A La Canada Flintridge resident who is facing thousands of dollars in fines for excessively trimming oaks on his property says the punishment is unfair.
The city's Planning Commission on Tuesday held Franklin Wang responsible for hiring a pruning service not approved by the city, and for over-pruning six coastal live oaks, a species protected by municipal ordinance. Wang will have to pay a $3,650 fine and deposit $1,500 so that an arborist can inspect his trees three times during the next five years. The trimming was reported anonymously to the city's code enforcement officer.
Wang, who lives on Berkshire Avenue, said he was a victim of the pruning service he hired, Royal Landscaping, which he said was misrepresented as being licensed with the city.
Royal Landscaping "gave me a postcard that said 'licensed and bonded,' " Wang said. "I was not aware there were only a few companies that were approved by the city of La Canada ... to do tree pruning."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 17, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Tree trimming: An article in the Jan. 15 California section about a La Canada Flintridge resident having to pay fines for excessive tree trimming incorrectly stated that Franklin Wang would have to pay a $3,650 fine. In fact, that figure was the city staff's recommendation, and the Planning Commission reduced the fine to $2,000.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 22, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Tree trimming: An article in the Jan. 15 California section about a La Canada Flintridge resident fined for excessive tree trimming said that Franklin Wang would have to pay a $3,650 fine. In fact, that figure was the city staff's recommendation, and the Planning Commission reduced the fine to $2,000.
Wang also said the city is overstating the damage done to the trees on his property.
The city arborist's report, prepared by William McKinley of McKinley and Associates, stated that the oaks on Wang's property had 30% to 70% of their foliage removed, above the 25% threshold permitted by the city's tree preservation and protection ordinance.
Wang said those numbers didn't pass the eye test and that he thought the city was too strict.
"If you look at trees pruned beautifully by the city, and compare to the ones I have, there's not much difference," he said. "We're not here to run our lives based on what an arborist has to say."
Commissioner Michael Cahill said that McKinley was a well-regarded arborist and that the city had to respect his expertise.
"Look at some of these trees; there's barely any branches left," Cahill said. "I think they were excessively trimmed. If [McKinley] says the trees need to be monitored, then monitor them."
As for Royal Landscaping's culpability, Commissioner Rick Gunter said Wang ultimately was responsible for decisions made on his property.
"I, too, feel the owner's pain," Gunter said. "It's frustrating if you get a card and it says on it 'licensed and bonded,' and you're trying to do the right thing. The unfortunate fact is, if I hire a contractor and he does something on my property, that's still my responsibility, and I think we'll have some sharp words for the contractor."
Elizabeth Casimiro, who owns Royal Landscaping, said she and her husband, Gilbert, recognize their errors in the Wang project and have paid a fine of about $400 to the city.
She said that in Van Nuys, where her business is based, no additional permits beyond a business license are required for tree pruning.
Casimiro said they were following Wang's request to prune the oaks as heavily as they did.
"I didn't actually know that we needed a permit to trim oak trees, because we've never had a problem, but now that we know we're not doing it again," she said.