Ask the County Law Librarian – Heritage Trees in Sacramento
My neighbor has a tree that is encroaching on my property. When I contacted him to complain, he said it was a protected “Heritage Tree” and that I would have to live with it. What is a Heritage Tree and what can I do about it?
Unfortunately, there may be limits on what your neighbor can do about the encroachment, if the tree is considered a Heritage Tree.
The City of Sacramento passed a Heritage Tree Ordinance, Chapter 12.64 of the City Code, in order to protect specific specimens of trees. The protection of Heritage Trees supports the City’s sustainability goals by promoting scenic beauty, enhancing property values, reducing soil erosion, improving air quality, abating noise, and providing shade to reduce energy consumption.
Trees are considered Heritage Trees if the following applies:
- The tree has a trunk circumference of one hundred (100) inches or more, is of good quality in terms of health, vigor of growth and conformity to generally accepted horticultural standards of shape and location for its species.
- The tree is a native species with a circumference of thirty-six (36) inches or greater and in good quality in terms of health, vigor of growth and conformity to generally accepted horticultural standards of shape and location for its species. Protected native species include the following: valley oak, interior live oak, blue oak, coast live oak, California sycamore, and California buckeye.
- The tree is thirty-six (36) inches in circumference or greater in a riparian zone. The riparian zone is measured from the centerline of the water course to thirty (30) feet beyond the high water line. Species include: Cottonwood, Willows, Boxelders , and Alder.
- The tree is part of a grove of trees or woodland trees designated by resolution of the city council to be of special historical or environmental value or of significant community benefit.
Pruning and removal of Heritage Trees requires a permit issued by the Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Services. If the tree encroaching your property is considered a Heritage Tree, you or your neighbor can request pruning or removal of the tree by filing a permit application with the Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Services. If you have questions, please call Urban Forest Services at 311 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t take the matter into your own hands! According to Chapter 12.64.070 of the City Code, any person who violates any provision of this chapter including, but not limited to, the property owner, a tenant, a licensed or unlicensed provider of tree services retained by the property owner or tenant, or a licensed or unlicensed provider of tree services acting without the consent of the property owner or tenant, is guilty of a misdemeanor which shall be punished by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500.00) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) or imprisonment in the county jail for a term not exceeding six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
In addition to the base fines imposed on by the city, there may be other administrative costs that can be tacked on. Administrative penalties may be imposed in any amount not less than one hundred dollars ($100.00) nor more than twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) per violation depending on the level of offense. Most likely, this would be considered a Level C violation, which can range from one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) to two thousand four hundred ninety-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents ($2,499.99).
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