Visalia City Council reviews oak tree ordinance

Relaxed standards for Valley oak removal and maintenance, eliminating city fees among revisions to oak tree ordinance

VISALIA – Home to the largest remaining swath of Valley oaks, Visalia has had strong and enforced protection of the oak tree since 1971. How to best manage Visalia’s trademark tree has been a hot topic at city council meetings for months now, and the first reading of the amended oak tree ordinance was given at the May 17 council meeting.

The discussion of amending the oak tree ordinance came after multiple instances of tree limbs breaking and residents appealing decisions to protect the deciduous Valley oaks within Visalia.

On the proposed revisions—which include relaxing the minimum tree diameter to be subject to the ordinance’s permitting and removal standards from two inches to 18 inches and striking the fee for applying for a tree removal permit—council member Brett Taylor said he’d like to see the threshold to require a permit and a certified arborist to trim a branch of two-inches or greater increased.

“If we’re trying to make this easier on the citizens to be able to trim and maintain their trees, I would like to see that increased to 10 inches,” Taylor said. “To apply for a permit to trim a [two-inch tree branch] seems pretty obnoxious to me.”

Obnoxious process is one thing, but the cost of hiring a certified arborist can create a whole other headache in the form of a hefty bill for Valley oak trimming or removal in Visalia. Council member Taylor recalled an incident about a year-and-a-half ago at his place of work, the Tulare County Association of Realtors building where a large, several-hundred-year-old oak in the adjacent property fell into a similarly sized Valley oak that shared the property line with the next door neighbors.

“It was so big that maybe two people holding their hands could probably circle around this tree,” Taylor said. “It took out like half of this extremely large old oak tree.”

Taylor said that the Tulare County Association of Realtors had to hire a certified arborist to come and trim the tree that survived.

“Just our half of trimming this large oak tree was I believe $7,000,” Taylor said.

Under the current ordinance, city staff said Valley oak tree removal can be anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 in Visalia, which currently comes with a costly mitigation fee determined by the size of the tree being removed.

In reference to oak tree removal permits, the new draft ordinance reads “submission of an application shall not require a fee.” Currently, applying for a removal permit comes with a flat $125 inspection fee and $50 for each additional tree on the same property being assessed. Council member Taylor said his impression is there will be no fees from the city associated with removal under the new ordinance.

From the perspective of his day job in real estate, Taylor said Valley oaks can be valuable assets in real estate, and that he’d prefer people plant more oak trees.

“My whole thing is I didn’t want to make it where we’d get rid of all of our oak trees,” Taylor said. “I think so many people were just kind of confused by the policy of, ‘do I have to hire a professional or can I trim it myself,’ and I felt it scared people of even wanting to plant one.”

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