association with a historic building, site, street, person, or event; or it is a defining landmark or significant outstanding feature of a neighborhood.
    3. A specimen tree is a tree of a species and size established on a list adopted by the city council and is thereby presumed to possess distinctive form, size or age, and to be an outstanding specimen of a desirable species. There are 63 species listed on the specimen tree list.
    4. A native tree is a tree with a trunk size of more than 8 inches in diameter and is one of thirteen listed species.

    Public Trees

    All public trees are afforded protection in the ordinance and it is a violation to prune, remove, injure, or plant a public tree. No attachments (wire, rope, sign, or nail) to public trees, tree supports, shrubs or plants in public places are permitted. The Public Works Department will review out-of-cycle pruning and planting request submitted by a property owner. Requests for the removal of public trees will be reviewed and approved by the City Manager or designee based on the following criteria:

    1. The condition of the tree in regards to health, age, viability, and performance.
    2. Public tree consistency with the Master Street Tree Plan,
    3. Project consistency with the General Plan policies and objectives,
    4. The project will enhance the urban design strategy set forth in the General Plan, Specific Plan, or applicable long-term planning documents,
      After thoroughly exhausting feasible design alternatives, the only recourse is to remove the tree so that the prevailing setback along the block face can be enhanced.

    For one or two public trees, the City Manager will notify the abutting property owners and applicant ten days prior to the removal. For three or more public trees the City Manager will also notify the City Council, Design Commission, and any known neighborhood association.

    Native and Specimen Tree Protection Areas

    In single family residential and RM-12 (Multi-family two units on a lot) zoning districts, native and specimen trees are protected in the established front yards and corner side yards, and required side yards and rear yards.

    Established yard means the area between the property line and principal structure on a lot. Required yards for each zoning district are defined in the zoning code. If any portion of the tree is located in the yard, then the entire tree is protected.

    Landmark Tree Protection Areas

    Landmark trees are protected in all areas of all zones, on private as well as public property.

    Landmark Tree Designation Process

    Any person or agency may nominate a tree for landmark designation. The Cultural Heritage Commission will review all such nominations and make a recommendation to the City Council. Upon City Council approval, and if no objection has been received in writing from the property owner, the tree will be designated as a landmark. A covenant will be recorded with the office of the county recorder.

    Further Protection

    In the Central District (CD zoning district), the design authority may require modification of the building setback requirements (without a variance) to protect a landmark, native, specimen or public tree.

    Tree Protection Guidelines

    The tree protection guidelines set the standards and specifications for the protection of trees and are adopted by resolution of the City Council. The guidelines offer protection measures for projects involving construction and require submittal of a tree protection plan for review and approval. Specifically, the guidelines seek to avoid mechanical injury to tree roots, trunks, or branches; the compaction of soil; and changes to existing grade, which may expose or suffocate tree roots. The plan must show trees on-site, on the adjacent public property, and any protected tree on adjacent private property that might be impacted by the proposed project. Key elements to the guidelines are for the requirement of fencing to protect the trees, and inspections before, during, and after construction.

    Landmark, Native and Specimen Tree Removal

    Requests for the removal of a landmark, native and specimen tree will be denied unless one of the following findings is made:

    1. There is a public benefit, or a public health, safety, or welfare benefit, to the injury or removal that outweighs the protection of the specific tree (public benefit means a public purpose, service, or use which affects residents as a community and not merely as particular individuals); or
    2. The present condition of the tree is such that it is not reasonably likely to survive; or
    3. There is an objective feature of the tree that makes the tree not suitable for protection; or
    4. There would be a substantial hardship to a private property owner in the enjoyment and use of real property if the injury or removal is not permitted; or
    5. To not permit the injury or removal would constitute a taking of the underlying real property; or
    6. The project includes a landscape design plan that will result in a tree canopy coverage of greater significance than the tree canopy coverage being removed, within a reasonable time after completion of the project.

    In addition, a request for the removal of a landmark tree will be denied unless the procedures specified for the removal of landmarks and the granting of a certificate of appropriateness is first followed. Relocation of a specimen or native tree will be treated as a removal.

    Tree removal requests with a discretionary action will be reviewed by the applicable decision-maker. Decisions on tree removal are subject to standard appeal and call-for-review procedures. Specimen and native tree removal requests, not associated with any discretionary action, will be reviewed by the City Manager or designated staff, with a decision rendered 15 days after the application has been deemed complete. In this case, the appeal process is the same as for a planning director decision.


    No permit is required to prune non-protected trees, specimen trees or native trees on private property. Pruning of a designated landmark tree requires a permit and the pruning work must be done according to the most recent standards of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

    Exemptions to Permits

    No permit is required to remove a protected tree if it is deemed hazardous by the city manager, or any police officer or fire fighter. No permit is required for city employees or city contractors to prune trees for compliance with statewide regulations governing electrical lines. No permit is required for city employees or city contractors to remove or prune a native, public, or specimen tree for the public health, safety or welfare as deemed by the City Manager. No permit is required for the removal of a tree on a project site for which a variance, conditional use permit, or design review approval has been obtained from the city prior to June 10, 2002 or for which a valid building permit has been obtained prior to June 10, 2002.


    Violators of the ordinance and/or approved tree protection plan may be charged with a misdemeanor or infraction. A misdemeanor can result in up to six months imprisonment and a maximum $1,000 fine. An infraction can result in a $250.00 fine. In addition, there may be civil penalties, late payment penalties, administration fees, and tree replacement costs charged to the violator.

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