County Agrees To Hold Itself to Higher Standards for Oak Tree Care, Protection

By Patric Hedlund
BAKERSFIELD, CA (Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010, 4:40 p.m.)—In what appeared to spectators to be a respectful examination of the concerns of the Frazier Mountain Communities Tuesday afternoon, the Kern County Board of Supervisors gave a directive to Jeff Frapwell, Assistant Kern County Administrative Officer for General Services, to bring forward the current requirements for oak preservation which apply to developers under the Kern County General Plan and to formulate those as regulations to govern Kern County departments themselves when engaging in construction and roads projects. That request was placed by Ray Watson, currently serving as chairman of the board of supervisors. Frapwell said he would comply.

Linda Robredo of Frazier Park spoke to the board, saying that "education" and "reforestation" are the two keys to the health of oak woodlands in Kern County’s future. She said much has been learned about oak tree health since the events of June 12, 2010. That is the date when two heritage oaks, 400 and 300 years old, were destroyed at the library construction site across from Frazier Mountain Park. At the meeting today, Robredo said there was "no need to go back into those details."

That event caused a major uproar among the residents of the Mountain Communities. For ten years, Director of Libraries Diane Duquette had promised that the heritage oaks at the library construction site would be carefully preserved if the county was allowed to build in the oak woodland area across from the park. The contractor, Tilton Pacific Construction, Inc. failed to comply with the terms of their contract that contained provisions to carefully preserve the oaks. The heritage trees were mutilated by grading and had to be brought down. The county gave no advance notice to the community, coming in at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning to cut them down. The result was people from the community pouring into the street in dismay as the oaks were demolished.

As indicated in a recent arborist’s assessment, the trees currently standing in Frazier Mountain Park across the street from the library site are predominantly in their third century. Three of them are considered hazardous and Bob Lerude of Kern County Parks Department says they must come down. This time, he said at a meeting last month, there will be two to three week’s advance notice to the community before action is taken. [Lerude attended the November 16 Mountain Communities Municipal Advisory Council meeting, along with Supervisor Ray Watson and his aide, Christy Fitzgerald. Members of the community spoke there with eloquence about the value of stewardship in regard to heritage oaks.]

At the November 30 Board of Supervisor’s hearing, Robredo paraphrased the arborist’s report, saying "oaks grow aggressively in their first 100 years, then flourish for their second 100 years, then go into the sunset for another 100 years." The alarming aspect of the assessment is that there are no saplings, no younger oaks to fill in the canopy as the current stand of valley oaks begins its decline," she said. "Reforestation in the key here," Robredo emphasized.

Watson suggested that the Frazier Mountain Communities may be able to assist Kern County in developing guidelines for tendng existing oaks and preserving their value. Lorelei Oviatt, director of planning and community development, said in her comments that realtors recognize that a heritage oak increases the value of a parcel of land "two or three times" compared to the value of land without such trees. However, she said that the attempt to create an ordinance to protect oaks on private residential property is not practical at this time. The "building a garage" scenario, she said, is not regulated on private lands in most counties. Los Angeles County is an exception, which she said has an $8,000 fee to take down a heritage oak.

Robredo said the number of standing oaks per acre is the most accurate way to evaluate the range of severity of county regulations throughout California. For instance, she said, Los Angels County has only .026 oaks per acres left, "That is why they have to be more aggressive about preserving what they have." She said San Luis Obispo County has .35 oaks per ace  and Santa Barbara County has .19 oaks per acre. Kern County, she said, has .14 oaks per acre. "It is not about us having the most [oak] acreage, it is about preserving what we have, and knowing when the losses are becoming exponential declines," she concluded.

The board said they will not support county-wide oak ordinance workshops at this time, which Oviatt said would over-task her staff while they are rushing to complete environmental impact reports on solar and wind projects which are under deadlines for expiration of tax credits by the end of 2011. She said they could consider the oak tree workshop issue again in 2012-2013. In the meantime, it was understood, the county will upgrade its own directives to its own departments about the care and maintenance of heritage oaks on county lands.

Oak Tree Protection Before Kern BOS on Tuesday, Nov. 30

FRAZIER PARK (Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010, 3 p.m.)—Mountain Community concerns about protection of our regions heritage oaks, especially on county-owned lands, will be considered on Tuesday, Nov. 30 by the Kern County Board of Supervisors. A request for direction about expanding protection for heritage oak trees in Kern county is being presented to the Kern County Department of Planning and Community Development.

Here is the request, as presented by Lorelei Oviatt, planning department director.

November 30, 2010
Board of Supervisors
Kern County Administrative Office
1115 Truxtun Avenue
Bakersfield, CA 93301
Request for Direction on Potential Expansion of County-wide Policies for
Protection of Oak Trees and Oak Woodlands
(Fiscal Impact: Unknown) All S.D

This matter is a request for direction from your Board on community requests from the
Frazier Park/Lebec area to expand the countywide policies for protection of oak trees and
oak woodlands. The request for expansion of policies is in three areas 1) direct General
Services and Parks and Recreation to develop specific guidelines for protection of oak
trees on county land and county projects, 2) expand protection to an oak tree ordinance
that would include protection of all oaks on private property and 3) conduct public
workshops county-wide to determine what level of regulation the communities want.
 

Different types of oaks occur in various parts of the County including the urban areas of
Bakersfield, Frazier Park/Lebec/Pine Mountain Club area, Kern River Valley and
Tehachapi Mountains. Parks and Recreation estimates over 2000 oaks are currently on
County owned lands at our urban parks (Heritage Park, Metro Park, Kern River County
Park, etc) as well as oaks at our mountain parks; Greenhorn Mtn. Park, Frazier Park and
Tehachapi Mtn. Park. The California Integrated Hardwood Range Management program
estimates there are 731,000 acres of existing oak woodlands, largest number of acres of
such resources of all counties in California. While other areas in the state have lost
significant acreage through development and most recently disease, estimates of the loss
in Kern County range from 15 to 20% total loss of acreage since the 1990′s. This
relatively slow rate of loss can be attributed to the historically slow rate of growth in the
mountain and valley areas of the county, in combination with the presences of historical
farming and ranching operations such as the Broom Ranch, San Emigidio (owned by the
Wildlands Conservancy) and Tejon Ranch, each of which consists of substantial acreage.
 

During the update of the Kern County General Plan in 2004, extensive public meetings
were held specifically on the subject of protection of oak trees and oak woodlands. These
meetings were held in Frazier Park and Tehachapi and resulted in the attached policy.
The staff initiated changes to the Frazier ParkILebec Specific Plan approved by the Board
of Supervisors on May 1 1,2010 and the Greater Tehachapi Area Specific and
Community Plan approved on November 9, 2010 incorporated this policy into these
plans. This policy is in full compliance with Section 21083.4 Conversion of Oak
Woodlands in the amended CEQA guideline and applies to all discretionary actions such
as conditional use permits, precise development plans and residential subdivisions
including tract and parcel maps. In summary, it requires that if a project has oak
woodlands than it is subject to a minimum canopy coverage retention standard of 30% ,
trees are to have protected areas beneath and within the trees unaltered drip line and
recommendations regarding thinning and diseased tree removal shall be included in a
site specific report. If the property does not have oak woodlands but instead has
individual oak trees than the policy requires protection of trees greater than 12 inch
diameter trunk at 4.5 feet breast height, protection of unaltered drip line and evidence
submitted for the record that protection of the tree would be a hardship. The policy has
been successfully applied and implemented County-wide on a number of projects and is
fully enforceable and binding on projects by law. Real estate interests and development
applicants have noted to Staff that having oak trees and oak woodlands on property
enhances the property value and it integral to the economic marketing of projects. The
Kern County General Plan policy is attached for your reference.

Recent events in Frazier Park concerning the construction of the Frazier Park Library as
well as a recent determination that three oak trees in the County park require removal
have focused the Mountain Community Municipal Advisory Council, and the Oak Tree
Committee of greater Frazier Mountain community on oak tree protection. The
Mountain Community Municipal Advisory Council has requested policies be developed
for Kern County departments to establish oak tree maintenance policies and staff work
with regional MACs and other public forums to determine the need and viability of
measures to protect oak trees on both public and private land. The Oak Tree Committee
is requesting that public workshops be conducted to assess the county-wide need and
methodology for use of an oak ordinance.

Staff has reviewed the ordinances of surrounding counties and summary is attached. The
protection of oak trees in most counties focuses on agricultural land or development
projects. Research specifically asked the various jurisdictions what protections were
provided if a homeowner wanted to remove a tree to construct a garage addition. Some
areas do require a permit, but many do not. In the case of Los Angeles County such a
permit requires fees of $8,172 and further restrictions on construction around the tree.
San Luis Obispo County does not require a permit for a residential lot and Santa Barbara
County does not require a permit for a residential lot but encourages preservation. The
implementation of an ordinance that would regulate trees on private property for
ministerial tree permits would require new permit fees, planning department staff, and
additional code compliance staffing. In addition an arborist would need to be retained
and those costs included in the permit. Oak trees are an enhancement to property values

for individual owners but older trees can endanger structures and people if not properly
maintained. Implementing restrictions on private property for the management of oak
trees will add a regulatory burden during these already difficult economic times for
homeowners. Costs for the creation and implementation of any such ordinance will
either be defrayed from permit fees or from the General Fund. Staff has no indication
that there would be enough permits to support the program. While soliciting community
input is always a top priority of the department, staff does not recommend a workshop
program to discuss this issue with the affected communities unless your Board is
interested in pursuing an expanded policy or ordinance to address privately owned trees.
Such a program would cost over $7,000 in staff time, and with the current workload of
Board directed projects and applications there is a lack of resources to start a new
program in the 2011-2012 year timeframe.

As the current General Plan policy continues to be successfully implemented on
development projects, staff recommends no changes in that policy and does not support
the development, at this time, of an oak tree ordinance that would make trees in residents
backyards subject to a review and permit. Staff is encouraged by the voluntary efforts
now being promoted by the community and believes they are the best approach for the
communities interested in protection of privately owned trees.

In consultation with General Services and the Parks and Recreation department, staff has
concluded that creating clear guidance for management of oak trees on County owned
land and County projects would be useful. Such guidance would also apply to projects
implemented by Roads, Community Development and all County departments. The
guidelines would also include compliance with the General Plan policies and address
criteria for decisions on management of aging oaks, removal and potential replacement.

Therefore, IT IS RECOMMENDED that you direct General Services and Parks and
Recreation to develop guidelines for protection of oak trees on county owned lands and
for County projects, receive and file this report.

Sincerely
Lorelai H. Oviatte, AICP, Director
Kern County Planning & Community Development Department
 

LH0:jb
Attachments
i:\adm\jvb\board.ltrRequest on Oak Tree policies 2.1tr
cc County Administrative Office
County Counsel
Development Services Agency
Roads Department
Engineering Surveying and Permit Services
Grand Jury
Mountain Community Municipal Advisory Council
Oak Tree Committee of greater Frazier Mountain community, P.0 Box 1863,
Frazier Park, CA 93225
Friends of the Oaks – Tehachapi
Rosamond Municipal Advisory Committee
Tehachapi Municipal Advisory Committee
Kern County Farm Bureau
Cattlemen’s Association

 

This is part of the December 03, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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