Belvedere's trees are protected by the City's Municipal Code because, given Belvedere's unique geography, they often provide screening, privacy, and shade.
The City's Tree Page is designed to familiarize you with the unique requirements applicable to trees in Belvedere on the following topics:
- Tree Removal
- Pruning and Trimming Standards
- Trees in the Right-of-Way
- Finding the Right-of-Way
- Maintenance of City Trees
1. Tree Removal
The Belvedere Municipal Code provides staff with the ability to exempt some tree removals from the requirements of Design Review; but not all. When considering whether Design Review is required or whether the removal can be exempted, staff considers whether there are other trees in the area that will minimize the effects of the loss of the tree, if the tree is not native to the area, and if adjacent residents approve of the tree removal. In these cases, staff can generally "exempt" the tree removal from the requirements of Design Review. Also, if the tree is an immediate threat to life or property, the work can be exempted but the property owner will be required to submit a plan to correct any issues that arise due to the loss of the tree related to screening or privacy.
The City provides a tree removal guide (PDF) intended to help residents and tree service companies understand the Design Review Ordinance as it relates to trees. But, in general:
- Formal Design Review is required for landscaping changes when those changes affect a visually significant portion of the property. Removal of large, visually significant trees, will generally trigger this requirement.
- Removing one or more trees native to Belvedere and Southern Marin that are greater than 16 inches in diameter at breast height will almost always be considered a significant landscaping change that triggers Design Review.
- Most significant tree removals will require a site inspection by an independent, City-contracted arborist. The cost for the report is charged to the applicant. Reports hired by the property owners cannot be considered for "independent" review.
- Conditions of approval authorizing the removal of native trees will typically involve a requirement that replacement trees be planted. The general guideline is two new trees for each tree removed.
- Tree removal work that involves working from or within the public right-of-way will trigger the requirement for an Encroachment Permit (PDF).
- The use of certified arborists will often be encouraged or required.
- Vegetation planted for screening or privacy as a specific condition of approval for a prior design review will be required to be maintained or replaced.
- General landscape maintenance, tree trimming, pruning, or other corrective measures are not generally subject to City review unless such activity irreparably harms trees whose removal is subject to Design Review.
As a reminder, any business, trade, or profession operating within the City is required to obtain a City Business License. This includes the services of gardeners, tree trimmers, arborists, landscapers, etc.
2. Pruning & Trimming Standards
Pruning can either help or hurt trees. When appropriate practices are used, pruning can provide significant benefits. When inappropriate practices are used, significant harm can follow. For the long-term health and structural stability of trees in the City, it is critical that pruning practices conform to professional standards established by the tree care industry. The City requires that any work conducted on public trees confirm to these industry standards, whether the work is initiated by the City or the adjacent property owner. Further, the City encourages that pruning of trees on private property conform to these same professional standards. Tree trimming or pruning that is the subject of a City approval process will be required to conform to industry standards. The City recognizes the most current editions of the following benchmark standards for tree pruning:
- American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A300 Pruning Standards
- ANSI Z133.1 Safety Standards
- ISA Best Management Practices: Tree Pruning
City arborists and contractors should obtain copies of the above publications and apply the standards and guidelines when engaged in pruning operations in the City.
3. Trees in the City Right-of-Way
Trees that are within the City's right-of-way have an additional process (PDF) applicable to their removal and pruning that involve neighbor notification - see Belvedere Municipal Code Chapter 8.28 (PDF). Trees that are within the City's right-of-way should not be removed or trimmed without following this process. Review the City's Tree Removal Guide (PDF) and applicable sections of the Belvedere Municipal Code (PDF) for more information. Chapter 8.28 is generally designed to allow corrective action to be taken on trees within the right-of-way to:
- Prevent the diminution in enjoyment and value of private property caused by the growth of trees, shrubs or hedges that unreasonably obstruct the view from or sunlight reaching a property;
- Promote and maintain the assessed values of private property for tax purposes;
- Promote and maintain the aesthetic value of the community generally;
- Encourage the informal resolution of tree/view/sunlight disputes;
- Encourage prompt efforts to resolve tree/view/sunlight disputes with as minimum corrective work as possible.
Chapter 8.28's primary focus is an "unreasonable obstruction." An "unreasonable obstruction" is an obstruction of view or sunlight that impairs the economic value, use or comfortable enjoyment of a parcel of real property and is caused by the growth of trees, shrubs or hedges on another parcel of property, the adverse effect of which growth can be reduced or eliminated without material impairment of the economic value, privacy, use or comfortable enjoyment of the property on which it exists, or the aesthetic value of the community generally. For the purposes of trees on City right-of-way, any property owner objecting to their trimming pursuant to a Notice under Chapter 8.28, "stands in the shoes of the property owner (the City)" for the purposes of a resolution. The City is not a party to any tree dispute.
4. Where is the Right-of-Way?
Generally, in many communities rights-of-way can be estimated by finding the edge of pavement and measuring back 5 to 7 feet. However, because of the way Belvedere developed, rights-of-way in Belvedere are not standard. Often, rights-of-way can be much further into property frontage or, in the case of a through lot, rear yards, than one might anticipate. If you are unsure of where the right-of-way lies on your property, check recent surveys, site plans, or other reference material. If these materials are unavailable, it is recommended that you have a lot line survey conducted to delineate the area clearly. You can also check any available records at City Hall to determine if there are any historic records of survey.
5. Maintenance of Trees in the Public Right-of-Way
Many of the roads on Belvedere and Corinthian Islands are lined with lush vegetation and beautiful, desirable trees that require annual maintenance. When left unmanaged, trees and vegetation become overgrown and cause potential hazards. Each year starting in spring, the City Public Works crews trim the public right-of way to manage vegetation from encroaching into the roadways and creating unsafe conditions for vehicles and pedestrians. Trimming ground vegetation along the edge of the roadway provides access for street sweeping machine brooms to keep gutters clean of leaves and debris.
Trees that are within the City's right-of-way are generally managed by the City's Public Works Department where they encroach or overhang the public traveled way. The trees and vegetation are maintained solely for the purposes of public safety and vegetation management, not beautification. The City does not have the staff or budget to maintain trees in the right-of-way from a beautification perspective.
Work often begins in April following the rainy season and is usually completed by September. Part of the vegetation management program requires trimming of overhead tree limbs and branches to provide adequate clearance for Emergency apparatus and other larger vehicles such as trash collectors and concrete delivery vehicles. Left unpruned, these limbs and branches are often hit by larger vehicles causing injury to trees, damage to vehicles, and possible obstruction of the roadway by the downed limbs. On occasion, City crews are dispatched to broken limbs hanging down and causing a hazard.
The State of California Fire Code requires that overhead branches of trees be maintained at a minimum of 13.6 feet vertical clearance over roadways so that fire apparatus can pass in an emergency. City crews take a proactive approach to managing trees overhanging the streets and trim small limbs and branches to a height of 14 feet. Occasionally areas may require more extensive cutting
of larger limbs or even a removal of a stem of a tree to provide the required clearance. In these cases, such work will be discussed with neighbors to provide the most acceptable solution. Staff contracts this heavier work out to professional tree companies that have a Certified Arborist on staff who can direct work requiring specialized training and equipment to complete.
Residents often express concern over privacy issues when they observe City workers cutting and pruning vegetation. City crews are sensitive to these concerns and only prune or cut the necessary branches to provide adequate clearance. All cutting and pruning performed by the City is with an eye towards aesthetics and maintaining privacy. The next time you observe crews performing vegetation management along the road, please observe signs and drive slowly in the cone zone. We appreciate your consideration.