How to Challenge Permit Applications to Remove Street Trees
Challenging permit applications to remove street trees can seem like a daunting process, but every healthy tree that comprises Los Angeles’ urban canopy is worth saving! The steps you need to take aren’t common knowledge, so we’ve put them together here for you to follow.
Step One: Identify the location of the proposed tree removal project and the total number of trees which are subject for removal
The City of Los Angeles provides notice of all street tree removals, however, permits removing 2 or fewer street trees do not require a public hearing, so challenging these removals can be difficult. A public hearing is required if the permit will result in the removal of 3 or more street trees and you can find proposed projects involving 3+ street trees here (new projects are continually updated on the site).
Step two: Identify what program the particular tree removal project falls under
You can confirm the reason for a street tree removal by reviewing the Tree Removal Notification Form/ Tree Removal Request Notification Sheet and the Bureau of Street Services’ Staff Report. These documents are generally available once a hearing is scheduled. To determine if a hearing is scheduled for a particular project with 3+ street trees, go to https://bsspermits.lacity.org/treepostings/public/pending_postings.cfm and look under the “Hearing Date” column. If no date is listed for the project to be challenged, click on the posting ID for that project (located on the far left of the screen) and sign-up for future notifications regarding the project and continue to monitor the website for any updates.
If a hearing date is listed for the project to be challenged, then, to view the Tree Removal Notification Form and Staff Report, take note of the hearing date and go to http://dpw.lacity.org, which also can be accessed by clicking on the posting ID (as long as there is a hearing date scheduled.)
From http://dpw.lacity.org, click on the download agendas and journals link. Agendas are for future hearings and journals are for past hearings. Under the agendas tab, look for the hearing date of the project to be challenged. A hearing date may not show up on http://dpw.lacity.org until 72 hours before the hearing date. If the hearing date is not listed, monitor the page until it is posted. If the hearing date is listed on http://dpw.lacity.org, clicking on the date will pull up an html version of the agenda sheet for that day.
Scroll down the agenda sheet and locate the agenda item corresponding to the project being challenged. There will be two links within the agenda item for the project. The first link is a BPW # assigned to that particular project, such as BPW-2018-0840. Clicking on this link will bring up the file transmittals links generally labeled BSS 1 – BSS TR10 etc… The Tree Removal Notification Form and Staff Reports are generally one of the first few transmittals. The second link under the agenda item for the project being challenged is a link for the project address, which will also bring up the staff report.
Look at the Tree Removal Notification Form/Tree Removal Request Notification Sheet. If the “Requestor’s Info” section identifies the “City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services c/o Sidewalk Repair Program” as the requestor, the tree removal is under the Sidewalk Repair Program (SRP). The “reason for request” section should also indicate “Sidewalk Repair Program.”
To confirm the removal is under the SRP, also look at the Staff Report. If the title of the Staff Report contains “Citywide Sidewalk Repair Program” or some variation thereof, the removal is under the SRP. The Staff Report’s “Recital” section should also mention the Sidewalk Repair Program.
Step Three (if resources are available): Hire a tree expert to evaluate the trees
A lot of the time, trees are removed because they’re unhealthy. You could consider hiring your own arborist (you can fine one here) to evaluate the trees and confirm whether the trees are in poor, medium or good health.
Step Four: Attend the Board of Public Works hearing
You could consider preparing a written comment letter challenging the approval of the permit. There are many groups, including TreePeople and the Community Forest Advisory Committee, who called for ceasing the removal of healthy trees until the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been completed on the sidewalk program (see and example here). If the tree removal is part of the Sidewalk Repair Program (SRP), state that the approval of the permit would be a premature implementation of the SRP prior to that program completing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. You could consider including the report from your arborist (if you were able to attain one) as to the environmental benefits provided by the trees to be removed and also attesting to the trees’ health. Submit the comment before the hearing and retain a conformed, date-stamped copy. If you cannot submit the comment until the day of the hearing, then be sure to bring 7 copies of your comment letter to the hearing.
You could also consider bringing others to the hearing to testify in favor or keeping the trees, or you could consider getting a petition signed from the entire neighborhood in favor or preserving the trees and submit a copy of that petition to the Board of Public Works.
If the permit application file (see step 2 above) has no detailed tree preservation alternatives report contained in it, then request that before the removal permit can be approved, a report detailing an investigation of all possible alternatives so as to retain the trees must be prepared.
Step Five: File an appeal of the Board of Public Works’ permit approval with the City Council
If the Board of Public Works (BPW) decides to approve the tree removal permit, an appeal must be filed with the City Council within 10 days of the BPW hearing date, or any additional challenge to the project will be waived. To file an appeal with the City Council, obtain an “Appeal Application” from the Los Angeles Planning Department’s website located at http://cityplanning.lacity.org and click on the “Forms” link at the bottom left of the home page. Look for “Appeal Application - CP 7769”. When completing the Appeal Application, recall that the appellant body is the City Council and that on item 4 on the second page of the application, the entire decision is being appealed and no specific conditions are being appealed.
A “justification” consisting of a written letter addressed to the City Council must be filed with the Appeal Application. The justification can be similar to the written comment letter that was provided to the BPW. A copy of the BPW’s determination must also be enclosed with the Appeal Application. The determination is the Staff Report and the BPW’s minutes approving the Bureau of Street Services recommendation in the Staff Report, which can be obtained here. Go to the agenda or journal you need (sorted by date of the hearing for the challenged project) and select “entire agenda packet/ documents.” Click “Download.” The minutes will appear on a Journal sheet similar to the agenda issued prior the hearing -- the difference being that after the hearing occurs, the Journal sheet will contain a disposition and the names of the commissioners voting for approval.
Take the completed Appeal Application, Justification, and the BPW’s determination, with one separate copy, to the City Clerk’s office located at 200 N. Spring Street
City Hall - Room 360 Los Angeles, CA 90012. Next, file the original with the clerk and have the clerk conform/date stamp the copy, no later than 10 days after the BPW hearing.
Step Six: Attend a hearing before the City Council’s sub-committee
The status of an appeal filed with the City Council can be monitored by going to https://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/ and entering the project’s address into the search bar. The results will appear in the window on the right of the screen. Locate the project to be challenged in the results and click on the link to obtain information on the status of the appeal. If and when a hearing is scheduled, attend the hearing and sign up for public comment so that you can testify as to why you object to the trees being removed and explain how and why the Board of Public Works erred in approving the tree removal permit. You could consider bringing as many residents as possible to also testify.
At the same time, you may want to monitor the trees subject to removal.