Trees are valued in Woodside, as demonstrated by the ordinance that protects them, adopted in December 2006 after months of deliberation. The first un-permitted felling of a significant tree triggers a fine of $5,000; the second, $7,500; and $10,000 for each one after that.
But for residents who run afoul of this law -- two, so far -- the Town Council has shown that it also values mercy.
In 2007, the council suspended the fine for a resident who dug up and moved three oaks to Atherton. On Sept. 8, the council could have levied a $112,500 fine on Dr. Eric and Jacquie Weiss over the felling of 12 trees, but reduced it to $92,500 for 10 trees, then settled, uncomfortably, on $10,000.
At its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, in Independence Hall, the council will have a look at penalties in similar Bay Area communities, based on a survey by town staff, and may vote on a resolution that would confirm the $10,000 fine against the Weisses.
The staff report, which includes the survey, is in response to at least one council member expressing concern about Woodside's fine structure, Town Manager Susan George said via e-mail. A resolution to levy the $10,000 fine had been set for the Sept. 22 meeting, but Ms. George delayed it, citing the concerns she'd heard.
Two council members were absent for the unanimous vote on Sept. 8. Mayor Peter Mason was away and Councilwoman Deborah Gordon recused herself since she is an employee of Stanford University, which leases the property to the Weisses.
The report said that Woodside and many of the communities surveyed have the option of considering ordinance violations as misdemeanors, which typically include fines and/or jail time.
A significant tree in Woodside is one that measures greater than 9.5 inches in diameter at 4 feet above ground.
Specific penalties for cutting such trees vary, though none approached Woodside's penalties, the report said. In Portola Valley, the tree must be replaced with a native variety with a minimum 15-gallon root ball.
In Atherton, the law is being updated but is likely to require a violator to contribute $500 to a fund for planting and maintaining community trees. The town may also require replacement of the tree, the report said.
Los Altos Hills can require a violator to plant five substantial trees for every one removed, at locations determined by the town, and pay into a multi-year bond to maintain the new trees, the report said.