Tree ordinance moves ahead

MEGADEATH A scene on Andrew Meghdadi’s property, where 84 more trees were felled than the conditions of his development agreement allowed.

MEGADEATH A scene on Andrew Meghdadi’s property, where 84 more trees were felled than the conditions of his development agreement allowed.

Photo By Tom Angel

A year and a half after the Chico City Council took developer Andrew Meghdadi to task for cutting down 84 more trees than the conditions of his southeast Chico housing project allowed, a tree ordinance, whose idea took root at the time, is finally coming to the council for final approval.

On Nov. 19, the council’s Finance Committee voted 2–1 to move the proposed ordinance forward to the full council for adoption. Councilmember Larry Wahl, citing creeping “socialism” as his objection, voted against. Councilmembers Dan Nguyen-Tan and Scott Gruendl voted in favor.

The plan, which was drafted by Tony Baptiste, the city’s community development director, affects only vacant, undeveloped lots of one-half acre or larger and requires a city-issued permit prior to the removal of trees with a diameter of 24 inches or greater at breast height.

The penalty for illegally cutting down a tree that fits the criteria for protection would net the wayward lumberjack a fine equal to twice the amount of the appraised value of the hacked-down tree or $5,000, whichever is greater.

The staff is recommending a permit fee of $95 to remove up to five trees and $165 to take out six or more trees.

“There is whole history of the city trying to come up with a tree ordinance that stretches back to the last century,” said Baptiste. “In my research I was using information from the mid-1990s.”

Baptiste said city staff, working with a citizens’ committee called the Tree Action Group, studied ordinances from other cities and counties and put together a draft that limited the ordinance to trees of 24 inches or more and large tracts of undeveloped property. Those restrictions were aimed at calming the people who, like Wahl, see hints of socialism in regulating tree cutting.

In April 2002, the community was up in arms because of Meghdadi’s actions. It looked for ways to punish him, which ended up getting the city sued. That matter is still in court. But at the end of that April meeting, Councilmember Maureen Kirk made a motion directing staff to start working on a citywide tree ordinance. The entire council, particularly the four-member conservative majority that held sway at the time, endorsed the motion with gusto.

However, as evidenced by Wahl’s recent vote against the ordinance, the further the issue got away from Meghdadi and closer to what conservatives saw as an affront to private-property rights, support for the law dissolved.

The council is now in the hands of a more liberal majority, and the ordinance, which should come before the full council in January, will probably pass.