The Pasadena City Council unanimously approved modifications to the city’s City Trees and Tree Protection Ordinance which will increase fines for illegally cutting down protected trees. 

According to City Attorney Michelle Bagneris, fines have been increased to $5,000 or the full amount of the replacement value of the removed tree, whichever amount is greater.

Bagneris also said that illegally removing a protected tree could result in the filing of criminal charges and civil and administrative fines.

But one local preservationist said the fines still are not stiff enough.

“If these speculative realtors or developers are not deterred or punished, they will just pay the fines,” said attorney and longtime activist Nina Chomsky. “They’re going to make much more money from what they have put up in place of those trees. The fines are meaningless. Why aren’t we getting three times the replaced value of those trees?”

Chomsky referenced two 35-foot-tall Canary Palm trees that once stood side-by-side over Twin Palms restaurant near the Pasadena Weekly office at the corner of South DeLacey Avenue and West Green Street. The trees were illegally removed from Twin Palms. The city was informed about the illegal action after reporters at the Pasadena Weekly began asking officials about the trees being removed.

The trees were removed without authorization in the middle of the night by workers at the site of the old restaurant late last year.

Added Chomsky, “I don’t see punishment here, and I don’t see deterrence here.”

City Planning Director David Reyes said that the developers who removed the trees at Twin Palms were fined $6,000, but with the new ordinance would have been fined approximately $18,000. Reyes said the developers could have also faced potential civil action.

According to a city staff report, the ordinance will strengthen the remedies against offenders and authorize the city to suspend or revoke any discretionary permit associated with the address at which the offense occurs.

In the Twin Palms incident, developers were forced to stop work on the project until the fines were paid.

The ordinance also authorizes the city manager to prepare and update tree protection guidelines and the tree replacement formula for the replacement of illegally removed trees.