How to Challenge Permit Applications to Remove Street Trees

 

Trees are a vital aspect of our urban landscape. Losing a tree means losing its benefits (shade, cooler streets, oxygen, soil maintenance, and water management to name a few) for the years it will take for a new one to grow back in its place. If you would like to advocate for the trees in your city, there are steps you can take to challenge permits that will allow for the removal of street trees.

Here’s a how-to on challenging permit applications for street tree removals:

Step One: Identify the location of the proposed tree removal project

The City provides notice of all street tree removals, however, permits removing 2 or fewer street trees do not require a public hearing, so challenging these removals is nearly impossible. A public hearing is required if the permit will result in the removal of 3 or more street trees. Proposed projects involving the removal of 3 or more street trees are listed at  https://bsspermits.lacity.org/treepostings/public/pending_postings.cfm.

This website should be continuously monitored, as new projects are added all the time.

 

Step two: Identify what program the particular tree removal project falls under

The reason for any given street tree removal can be confirmed by reviewing the Tree Removal Notification Form/Tree Removal Request Notification Sheet and the Bureau of Street Services’ Staff Report. These documents are generally available once a hearing is scheduled. To determine if a hearing is scheduled for a particular project, go to  https://bsspermits.lacity.org/treepostings/public/pending_postings.cfm and look under the column labeled “Hearing Date”. If no date is listed for the project to be challenged, click on the posting ID for that project (located on the far left of the screen) and sign-up for future notifications regarding the project and continue to monitor the website for any updates.

If a hearing date is listed for the project to be challenged, then, to view the Tree Removal Notification Form and Staff Report, take note of the hearing date and go to http://dpw.lacity.org, which also can be accessed by clicking on the posting ID (as long as there is a hearing date scheduled.)

From http://dpw.lacity.org, click on the download agendas and journals link. Agendas are for future hearings and journals are for past hearings. Under the agendas tab, look for the hearing date of the project to be challenged. A hearing date may not show up on http://dpw.lacity.org until 72 hours before the hearing date. If the hearing date is not listed, monitor the page until it is posted. If the hearing date is listed on http://dpw.lacity.org, clicking on the date will pull up an html version of the agenda sheet for that day.

Scroll down the agenda sheet and locate the agenda item corresponding to the project being challenged. There will be two links within the agenda item for the project. The first link is a BPW # assigned to that particular project, such as BPW-2018-0840. Clicking on this link will bring up the file transmittals links generally labeled BSS 1 – BSS TR10 etc…The Tree Removal Notification Form and Staff Reports are generally one of the first few transmittals.  The second link under the agenda item for the project being challenged is a link for the project address, which will also bring up the staff report.

Look at the Tree Removal Notification Form/Tree Removal Request Notification Sheet. If the “Requestor’s Info” section identifies the “City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services c/o Sidewalk Repair Program”, as the requestor, the tree removal is under the Sidewalk Repair Program (SRP). The “reason for request” section should also indicate “Sidewalk Repair Program”.

To confirm the removal is under the SRP, also look at the Staff Report. If the title of the Staff Report contains “Citywide Sidewalk Repair Program” or some variation thereof, the removal is under the SRP. The Staff Report’s “Recital” section should also mention the Sidewalk Repair Program.

 

Step Three (if resources are available):  Hire an expert to evaluate the trees

Many times the City will claim that the trees are in poor health. Hire your own arborist to evaluate the trees and confirm whether the trees are in poor, medium or good health.

 

Step Four: Attend the Board of Public Works hearing

Prepare a written comment letter challenging the approval of the permit as a violation of CEQA.  If the tree removal is part of the Sidewalk Repair Program (SRP) state that the approval of the permit would be a premature implementation of the SRP prior to that program completing CEQA review. If the City claims the tree removal is exempt from CEQA, explain that the cumulative impacts of removing the trees necessitate the City conduct CEQA review of the tree removal and that an exemption from CEQA is not proper. Include in your comment letter a report from your arborist as to the environmental benefits provided by the trees to be removed and also attesting to the trees’ health. Submit the comment before the hearing and retain a conformed, date-stamped copy. If you cannot submit the comment until the day of the hearing, then be sure to bring 7 copies of your comment letter to the hearing.  

Bring as many residents to the hearing as possible to testify in favor or keeping the trees. If you can, get a petition signed from the entire neighborhood in favor or preserving the trees and submit a copy of that petition to the Board of Public Works.

If the permit application file (see step 2 above) has no detailed tree preservation alternatives report contained in it, then demand that before the removal permit can be approved, a report detailing an investigation of all possible alternatives so as to retain the trees must be prepared, pursuant to the June 6, 2007 Department of Public Works, Bureau of Street Services  Report No. 1 (“Policies For the Installation and Preservation of Landscaping and Trees on Public Property”).

 

Step Five: File an appeal of the Board of Public Works’ permit approval with the City Council

If the Board of Public Works decides to approve the tree removal permit, an appeal must be filed with the City Council within 10 days of the BPW hearing date, or any additional challenge to the project will be waived. To file an appeal with the City Council, obtain an “Appeal Application” from the Los Angeles Planning Department’s website located at http://cityplanning.lacity.org and click on the forms link at the bottom left of the home page. Look for “Appeal Application – CP 7769”. When completing the Appeal Application, recall that the appellant body is the City Council and that on item 4 on the second page of the application, the entire decision is being appealed and no specific conditions are being appealed.

A “justification,” consisting of a written letter addressed to the City Council, must be filed with the Appeal Application. The justification can be similar to the written comment letter that was provided to the BPW. A copy of the BPW’s determination must also be enclosed with the Appeal Application. The determination is the Staff Report and the BPW’s minutes approving the Bureau of Street Services recommendation in the Staff Report. The minutes approving the permit can be obtained from http://dpw.lacity.org by clicking on the download agendas and journals link and going to the date of the hearing for the challenged project. The minutes will appear on a Journal sheet similar to the agenda issued prior the hearing, with the difference being that after the hearing occurs, the Journal sheet will contain a disposition and the names of the commissioners voting for approval.

Take the completed Appeal Application, Justification and the BPW’s determination, with one separate copy, to the City Clerk’s office located at 200 N. Spring Street

City Hall – Room 360 Los Angeles, CA 90012, file the original with the clerk and have the clerk conform/date stamped the copy, no later than 10 days after the BPW hearing.

 

Step Six: Attend a hearing before the City Council’s sub-committee.

The City Council does not act quickly, however, the status of an appeal filed with the Council can be monitored by going to https://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/ and entering the project’s address into the search bar. The results will appear in the window on the right of the screen. Locate the project to be challenged in the results and click on the link to obtain information on the status of the appeal. If and when a hearing is scheduled, attend the hearing and sign up for public comment so that you can testify as to why you object to the trees being removed and explain how and why the Board of Public Works erred in approving the tree removal permit. Bring as many residents as possible to also testify. Remember, you want to raise awareness and educate the council members about these tree removal projects.

For all steps in the process, the trees subject to removal at the project address selected should be monitored. If the trees are cut down while an appeal to the City Council is pending, you should contact an attorney that practices in land use/environmental/CEQA law to discuss your options.

 

Step Seven: Consider your options if the City Council approves the tree removal permit.

Should the City Council deny your appeal and approve the tree removal permit, you should IMMEDIATELY contact an attorney that practices in land use/environmental/CEQA law to discuss your options.  Waiting to contact an attorney may result in your statute of limitations running, making it impossible to challenge the permit approval in a court of law. Your statute of limitations may run within 30 days of the City Council’s approval, so you need to contact an attorney within DAYS of the City Council hearing.