San Carlos, CA

Protected Tree Ordinance

Effective June 9, 2022, a new Protected Tree Ordinance was adopted with significant updates. Applicants are highly recommended to review the new Protected Tree Ordinance, the new Protected Trees Administrative Guidelines and the new Preferred Tree List before proceeding with a tree removal/pruning application.

New! Protected Tree Ordinance
New! Protected Trees Administrative Guidelines
New! Preferred Tree List

On a weekly basis, the City updates the protected tree removal list. The weekly list can be viewed here: Weekly List of Approved Protected Tree Removals

Why the new Ordinance?

Over the last several months, San Carlos residents and members of the City Council expressed concern about the number of protected tree removals occurring within San Carlos, including specific tree removals that residents have reported on lots surrounding their own properties. In addition, some residents questioned the need for removal of protected trees to allow for new development and the possible solutions to protect trees during construction. As a result, the City Council adopted an Urgency Ordinance (#1571), which provided new regulations for protected tree removals, on June 14, 2021. This ordinance was extended for 10 months and 15 days on July 12, 2021, when the City Council adopted Urgency Ordinance (#1572). 

Adoption of the Urgency Ordinance allowed staff the time to work on a comprehensive permanent Protected Tree Ordinance. On September 7, 2021, staff conducted a study session with the Planning Commission to solicit input and comments. 

On Monday, February 7, 2022 staff provided an update on the ongoing work and next steps on developing a permanent Protected Tree Ordinance. This meeting was a joint Planning Commission and Residential Design Review Committee Virtual Meeting. It provided the Commission members, Committee members, and members of the public the opportunity to comment and provide input for staff consideration.

On Monday, March 21, 2022 staff presented the proposed Protected Tree Ordinance to the Planning Commission for a recommendation to the City Council. The Planning Commission favorably recommended adoption of the proposed Ordinance with one change to Redwood tree replacements. The Planning Commission also recommended eliminating Redwood trees from the list of options for replacing heritage trees, as Redwoods require high water usage and are unsuitable for smaller lots. This change does not affect the designation of certain redwood trees as Protected Trees. Redwood trees that have a minimum diameter of 15 inches or greater (measured at 54” in height) are still protected under the new ordinance.

On Monday, April 11, 2022 staff presented the proposed Protected Tree Ordinance to the City Council. The City Council recommended a few changes to the ordinance including extending the tree removal permit notice period from 10 to 14 days, and requiring noticing for pruning permits as well. Council members agreed that the City retained arborist should have the discretion to recommend 15 gallon tree replacement trees when a 24-inch box tree is not suitable, as outlined in the ordinance. Council members also discussed the potential to reduce the tree removal application fees, which could be considered as part of the user fee update in May. To allow staff time to update the ordinance, the City Council continued the public hearing to April 25, 2022.

On April 25, 2022, the City Council approved by a vote 5-0 the first reading of the Protected Tree Ordinance (#1580) to amend the San Carlos Municipal Code Section 18.18.070 (Trees) (to be replaced in its entirety); and 18.41 Terms and Definitions with a change to include Director discretion for allowing payment of tree replanting fees when tree replanting is not feasible. The second reading occurred on May 9, 2022, and the City Council unanimously approved the new Protected Tree Ordinance (#1580), with a 5-0 vote. The new Ordinance became effective on June 9, 2022.

For past meetings and staff reports refer to:

  1. September 7, 2021 Planning Commission Study Session meeting web link 
  2. June 14, 2021 City Council staff report - Consideration of adopting urgency ordinance
  3. Adopted Interim Urgency Protected Tree Ordinance #1572 (now expired)
  4. September 7, 2021 Planning Commission Study Session Staff Report
  5. March 21, 2022 Planning Commission Recommendation Meeting Staff Report
  6. May 9, 2022 City Council Adoption Staff Report

Rucha Dande
Project Manager

For questions on Protected Tree Removal permits, contact -

Protected Tree Ordinance
Do emergency tree removals require a permit?
If an emergency develops regarding a protected tree removal and/or pruning which requires immediate response for the safety of life or property, action may be taken by obtaining oral permission of the director, notwithstanding other provisions contained in the chapter 18.18.070. Such emergencies shall be exempt from protected tree permit application procedures; however, replacement shall occur as required pursuant to SCMC 18.18.070 F (6).
What types of reasons of removal require notice to neighbors?
Notice before Issuance. Before a Protected tree is removed or pruned, notice of removal shall be posted by the applicant on the property containing the Protected tree at a conspicuous location when a permit is sought under subsection (e) (Development) or (f) (Utility Interference) of this section. Property owners within three-hundred (300’) feet of the exterior boundary of the property containing the Protected tree shall be noticed by mail of the pending application. Failure to receive copies of such notice shall not invalidate any action taken by the City.

Notice of Issuance. Upon receipt of a tree removal or pruning permit, the property owner shall post a notice of issuance of any permit for a tree removal at the subject property for a period of fourteen (14) calendar days. A proof of posting shall be sent to the City arborist. The City will furnish the owner with a copy of the notice of issuance.

Where can I track what Tree Removal Permits have been approved in the recent past?
To the extent permitted by law, the City will make publicly available protected tree permit removal and pruning application approvals on a regular basis. The list can be viewed at  Approved Protected Tree Removals.
Is a replacement tree required to be planted when a protected tree is removed?
Yes, planting a replacement tree is required. When a heritage tree species is removed, it shall be replaced from the heritage tree list with the exception of redwood trees, unless as allowed by the City arborist; other significant tree shall be replaced from the City’s preferred tree list.  Please review the Administrative Guidelines for replacement tree size requirements. Generally, a minimum 24” box size replacement tree is required, unless otherwise specified by the City arborist or as indicated within the Protected Tree Administrative Guidelines.
How do I find the status of my permit application?
Please contact the assigned City arborist or project planner for the status of protected tree removal application or contact with the assigned permit number.
What are submission requirements for protected trees removals related to development applications?
Please refer to the Protected Trees Administrative Guidelines for specific submission requirements for each tree removal reason.
Do I need a permit to remove a dead protected tree?
Yes. A review by the City-arborist is required.
Is there a fee for the permit?
Yes. Please review the City of San Carlos Master Fee Schedule and SCMC for permit application fees.
Where could I get an application to remove or prune a protected trees?
The protected tree removal and pruning application is available online. Please
How much of a protected tree can I prune without a permit?
Up to one fourth of canopy and/or roots (up to 25%).
Does the City have a preferred tree list?
Yes, the City has prepared a new preferred tree list to help applicants choose appropriate trees for a given location. Please refer to the Preferred Tree List.
What has changed from the previous ordinance?
The following are the major changes within the protected tree ordinance:

Trunk Measurement Height: Changed to 54”. The height at which trunk is required to be measured has changed from 48” to 54” form natural grade to be consistent with prevailing arboricultural practices.
Trunk Thresholds: The trunk thresholds for protected trees have been updated to correspond to diameter than circumference to be consistent with the prevailing arboricultural practices.

Reasons for Tree Removal: The reasons for protected tree removal were reduced from eleven reasons to only six reasons with required justification for certain removal criteria. Refer SCMC 18.18.070 F (2) for the new reasons of protected tree removals.

Redwood tree threshold: The threshold for Redwood tree removal to be considered as protected tree is reduced from 72” circumference to 48” circumference counted at 54” above natural grade.

Tree Protection Zone: The ordinance requires applicants to identify a Tree Protection Zone (TPZ) of 10x the diameter of a protected tree on design review plans. Additionally, a formal tree protection plan is required to be submitted prior to the issuance of any building permit. The plan must be prepared by an arborist.

Tree Relocation: Allows applicants to opt for professional tree relocation within the same site (instead of tree removal) to accommodate proposed development, repair, and alteration.

Notices: The updated ordinance requires applicants to conduct a 300’ radius notice to neighbors in cases where a protected tree is proposed for removal for either development or utility interference reasons. This notice will be required in addition to post an approved tree permit near the tree to be removed for 10 days after permit issuance.

Fines: If a tree is removed without permits, the violation fine is increased to $5,000 or the appraised value of the tree, whichever is greater. The previous fine was $2,500 or the appraised value of the tree, whichever is less.
What happens to the interim/urgency protected tree ordinance?

The interim/urgency protected tree ordinance #1572 that was adopted while the permanent ordinance was being prepared becomes ineffective with the adoption of the new ordinance. Applicants should not reference the old ordinance while pursuing a protected tree removal/pruning application.

When does the new Protected Tree Ordinance become effective?
June 9, 2022

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