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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Need for a tree ordinance

At its meeting of May 19th this year, the City Council of El Cerrito rescinded most of the Tree Ordinance which had been in effect since 1991, primarily to avoid potential litigation in disputes between view claimants and tree owners.

In a letter to the editor of the El Cerrito Wire from the Friends of El Cerrito Trees, some misconceptions about the rescinded tree ordinance are stated. They imply that anyone who wanted a view could, under the ordinance, force the tree-owner neighbor to drastically alter trees that blocked the view. Not true. The ordinance stipulated that only the view that existed at the time of purchase of the home could be considered for restoration (Section 10.90.150.A). Second, contrary to their statement that the ordinance “did not recognize the value of trees to property owners or the community”, Section 10.90.150.D listed 8 factors to be considered before any remedial action would be recommended, e.g., visual screening provided by the trees, wildlife habitat, soil stability, energy conservation, visual quality, et al.

They further suggest that a future ordinance might make matters worse for trees in El Cerrito. This is utter nonsense and appears to be an attempt to polarize the community, rather than to listen to both sides of the issue. A properly drafted ordinance will be balanced, and take into account the concerns of tree owners as well as those who desire to restore and/or maintain the views they had when they purchased their property. That is the purpose of the Tree Commission’s workshop on September 11th.

The Friends of El Cerrito Trees risk damaging the good will they have built by ignoring the value of the Bay views, not only to long-time homeowners and newcomers who chose their homes because of the views, but to the city itself and the many visitors to the city. This does not have to be a trees vs. views issue. It is in the city’s best interests to try to preserve both valuable amenities. And the city is providing this opportunity to the community so that all voices can be heard, not just one viewpoint.

Our community needs to have a set of guidelines such as those carefully drawn up by other communities, guidelines that include a list of appropriate species of trees, maximum tree height, proper pruning and maintenance, need for erosion control, etc., as well as provisions for neighbors to resolve disputes reasonably.

Ideally, neighbors should be able to resolve their problems among themselves. However, there are instances wherein some neighbors do not wish to cooperate, leading to hard feelings and diminished enjoyment of their property and diminished property values. The city of Rancho Palos Verdes adopted an ordinance because some property owners with views had become so frustrated with neighbors who refused to do anything about their trees, that they resorted to destroying the trees while the neighbors were away.

As we navigate this contentious issue, let us all remember that one hundred years ago, the hills of El Cerrito contained neither trees, houses, or people. It is unreasonable for any group to expect to own this issue, or its solution. It is fair and equitable to expect that there will continue to be trees on the El Cerrito hills, and that people who pay for Bay and Bridge views will be able to maintain the existence of those views. To that end, the city of El Cerrito needs a Tree Ordinance that adequately addresses both concerns.

Jaime Chow
Faye Chow
Ron Jong
Patricia Lollis
Sandi Magin
Doug Mansel

Run dates: 2003-08-22 - 2003-09-01

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