Homeowners Fined $347,000 For Trimming Trees Without A Permit

The Glendale Fire Department sent Ann and Mike Collard a notice informing them that the branches on some of their trees were too close to their home. The notice ordered the couple to maintain 5 feet of “vertical clearance between roof surfaces and overhanging portions of trees.”

They hired a tree trimmer, paid him $3,000 to trim the trees, and were assured that no permit was necessary.

Not so.

From the LA Times:

On the third day of the three-day job, the city’s urban forester happened to be in the neighborhood, and noticed the tree trimmer doing his thing.

“She saw what was happening and said, ‘Stop! Cease and desist!’ ” says Mike, a work-at-home software and computer guy.

Glendale has an indigenous tree protection ordinance that dates to the 1980s. It was enacted to discourage developers and homeowners from bulldozing or hacking trees willy-nilly. Earlier this year, because of citizen complaints that native trees were still being ruined, the city approved more restrictions and bigger fines.

None of which the Collards knew about.

They now admit that had they read the Fire Department notice closely, they would have seen in small print that a free permit was required to trim oak and sycamore branches larger than 1 inch in diameter. But it was an understandable oversight.

A week after her first visit, the urban forester was back, telling the Collards an arborist would come by soon to assess the damage. The Collards recall being told they might want to hire an attorney.

“That’s when we realized the gravity of the situation,” says Ann. “I was pregnant and crying, but it didn’t help.”

In August, the Collards got a visit from the arborist. She looked at the trees, took measurements and jotted down notes.

How bad could it be? The Collards began to anticipate the possibility of a fine, but it wasn’t as if the trees were mauled. They looked pretty good, in fact.

Finally, on Oct. 1, a letter arrived. It was from Glendale’s Neighborhood Services administrator.

“Dear Owner,” it began. “The city of Glendale is committed to maintaining a community with quality streetscapes that include the care and well-being of protected indigenous trees.”

The letter informed them they had improperly pruned 13 trees, some of them on city property because they were near the street, and some on their own property. The fine was listed on Page 2, where the Collards were informed they would be charged “two times the value of the damaged tree(s).”

“Total: $347,600.”

“I about passed out,” says Ann.

After hiring a lawyer and getting the press involved, the Collards are off the hook “for now,” but will still have to pay a fine of some kind.

The weird part is that they aren’t the only ones who have been fined a ridiculous amount of money for trimming trees in Glendale.

“I was fined $175,000 for cutting two sycamores after my architect contacted the city and was warned not to touch oak trees,” says John Oppenheim, a registered nurse and single dad. “I am not a criminal, though because of a string of bad advice, I did make a mistake.”

Ann’s reaction to the fine mirrors our own thoughts about the matter:

Ann points out that White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby was fined $250,000 for perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in the case of CIA operative Valerie Plame. She adds, with appropriate exasperation, that Glendale Memorial Hospital drew a $25,000 fine in October for a medical error in which “a person was killed.”

Yeah! It’s not like they were caught videotaping the Jets’ top secret defensive signals or something.

Out on a limb over trimming fiasco [LA Times] (Thanks, Cesar!)
(Photo:Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.