The Ordinance

City of Los Angeles Tree Guarantee Fee Planting Plan

Background

On May 22, 2019, the City Council adopted as amended the Board of Public Works’ (Board) proposed establishment of a Tree Replacement Guarantee (In-Lieu) Fee (Non­ Refundable Deposit) to provide development and residential projects an additional permit option to (a) satisfy the Department of Public Works’ Tree Replacement Policy of “2 x 1” or 4X1” ratio (Tree Replacement: Tree Removal) and (b) provide the Department of City Planning with an alternative compliance option for Private Residential Development Projects to meet the City of Los Angeles’ Zoning Code requirements (CF No. 16-0461). Rather than having a nursery bound tree, this option allows the Board via LAMC Section 62.169 or Department of City Planning’s Director via LAMC Section 12.21 (G)(2)(a)(3) to make a determination that a site cannot feasibly accommodate a required tree. Ordinance No. 185573 went into effect on July 5, 2018, which was adopted by City Council as amended to require City Council approval of Board determinations of the locations for trees planted using the in-lieu fees based on the location of the project triggering the Development Tree Planting Requirement or the tree removal permit triggering the Public Works Tree Planting Requirement, as well as the need for additional trees in an area.” (CF No. 16-0461).

  • This is language is important to pay attention to! It specifies that replacement trees should be planted “based on the location” of the development project where trees were either removed from or in-lieu fees paid. It also specifies that City Council must approve of the Board of Public Works’ suggestions for new tree locations.

As part of the adopted action, the City Council requested the Board to report on the: (1) progress on tree replacement and planting six months after instituting the in-lieu fee; (2) tree replacement ratio, including not just a 2 to 1 ratio, but possible equivalents in replacement trees accounting for canopy size of the removed mature tree; (3) alternatives to allow for more flexibility in the distribution of the trees throughout the City; (4) creation of a detailed plan to accompany the aforementioned Ordinance for future tree planting, covering planting locations (e.g., streets and parks), quality of trees, and a timeline to ensure the right tree in the right place; and (5) a long-term tree monitoring system.

  • There is no evidence that City Council has received a “report” from the Board of Public Works on the progress or efficacy of this Ordinance. This is definitely something that should be happening at least once/per year.

In brief, Tree Removal Permits are required when removing street trees located in the public right-of-way or removing protected trees. Tree Removal Permits for 1 or 2 trees are issued and approved by the City’s Chief Forester pursuant to LAMC Sections 46 and 62 and in adherence to Board policies. The Board is responsible for approving, upon scheduling a public hearing, the removal of three or more street trees, and any Southern California native protected tree. On June 17, 2015, the Board codified and adopted its Street Tree Removal Permit and Tree Replacement Conditions Policies, which among others designates the Bureau of Streets Services’ (BSS) Chief Forester as the authorized agent to issue tree removal permits, require a 30 day public notice and hearing for removal of three or more street trees, and establishes tree replacement on a 2 X 1 basis with 24″ box size trees and three years of watering.

On a case-by-case basis, the Board may approve adherence to the tree replacement 2:1 ratio by allowing the applicant to deliver an unplanted tree(s) to the Bureau’s nursery due to planting space limitations and/or plan design constraints. The adopted Ordinance now provides both the Board and the Department of City Planning a new option to guarantee that a tree(s) is planted by providing the funds required to plant the tree in the ground instead of the tree going unplanted at a nursery. The new Ordinance also allows the Planning Department an option to offer developers to guarantee tree plantings instead of undergoing an alternative compliance measure, which reduces a considerable amount of time and planning by the developer.

  • The term “compliance” is mentioned in the above language with respect to developers having alternatives to planting trees surrounding their projects when there is not enough space. However, there is currently no compliance checking happening with respect to: 1.) The Planning Department requiring developers to follow the Ordinance (in fact there is evidence to the contrary) or 2.) City departments checking how many replacement trees are being planted and where.
  • Nothing about this process is transparent to the public.

Although the goal is to plant every tree and ensure the survival of all replaced trees, many unplanted trees delivered to a City tree yard or local nursery end up “unplanted” for a long period of time and some eventually die for various reasons. Major drivers of why these trees end-up unplanted, not-adopted, or dead include, include the:

  • Quality of Tree Stock;
  • Age of Tree Stock (some become root bound due to time);
  • Type of Tree Species (mis-match due to space);
  • Size of Tree (mis-match between 15gal, 24″, 36″, or 48″); or
  • Care for Inventory (staff expertise and resources).

As a result, the Tree Guarantee Replacement Ordinance has provided an option to bolster the City’s commitment to conserve, replace, and protect the City’s urban tree canopy by reducing the number of trees that go unplanted, un-adopted, or die at a City yard or nursery.

TREE GUARANTEE ORDINANCE UPDATE (PROGRESS)

From June 2015 through June 2018, the Board approved various Tree Removal Permits with a permit condition to deliver an aggregate of 301 unplanted trees to the City’s nursery. However, since the adoption of the Tree Guarantee Ordinance from July 2018 to November 2019, the Board has not approved any nursery bound tree(s) and instead approved 103 trees (from October 24, 2018 through November 25, 2019) under the tree guarantee replacement option for three or more tree removal permits. Therefore, the practice of sending a tree to the nursery, which is likely to go unplanted, appears to be curtailed and the practice of ordering and planting a tree “just in time” or “when ready to plant” is now the new normal in tree planting when a site cannot feasibly accommodate a tree.

In brief, the tree guarantee fee is separated into three major categories for Private Commercial and Residential City Planning Development Projects is $2,612 per tree while the Residential (Non-Development) Public Works Projects is $1,945 with a subsidized amount of $267 per tree for Residential Public Works Projects that are four units or less.

  • The above language describes “three major categories” of “tree guarantee” fees that are supposed to be collected under this Ordinance. In other words, the city grouped together more than one type of tree mitigation issue into this all-encompassing Ordinance, which, in our opinion, renders it both more complicated and less effective.
  • What is not listed in this Ordinance, but key to understanding how the “Planning Dept. Tree” fees are calculated, is the City Planning code Sec. 12.21 G 2 (a) (2), that governs residential projects with over (6) units. The “development tree requirement” in this code mandates (1) 24” box tree be planted for every (4) units built (See Sec. 3 of pg. 329).
  • You can imagine how a large development project with hundreds of units would quickly run out of space to plant the required number of trees based on this calculation, thus the reason for the in-lieu fees as an option (see our more detailed “Planning Dept. Tree” comments below).

Table 1: Fee by Category Type

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*Note: No Structural Pruning Included (3 Year Establishment Period/Plan)

  • A Public Works meeting on Oct. 22, 2022, made mention of a 5-year maintenance plan for some Oak trees to be planted by Urban Forestry. Starting at the 1:31:26 mark, you can hear a discussion about why 5 years of maintenance was budgeted into the Oak tree project. Much has been discussed recently at the city and state level about how 5 not 3 years is necessary for arid climates like Southern California. The city itself recognizes this.
  • A budget provided at this Oct. 22, 2022 meeting listed $4,351.12 as the cost of one tree (which included the tree, planting it and maintenance/labor costs for 5 years).
  • This Ordinance lists the fee set for one Planning Dept. Tree at $2,612.00 (which includes the same things).
  • This Ordinance needs to be amended to reflect the true and most current cost of Urban Forestry planting and maintaining a tree for 5 years.

In terms of non-refundable trees guaranteed fees collected, the following table provides a break down by category type:

Table 2: Fee Collection from October 2018 to November 2019

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Note: Some Revenue and Number of Trees listed in Planning Dept. Row (Code 5742-22) were coded and captured in this Revenue Source Code from illegal tree removals investigated by BSS and will be recoded at future date yet planted as a Public Works tree (Code 5742-21). In addition, some deposits will be reclassified to reflect the correct Revenue Source Code due to data entry error or learning curve at launch of program.

It is important to note that deposits in the Public Works Trust Fund will be reconciled annually and expenses related Tree Replacement Guarantee Ordinance will be on an interim basis, but no less than once per fiscal year, reimbursed to the City’s General Fund for associated accounting service or tree planting coordination service expenses incurred from the Public Works Trust Fund No. 834 either as salary and/or contractual services reimbursement (revenue).

  • We have not been able to find any evidence of Ordinance fees being reconciled annually. The public should know how much was collected for each community or Council District.
  • Public Works Trust Fund No. 834, which is listed above, holds more than one type of account having to do with trees (for example the Oak Tree Deposits Oak Tree Revenue Source is in Account (RSC 57 4211).
  • The Tree Guarantee fees are separated into three categories (see above charts). The “Planning Dept. Tree” fees are in account (Code 5742-22) and “Public Works Tree” fees are in account (Code 5742-21).
  • It is important that the public knows how much is in these accounts and that it is being used as intended!
PROPOSED ALTERNATIVES AND TREE PLANTING PLAN
TREE PLANTING LOCATION METHODOLOGY

Tree Guarantee (replacement) and planting locations for Planning Department development projects are determined by the Director’s Decision and planting sites are determined and aligned with either a community plan or specific area plans. For Department of Public Works Tree Guarantee (replacement) and planting locations, this report proposes to create a defensible, justifiable, and equitable process to determine tree planting locations.

  • The above paragraph suggests funds collected for the “Planning Dept. Trees” are ultimately utilized (or not) per the sole discretion of one person – the Director of the Planning Department.
  • Since this Ordinance passed, the Planning Director has not engaged with local tree advocates and has often been at odds with them. The Planning Director has also not attended Community Forest Advisory Committee (CFAC) meetings to discuss this Ordinance.
  • Neither the Planning Director nor anyone else from the Planning Dept. are working with communities to determine best locations for replacement trees. In fact, when asked about this Ordinance, most City Planners admit never even hearing of it, yet their Dept. is responsible for a good portion of it.
  • These Planning Dept. Trees were envisioned to be planted in communities with a lot of development, such as Downtown (in-lieu fees are collected from developers). However, as of early 2023, no Planning Dept. Trees have been planted in the Downtown area. Location, location, location! The concept of this Ordinance, as we read it, indicates that trees which cannot not fit onsite for a given project would be planted in the general vicinity by city Urban Forestry staff, subsidized by the in-lieu fees collected from the developer. In regard to “Planning Department development projects”, the above highlighted text reads that “planting sites are determined and aligned with either a community plan or specific area plans”.
  • There exists no report, update or documentation from the Planning Director which lists how many, or even if any Planning Dept. Trees have been planted – anywhere. Further, documents indicate that the Planning Director has waved both tree-planting requirements and in-lieu fees for some projects, in direct opposition to this Ordinance (See pg. 3 here & pg. 2 here).
  • The Planning Dept. Tree portion of this Ordinance needs to be amended. There is no evidence that the Planning Department is interested in the health of our city’s urban forest or frankly, even aware of the substance of this Ordinance. Also, it is not transparent to the public.

The following methodology and five criterion was used (see Transmittal 1 for full details):

1.    DISADVANTAGED AND LOW-INCOME COMMUNITIES

In accordance to the State of California, Assembly Bill (AB) 1550 (Gomez, 2016), state law requires communities to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and create an investment plan that protects and reduces the burden from low canopy tree areas in both disadvantage and low-income communities (referred hereinafter as “DAG” or “LIC”). The proposed planting plan takes into consideration climate impacts from pollution and low canopy, economics, and social factors in alignment with AB1550.

In addition, State laws were considered under AB 32 and AB 1550, including SB535. More specifically, AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act (2006), authorized cap and trade, the proceeds of which are deposited into the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). SB 535 (2012) required CalEPA to define and identify disadvantaged communities for investment opportunities with GGRF funds. Further, SB 535 mandated that 25% of GGRF funds must be expended in disadvantaged communities as these populations are considered to be the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. CalEPA defined disadvantaged communities as the top 25% of CalEnviroScreen scores. Under AB 1550, the definition of priority populations eligible to receive GGRF funds was expanded to include low-income communities (as defined by median household income). Per AB 1550, an additional 10% of proceeds must go towards projects that mitigate climate change in low-income communities.

2.     LOW CANOPY AREAS

Working in communities (areas) to eliminate low canopy areas and expand the city’s tree canopy is focal in the proposed planting plan. The City could use the TreePeople canopy study data, and in the future our own tree inventory data, to perform more powerful analysis. However, the proposed plan will work in DAG, LIC, and Severely Disadvantage areas that would benefit from having more trees and shade coverage to reduce the heat island effect and by doing so, this plan is considered to be more inclusive.

3.     SITE SUITABILITY

Planting the right tree at the right time and the right location will be critical. The Department of Public Works considered factors, such as high-use or high traffic corridors, anchoring corridors, contiguous tree planting close gap connection, extension of corridors, open public space, existing parkways at four (4) feet+ widths, and infrastructure that would allow enough space for the right trees to grow and provide the right canopy size.

4.     EFFICIENCY

Leveraging economies of scale is important to the gospel of efficiency and effectiveness. Therefore, the proposed planting plan takes into consideration watering and maintenance routes that provide efficient route planning, work deployment schedules, bulk or group planting (i.e., more than 25 trees per tree planting effort), proximity to existing maintenance tree crew routes, and most important greatest community impact.

5.     COLLABORATION

There is a growing need for government agencies to collaborate, increase civic engagement, and integrate efforts to improve public service delivery. Collaborating with the impacted Council District Offices to determine the right planting site is another critical criteria. The proposed planting plan seeks to plant trees in primary and alternate planting sites determined by the Department of Public Works, which is aligned with AB1550 and other criterion discussed in this report. In addition to working with Council District Offices, collaboration and partnership will also include working with the Department of Planning, Bureaus of Sanitation and Street Services, Board of Public Works, City Forest Officer. Civic engagement will be incorporated by seeking location input for future planting from LA’s non-profit planting partners, Community Forest Advisory Committee, and other tree advocacy groups.

  • See our above comments with respect to the lack of engagement by the Planning Director with CFAC.
  • As local tree advocates (a group the Ordinance mentions specifically), we can report that there has been no engagement with us about replacement trees for our community (Downtown).

Lastly, not listed as a criterion, yet a desired strategic approach, CAL FIRE urban forestry grant programs require applicants to design projects that benefit disadvantaged and low­ income communities. As such, plantings done using Guaranteed Tree Fees will complement the ongoing efforts of LASAN’s urban forestry grant programs.

CRITERION APPLICABILITY AND PLANTING SITES AT-A-GLANCE

Certain populations in Los Angeles are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. DAC (as defined by CalEPA pursuant to SB 535) and UC communities (as designated by AB 1550) are disproportionately affected by multiple types of pollution. As such, targeting investments that will help mitigate the impacts of climate change in these communities will improve public health, reduce pollution (i.e., vehicular emissions), and improve overall quality of life. In addition, planting in these communities will help mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing the pollution, increasing shade, reducing the reliance on and cost of air-conditioning, and improving resilience to climate change.

Transmittal 2 maps all potential Guaranteed Tree Fee Planting Locations using Google My App. Proposed corridors to be planted are shown in black, while existing projects/trees that are being maintained by Street Services are shown in green.

  • There is no public-facing portal on any city-managed website that lists the “Guarantee Tree Fee Planting Locationsthat we can find. We checked Urban Forestry, Public Works, the City Forest Officer and City Council (these portals are linked to on our What Can I Do? page.
  • It would be helpful to post some information about this Ordinance and where the replacement trees have been planted on a city-managed website portal that the public can view.
PROPOSED PRIMARY AND SECONDARY PLANTING SITES

The proposed Guaranteed Tree Fee Planting Plan was developed using the aforementioned five criteria. The proposed Planting Plan is considered to be defensible, justifiable, and equitable plan that used a development process and methodology informed by state law, strategic vision, and other factors, such as income, economics, climate change impact, collaboration, operating efficiencies and tree planting and maintenance crew effectiveness, to determine tree planting locations.                                                                                                                    

Attachment 3 provides a list of all proposed primary and secondary (alternative) sites to mobilize the tree planting efforts for Public Works trees resultant from the Tree Guarantee Fee. Again, Planning Department tree replacement (guarantee) planting will be in accordance to the Director’s Decision aligned to community or specific area plans.

  • See our above comments with respect to the “Planning Dept. Trees”.

The proposed Guaranteed Tree Fee Planting Plan provides required fields:

  • Primary Planting Site Anchoring Corridor
  • Primary Planting Site Corridor Start
  • Primary Planting Site Corridor End
  • Tree Capacity Per Primary Site
  • Determination of Disadvantage Community
  • Location Justification
  • Secondary or Alternate Planting Sites (trees to be planted when primary site is at capacity or at the request of Council Office).
  • Near Existing Watering and Maintenance Route

The proposed Guaranteed Tree Fee Planting Plan is anticipated to provide planting sites, upon City Council approval, for a period of 18 months to 24 months. However, at times dependent on number of trees planted, any particular Council District may reach capacity prior to the two year anticipated schedule; thus, will require the Board of Public Works to seek approval to amend the Guaranteed Tree Fee Planting Plan. In addition, the proposed plan is considered organic and the initial step towards planting and replacing tree from fees collected through the Guaranteed Tree Fee ordinance. Therefore, the Planting Plan will need to be revisited, revised, and reapproved every couple to few years, contingent on the amount of fees collected, number of tree replacement guaranteed, and type of tree replacement fee collected.

  • This Ordinance has yet to be “revisited, revised” or analyzed per the language above. It’s past time.
METRICS

In terms of metrics, the proposed planting plan will aim to:

  1. Reduce the Number of Trees delivered to a City tree yard that become Unplanted and Dead Trees to zero percent (0%); and
  2. Increase the Tree Plant “In-the-Ground” Rate to 100%.
FISCAL IMPACT

The proposed Tree Guarantee Fee Planting Plan is an administrative matter to allow the planting of tree replacements using the Tree Guarantee Fees collected. Tree planting from Public Works Non-Subsidized and Planning Department Development project will have no impact to the General Fund. However, the planting of subsidized Public Works guaranteed trees will have a General Fund impact of approximately $397,686 (or 237 trees X $1,945 per tree minus $63,279). These cost are currently absorbed by the Bureau of Street Services similar to that of tree replacements (planting) from nursery bound trees.