Tonight: Protecting heritage trees in Woodside


How severely should Woodside penalize property owners for illegally cutting down heritage trees? That issue returns to the Town Council on Tuesday, April 26.

The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. in Independence Hall, 2955 Woodside Road, but the discussion on trees is scheduled to follow public hearings on two town ordinances:

■ An update to local laws governing the use of fire-resistant materials in buildings such as barns and stables and in accessory structures such as trellises, carports and gazebos.

■ New regulations governing the placement of devices to protect the public water supply from possible contamination from water being stored on private property.

Returning to the trees: In early March, the council seemed partial to the idea of violators paying for the purchase, planting and maintenance of a full-grown tree equivalent in size to the illegally removed tree. But given the complicated nature of successful replanting of large trees, such an operation could cost the property owner between $10,000 and $100,000, an arborist told the Almanac.

Mayor Ron Romines said at the time that he was surprised by such costs and that the council would be looking for a way to deter egregious acts against trees while not assessing unreasonable penalties.

In a recent staff report, Town Manager Susan George noted fines of $500 and $1,000 in nine Bay Area communities, including Atherton, Portola Valley, Palo Alto and Redwood City.

Under the current system of fines, set in 2007, violators are supposed to pay $5,000 for the first illegally cut heritage tree, $7,500 for the second and $10,000 for each one after that. But in September 2009, when it came time to mete out the punishment, the council backed off.

Residents Dr. Eric and Jacquie Weiss were facing fines of at least $92,000 after a "misstep," Dr. Weiss said at the time, in not obtaining a $60 permit before thinning a grove of about 35 trees on their Sand Hill Road property by removing 10 significant Coast Live Oaks.

A tree is significant in Woodside if it measures 9.5 inches in diameter at 48 inches above ground.

The Weisses said they planned to restore a corral area that had become overgrown. They appealed to the council, which reduced the fine to $10,000 after reaching a consensus on the couple's good intentions.

Woodside's current fine is "rather high," Ms. George said at the time. Her report recommended a standardized and predictable process, such as a requirement to either replace the tree or pay a fine of twice the tree's appraised value as specified in an industry reference book.

Go to this link for an Almanac story on the council's March 8 discussion on a tree protection ordinance, or this link for a story on an incident in which the council levied a $10,000 fine in response to a tree-cutting incident.

Go to this link for a story on water quality and the use of waterline backflow preventers at Woodside homes.

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