Urban Forestry

The Urban Forestry program is responsible for maintaining and enhancing the City’s Urban forest, which consists of more than 60,000 trees. This program is responsible for administering proper tree care; planting new trees; removing dead and hazardous trees; conducting reforestation projects in parks, municipal grounds, open spaces, medians and streets; maintaining a street tree database with maintenance information about trees throughout the City; and administering the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance. Additionally, staff fields the public’s questions and concerns regarding the health and status of street trees, and conducts community education programs to keep citizens informed about urban forestry. A list of trees that have been determined to be hazardous because they are dead or diseased is periodically provided to City Council prior to scheduling the removal. Residents interested in obtaining wood from these trees that are scheduled for removal should review the most recent tree removal list and contact the Customer Service Center at (626) 744-7311 prior to the tree’s removal to coordinate with the tree’s removal schedule.

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Pasadena Tree Ordinance

The City of Pasadena recognized the importance of trees by passing an ordinance that will protect the canopy of trees in Pasadena now, and in the future. An ordinance amending the “City Trees and Tree Protection Ordinance” passed by the City Council on May 5, 2002 was sparked by the interest of the community and government to preserve and grow the urban forest. There are Four categories of trees that are protected by the ordinance and specified locations where they are protected. This web site aims to provide practical information to help you understand and comply with the ordinance. For further information contact the Customer Service Center at (626) 744-7311.


Tree Protection Guidelines


Tree protection guidelines are established for projects subject to Chapter 8.52 ‘City Trees and Tree Protection’ and for projects for which compliance with the Tree Protection Guidelines is a condition of approval. Specifically, the guidelines seek to avoid negative impacts that may occur during construction such as:

  • Mechanical injury to roots, trunks or branches
  • Compaction of soil
  • Changes to existing grade which may expose or suffocate roots

Definitions for standardized terms and diagrams are included in the guidelines.

A. General Requirements

  1. Applicants may be asked to place a construction bond in the amount of the assessed value of the tree as determined using the most recent version of the International Society of Arboriculture guide to plant appraisal. In addition, fees for three years of maintenance may be required. The bond will be returned to the applicant upon successful completion of the project and upon verification that the trees have not sustained damage during construction. If damage has been sustained during construction, the City Manager or designee may hold the bond for an additional period of time.
  2. Violations to the Tree Protection Plan may result in fines assessed per day and imposed per violation, and the potential generation of a stop work order on the construction project.
  3. The tree protection plan may include written recommendations for the health and long-term welfare of the trees during the pre-construction, demolition, construction, and post-construction development phases. Notes on the plans would include specifics on avoiding injury, damage treatment and inspections of protected trees.

B. Root Protection Zone

  1. Tree roots are generally located in the top 12–24 inches of soil and can extend to a distance exceeding the trees height and/or width. The roots located 3-5 feet from the trunk are often relatively inactive, and if cut, will cause a column of decay that can reach the top of the tree with time. The feeder roots of the tree can sustain damage during construction from lack of water, soil compaction or physical damage resulting from cutting. The following guidelines are designed to minimize damage to the root system of protected trees. These guidelines establish a “Root Protection Zone” to safeguard the health of protected trees.
  2. Protective chain-link fencing with an access gate of minimal width should be installed at the Root Protection Zone of protected trees and approved in place by staff prior to the commencement of any construction, or demolition.
  3. The protection zone should be irrigated sufficiently with clean potable water to keep the tree in good health and vigor before, during, and after construction. This may mean deeply soaking the ground periodically.
    1. No construction staging or disposal of construction materials or byproducts including but not limited to paint, plaster, or chemical solutions is allowed in the Root Protection Zone.
    2. The Root Protection Zone should not be subjected to flooding incidental to the construction work.
    3. All work conducted in the ground within the Root Protection Zone of any protected tree should be accomplished with hand tools, unless an air spade is utilized. Trenches in the Root Protection Zone should be tunneled, or completed with an air spade to avoid damage to small feeder roots within the root protection zone. Information regarding air spades is available from staff.
    4. Where structural footings are required and major roots (over 3” in diameter) will be impacted, the engineer of record should submit acceptable footing design alternatives and or location alternatives to staff before proceeding with further plan review.
    5. Where more than 50% of the root zone is impacted or roots greater than 3 inches in diameter are to be removed within four feet of the trunk, the engineer of record should submit acceptable design alternatives to staff for review.
    6. Any required trenching should be routed in such a manner as to minimize root damage. Radial trenching (radial to the tree trunk) is preferred as it is less harmful than tangential trenching. Construction activity should be diverted from the Root Protection Zone. Cutting of roots should be avoided (i.e. place pipes and cables below uncut roots). Wherever possible and in accordance with applicable code requirements, the same trench should be used for multiple utilities.
    7. “Natural” or pre-construction grade should be maintained in the Root Protection Zone. At no time during or after construction should soil be in contact with the trunk of the tree above the basal flair.
    8. In areas where the grade around the protected tree will be lowered, some root cutting may be unavoidable. Cuts should be clean and made at right angles to the roots. When practical, cut roots back to a branching lateral root.
    9. When removing existing pavement in the Root Protection Zone, avoid the use of heavy equipment, which will compact and damage the root system.
    10. If staff requires mulch in the Root Protection Zone the mulch materials and location should be shown on the plan. Larger projects will require construction staging plans to indicate where materials will be stored and how the equipment will move in and around the property to minimize damage to the Root Protection Zone and tree canopies. Root damage and soil compaction may be mitigated in some cases by using plywood or mulch in the Root Protection Zone.

C. Pruning

  1. Pruning of all trees should be in accordance with industry standards ( International Society of Arboriculture or ANZI 133.1).
  2. Pruning of oaks should be limited to the removal of dead wood and the correction of potentially hazardous conditions, as evaluated by a qualified arborist. Excessive pruning is harmful to oaks. Removal or reduction of major structural limbs should be done only as required for actual building clearance or safety. If limbs must be removed, cuts should be made perpendicular to the branch, to limit the size of the cut face. The branch bark collar should be preserved (i. e. no “flush cuts”), and cuts should be made in such a way as to prevent the tearing of bark from the tree.
  3. Pruning of trees other than oaks should be limited to the removal or reduction of major structural limbs and should be done only as required for actual building clearance or safety. If limbs must be removed, cuts should be made perpendicular to the branch, to limit the size of the cut face. The branch bark collar should be preserved (i. e. no “flush cuts”), and cuts should be made in such a way as to prevent the tearing of bark from the tree.
  4. Landmark Trees must be pruned by or under the direction of a qualified arborist.

D. Inspections

  1. Inspection of Protective Fencing: City staff may require inspection of fencing to verify placement and approval of materials prior to the commencement of construction.
  2. Pre-construction meeting. City staff may require an on-site pre-construction meeting with the contractor and or applicant to discuss tree protection with the site supervisor, grading equipment contractors, and demolition crew.
  3. Inspection of rough grading. City staff my require inspection to ensure protected trees will not be injured by compaction, cut or fill, drainage and trenching activities.
  4. Special Activity in the Tree Protection Zone: City staff may require the direct on-site supervision of work in the tree protection zone.
  5. Periodic Inspections: City staff may require inspections verifying adherence to tree protection measures during the on-going construction process. Allow a minimum of 48 hours for scheduling inspections.

E. Definitions

  1. Basal flair or root crown means the tree trunk where it emerges from the root system and flairs out to create the base of the tree.
  2. Canopy means the area of a tree that consists primarily of branches and leaves.
  3. Dripline means the outermost area of the tree canopy (leafy area of tree).
  4. Certified Arborist means an individual who has demonstrated knowledge and competency through obtainment of the current International Society of Arboriculture arborist certification, or who is a member of the American Society of Consulting Arborists.
  5. Root Protection Zone means the area within a circle with a radius equal to the greatest distance from the trunk to any overhanging foliage in the tree canopy.

Tree Protection Ordinance Summary

In recognition of the significant aesthetic, environmental, and economic benefits to the community provided by trees, and to increase the tree canopy in Pasadena, the City Council adopted measures to protect public trees, landmark trees, native trees and specimen trees in certain areas of the city.

Public, Landmark, Specimen and Native Trees

  1. Public trees are those trees located on property under ownership or control of the city.
  2. A landmark tree is a tree designated under chapter 2.75 (Cultural Heritage) because it is one of the largest or oldest species located in the city; it has a historic significance due to an association with a historic building, site, street, person, or event; or it is a defining landmark or significant outstanding feature of a neighborhood.
  3. A specimen tree is a tree of a species and size established on a list adopted by the city council and is thereby presumed to possess distinctive form, size or age, and to be an outstanding specimen of a desirable species. There are 63 species listed on the specimen tree list.
  4. A native tree is a tree with a trunk size of more than 8 inches in diameter and is one of thirteen listed species.

Public Trees

All public trees are afforded protection in the ordinance and it is a violation to prune, remove, injure, or plant a public tree. No attachments (wire, rope, sign, or nail) to public trees, tree supports, shrubs or plants in public places are permitted. The Public Works Department will review out-of-cycle pruning and planting request submitted by a property owner. Requests for the removal of public trees will be reviewed and approved by the City Manager or designee based on the following criteria:

The condition of the tree in regards to health, age, viability, and performance.

Public tree consistency with the Master Street Tree Plan,

Project consistency with the General Plan policies and objectives,

The project will enhance the urban design strategy set forth in the General Plan, Specific Plan, or applicable long-term planning documents,
After thoroughly exhausting feasible design alternatives, the only recourse is to remove the tree so that the prevailing setback along the block face can be enhanced.

For one or two public trees, the City Manager will notify the abutting property owners and applicant ten days prior to the removal. For three or more public trees the City Manager will also notify the City Council, Design Commission, and any known neighborhood association.

Native and Specimen Tree Protection Areas

In single family residential and RM-12 (Multi-family two units on a lot) zoning districts, native and specimen trees are protected in the established front yards and corner side yards, and required side yards and rear yards.

Established yard means the area between the property line and principal structure on a lot. Required yards for each zoning district are defined in the zoning code. If any portion of the tree is located in the yard, then the entire tree is protected.

Landmark Tree Protection Areas

Landmark trees are protected in all areas of all zones, on private as well as public property.

Landmark Tree Designation Process

Any person or agency may nominate a tree for landmark designation. The Cultural Heritage Commission will review all such nominations and make a recommendation to the City Council. Upon City Council approval, and if no objection has been received in writing from the property owner, the tree will be designated as a landmark. A covenant will be recorded with the office of the county recorder.

Further Protection

In the Central District (CD zoning district), the design authority may require modification of the building setback requirements (without a variance) to protect a landmark, native, specimen or public tree.

Tree Protection Guidelines

The tree protection guidelines set the standards and specifications for the protection of trees and are adopted by resolution of the City Council. The guidelines offer protection measures for projects involving construction and require submittal of a tree protection plan for review and approval. Specifically, the guidelines seek to avoid mechanical injury to tree roots, trunks, or branches; the compaction of soil; and changes to existing grade, which may expose or suffocate tree roots. The plan must show trees on-site, on the adjacent public property, and any protected tree on adjacent private property that might be impacted by the proposed project. Key elements to the guidelines are for the requirement of fencing to protect the trees, and inspections before, during, and after construction.

Landmark, Native and Specimen Tree Removal

Requests for the removal of a landmark, native and specimen tree will be denied unless one of the following findings is made:

  1. There is a public benefit, or a public health, safety, or welfare benefit, to the injury or removal that outweighs the protection of the specific tree (public benefit means a public purpose, service, or use which affects residents as a community and not merely as particular individuals); or
  2. The present condition of the tree is such that it is not reasonably likely to survive; or
  3. There is an objective feature of the tree that makes the tree not suitable for protection; or
    1. There would be a substantial hardship to a private property owner in the enjoyment and use of real property if the injury or removal is not permitted; or
    2. To not permit the injury or removal would constitute a taking of the underlying real property; or
    3. The project includes a landscape design plan that will result in a tree canopy coverage of greater significance than the tree canopy coverage being removed, within a reasonable time after completion of the project.

In addition, a request for the removal of a landmark tree will be denied unless the procedures specified for the removal of landmarks and the granting of a certificate of appropriateness is first followed. Relocation of a specimen or native tree will be treated as a removal.

Tree removal requests with a discretionary action will be reviewed by the applicable decision-maker. Decisions on tree removal are subject to standard appeal and call-for-review procedures. Specimen and native tree removal requests, not associated with any discretionary action, will be reviewed by the City Manager or designated staff, with a decision rendered 15 days after the application has been deemed complete. In this case, the appeal process is the same as for a planning director decision.


No permit is required to prune non-protected trees, specimen trees or native trees on private property. Pruning of a designated landmark tree requires a permit and the pruning work must be done according to the most recent standards of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

Exemptions to Permits

No permit is required to remove a protected tree if it is deemed hazardous by the city manager, or any police officer or fire fighter. No permit is required for city employees or city contractors to prune trees for compliance with statewide regulations governing electrical lines. No permit is required for city employees or city contractors to remove or prune a native, public, or specimen tree for the public health, safety or welfare as deemed by the City Manager. No permit is required for the removal of a tree on a project site for which a variance, conditional use permit, or design review approval has been obtained from the city prior to June 10, 2002 or for which a valid building permit has been obtained prior to June 10, 2002.


Violators of the ordinance and/or approved tree protection plan may be charged with a misdemeanor or infraction. A misdemeanor can result in up to six months imprisonment and a maximum $1,000 fine. An infraction can result in a $250.00 fine. In addition, there may be civil penalties, late payment penalties, administration fees, and tree replacement costs charged to the violator.

The City’s Master Street Tree Plan was first published by the Pasadena Park Department in 1940 as the Official Street Tree List, and serves as the guiding document that designates the official tree species to be planted on a block-by-block basis throughout the City. The goal of the MSTP is to promote a uniform urban design on a neighborhood scale, while also promoting species diversity city-wide. With the development and expansion of the City, and with changes in arboricultural practices, the MSTP has been revised and amended accordingly.

Please note that this Master Street Tree Plan web application is for information purposes only. The designated tree species for any purposes of planting trees in the public right-of-way must be approved by staff from the Department of Public Works.

The designated tree species can be found by clicking on the respective street segment, or by using the application’s address finder tool. A link is provided in the pop-up window to Cal Poly’s Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute to search and learn more about the characteristics of different tree species.

Cal Poly’s Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute