Trees FAQ

What is the City’s Sidewalk Repair Program? How did it come to be and what is its relationship with tree removals?

Answer

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that our sidewalks and public rights of way be safe and accessible for everyone in our communities. Los Angeles is faced with a great challenge to provide access along broken, cracked and otherwise impassable sidewalks. A class action lawsuit filed in Federal Court (Willits v. City of Los Angeles) has resulted in a legal settlement requiring the City to repair sidewalks to ensure ADA accessibility. To settle the lawsuit, the City agreed to create the Sidewalk Repair Program and spend $1,300,000,000 ($1.3B) over 30 years to repair the City’s sidewalks, with a priority to sidewalks traversed by people who have physical access disabilities (i.e. residents in wheelchairs, using walkers/canes, etc). For more information on the settlement, sidewalk repair program, and how repairs are prioritized, click here.

Unfortunately, the biggest cause of sidewalk damage leading to sidewalks being out-of-compliance with the ADA are the roots of trees. In the early 1900s, the City planted many of its now-mature and large street trees and did not plant trees with sufficient consideration of their root structures. These trees, like the Ficus tree, have large beautiful tree canopies, but also large roots that often grow laterally, creating sidewalk uplifts or broken sidewalks that are not ADA accessible. In order to repair the sidewalk, the City sometimes needs to remove the tree and replant a tree more suited to root growth that will not damage the new sidewalk. 

 

 

What is tree removal & replacement?

Answer

Councilmember Ryu has led the way in emphasizing the importance of a healthy and robust tree canopy for all Angelenos. Trees serve a key role in our communities and should be preserved if possible and replanted if a tree must be removed. This FAQ serves to explain the factors the City takes into consideration when reviewing whether a tree that is currently posing legal risk to the City, either by blocking pedestrian access, impeding traffic safety, or posing a risk to general public safety, can be preserved or must be removed. This FAQ will discuss some of the options the City looks at to see if preservation is possible and how the city replaces street trees when removal is the only option.

When the sidewalk is repaired, why are trees sometimes able to be saved and why are they sometimes removed?

Answer

Once the City chooses a broken sidewalk that needs to be replaced due to tree root damage, based on the prioritization process of the Sidewalk Repair Program, a city inspector from the Bureau of Street Services and Urban Forestry Divisions reviews the sidewalk. To repair a sidewalk damaged by a street tree, at minimum the roots of the tree under the sidewalk would need to be shaved, cut, or pruned. During the review, a determination will be made to determine if the tree would be likely to survive the level of root pruning needed for the repair and if the roots can be pruned enough to ensure the sidewalk will remain undamaged for at least 10 years. If either of these is not positive, the tree would likely need to be removed. In addition, the City also reviews whether narrowing the sidewalk, while still meeting ADA minimums, is possible to provide the tree roots more space. The Urban Forestry Division will only allow for the removal of a healthy tree after all reasonable options have been exhausted. For additional information please click here.

If the sidewalk would be good for five (5) years and then need repair again, isn’t that worth keeping the tree in?

Answer

To many of us, street trees are invaluable. I understand this and property owners in front of the tree can waive the City warranty on the repair work to keep a tree in front of their home, even if the City believes it will damage the sidewalk again within 10 years.  However, the property owner would be financially and legally responsible for any damage the tree caused. If the property owner does not want to waive the warranty, the City would need to remove the tree, as the cost of having to repair the same sidewalk every five years is not fiscally responsible unless City voters opted to approve a new tax for that purpose. If there is a tree in your neighborhood noticed for removal, you may talk to the fronting property owner to see if they are willing to agree to waive the repair warranty.

Why not just create a slope over the roots? If the uplift is only a little bit can’t the sidewalk just be left alone?

Answer

The ADA is very specific about what makes a sidewalk legally accessible. A running slope of as little as 5% grade and a cross slope greater than 2% are not considered accessible and thus not permissible. Similarly, an uplift of as little as ¼ of an inch is not considered accessible.  Cracks and surface gaps can also make a sidewalk inaccessible. Once the City has been put on notice of a sidewalk that is not accessible by someone covered by the ADA, the City has a legal obligation to repair the sidewalk, and thus the City cannot leave that sidewalk alone. Even a ¼ inch uplift can be a substantial barrier to someone using a wheelchair.

What are some other reasons a tree might need to be removed?

Answer

Some trees in Los Angeles have become diseased or weakened by drought and are dead or dying. The City works to proactively remove these trees, weakened root, trunk, and branch structures on dead or dying trees are more likely to topple during high winds, posing a threat to vehicles, pedestrians, and homes. Additionally, trees that lean into the parkway and therefore pose a substantial risk to passing cars and trucks may be removed for public safety.

What happens when a property owner wants to fix their sidewalk if their sidewalk isn’t up for repair anytime soon?

Answer

The property owner must apply for an A permit from the Bureau of Engineering requesting to do work in the public right of way. This permit can be granted at no fee to the applicant. In the majority of cases the property owner must cover 100% of the costs for repairs. The Bureau of Street Services will notify and require the Department of Urban Forestry to inspect the site to see if the tree(s) causing the damage can safely remain. The Urban Forestry Division will only allow for the removal of a healthy tree after all reasonable options have been exhausted.

Will a removed tree be replanted?

Answer

The City requires that all removed trees be replanted at a 2 to 1 ratio. If it is not feasible to replant 2 trees in the same location or in a location nearby on the property or in the public right of way, then the property owner would need to pay into a tree planting fund to support tree planting efforts in the City.

What types of trees can be used as replacements?

Answer

The Urban Forestry Division maintains a list of approved trees and will recommend acceptable trees based on the type of street and neighborhood.