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Neighborhood Wins Review of City's Tree, Sidewalk Policy

Petitioners Cite Liability Concerns, Discrepancies


A neighborhood petition has prompted the City Council to review its tree policy and sidewalk repair program. The petitioners say they are concerned about what they see as discrepancies and unclear liability issues.

Until that review is complete, the city will continue to notify residents when a tree on their lot is damaging a sidewalk, but will not order its removal or require residents to sign a liability waiver if they chose not to take out the tree.

Officials fear that the city could be held liable for trip-and-fall injuries caused by uneven sidewalks; residents say they shouldn't have to assume that liability.

The city sent a notice to 55 residents in the area of Natal Drive, Chestnut and Cherry streets in April that, while not naming specific trouble spots, advised residents that the city had determined that the tree or trees on their property are the cause of the damage to the sidewalk. That notice alarmed some homeowners and prompted them to tie yellow crime-scene tape around 34 tree trunks.

"Initially, we did not know what [the city] was talking about," said homeowner Diana Williams, who helped spearhead the petition. "And when any of us went to the city for answers, all of us were told something different."

Public Works Director Brad Fowler admits that the notice may have been unclear, but he said that none of the trees with yellow ribbons were slated to be removed.

"Most of the trees planned for removal are [city-owned] parkway trees," Fowler said. "Only a small number are private trees."

Fowler defends the city's tree policy and said he is not campaigning to remove trees unnecessarily. He is only trying to deal with safety issues resulting from damaged sidewalks, he said.

"I really want to work with the petitioners," Fowler said. "We can't save every tree, but we are trying to do the smart thing."

A community meeting about the tree policy, hosted by the Public Works Department, will be held at the Community Services Building at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Alex Murashko may be reached at (714) 966-5974.

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