Activists Say They Will Head to Court Thursday in Bid to Stop City from Destroying Three South Lake Avenue Trees

Published : Wednesday, November 2, 2016 | 5:43 AM

School girls from Polytechnic School are pictured giving one of three trees the City of Pasadena agreed to cut down a group hug on Friday, October 21, 2016. Image: Lori Paul

[Updated Wednesday, November 2, 2016 | 7:15 a.m.]  A citizens group called Save Pasadena Trees has retained an attorney and plans to go to court on Thursday seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the City of Pasadena from cutting down three large trees on South Lake Avenue.

Meanwhile the group’s attorney, Mitchell Tsai, sent city officials a letter alleging the city has not properly followed its own rules and must immediate conduct a public hearing into the trees’ fates.

A copy of the letter sent by attorney Mitchell Tsai to the City of Pasadena.

The City has agreed to remove the mature ficus trees at 497 South Lake Avenue as the result of a lawsuit settlement with Rodeo Holdings, LLC, the owners of the property, who argued that the trees were damaging the sidewalks and their property.

The plans to destroy the trees brought an outcry from residents who protested the decision and vowed to prevent their “slaughter.”

At the October 24 City Council meeting, officials, confronted by nearly a dozen residents who pleaded with them to reconsider and re-negotiate the settlement that would kill the trees, held firm to their position that the trees would likely be cut down in the immediate future.

Read the full letter sent by Save Pasadena Trees attorney to the city officials. Click here

Tuesday, a City spokesman acknowledged the City was in receipt of a letter sent by Save Pasadena Trees’ attorney, Mitchell Tsai, to Mayor Terry Tornek, City Manager Steve Mermell and City Attorney Michele Bagneris requesting that the City of Pasadena “cease the removal of 3 mature, healthy Ficus nitida trees (Indian Laurel Bay Fig Trees) located at 497 South Lake Avenue, Pasadena, California.”

Save Pasadena Trees is demanding that a public hearing must be conducted, claiming that a city ordinance prohibits the removal of the trees without the public being heard and presumably exerting influence, even though City Manager Steve Mermell said in a statement last week that, (“Removing the trees) was a very difficult decision to make and was done so only after careful consideration of all available information, liability and the City’s fiduciary obligation to its citizens,” and City Attorney Michele Bagneris has said that the settlement decision was final and could not be reversed.

Wrote Tsai in the letter, “The City has not properly followed the review provisions of the City Trees and Tree Protection Ordinance, of the Pasadena Municipal Code. saying that “The Lake Avenue Trees are “public tree[s]” within the meaning of the Ordinance, which protects “all public trees located at all places within the city.”

Tsai explained, “A ‘public tree’ is any ‘tree located in a place or area under ownership or control of the city including but without limitation, streets, . . . .”

Tsai also contends that the Ordinance, Muni Code § 8.52.085, prohibits the removal of any public tree.

“The City has failed to follow the public notice requirements of the Ordinance,” Tsai continued.

“In particular,” he said, “the Ordinance has failed to publicly notify the City Council, Design Commission and neighborhood organizations as required under Sections 8.52.150 and 8.52.050 of the Muni Code. In particular, the Ordinance requires that “[i]n the event of a decision . . . for the removal of 3 or more public trees in an area, the city manager shall also notify the city council, the design commission, and any neighborhood organizations located in such which are known.”

Moreover, wrote Tsai, “The City has failed to obtain a tree removal permit. The City is only permitted to remove the Lake Avenue Trees without a tree removal permit if “the city manager has determined [it] is necessary or prudent for the public health, safety or welfare provided [that] advance notice is given by the city manager to the city council.” Muni Code § 8.52.080(D).

“No evidence suggests that the removal of the Lake Avenue Trees is necessary for public health, safety or welfare,” said Tsai, adding, “If the City does not agree to conduct regular public hearings on the Lake Avenue Tree Removal, my office will pursue all available legal remedies.”

Pasadena Public Information Officer William Boyer confirmed late Tuesday afternoon that the City had received the letter “and it is under review by the City.”

Nothing else, he added, has changed.


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