After nearly four years of debate and delays, the city of Palmdale has taken a significant step toward adopting an ordinance aimed at preserving Joshua trees--the gnarly, spiny hulks that are the high desert's most distinctive vegetation.
By a 3-1 vote, the city's Planning Commission on Thursday night approved and sent to the City Council a proposed native vegetation ordinance that it had rewritten and reconsidered countless times since the measure was proposed in 1988.
Under the proposal, builders who have Joshua trees on their land would have to preserve at least two trees for every acre developed by keeping them in place, transplanting them or donating them to the city or residents.
City officials also said they are close to finalizing agreements to establish a 60-acre "tree bank" for donated trees near Air Force Plant 42. And, as a last resort, developers who are unable to preserve a tree would have to pay the city a proposed $200 fee for preservation efforts elsewhere.
Under the measure, developers also would have to obtain a city permit before removing any desert vegetation.
Despite continued tinkering with the measure during Thursday's session, Planning Commission Chairman John Mayfield said the time had come for planners to move the ordinance forward.
"It's lived longer here than most of our residents in the city of Palmdale," Mayfield said.
The proposal stemmed from the housing boom that struck the Antelope Valley in the mid- to late 1980s, when developers bulldozed hundreds of acres of Joshua trees to make way for tract homes, angering longtime residents who consider the trees, some hundreds of years old, a symbol of desert life.
A Joshua tree is the centerpiece of the Palmdale city seal. The city of 80,000 was named after the tree in the late 1800s when travelers mistook the Joshuas for yucca palms.
The measure had been persistently fought by developers who said it would create financial hardships and complicate the development process. Over the years, under public pressure, developers have slowly come to accept the provisions of the measure.
City planner Sonja Wilson said the preservation ordinance is tentatively set to be considered by the City Council on Nov. 14.
The intent of the measure is to encourage developers of residential, commercial and industrial projects to keep the trees around areas such as flood basins, entrance drives and other open spaces. The trees grow slowly, but use little water and thus are ideal for drought conditions.