Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances

Types of ordinances

In 1990, we conducted a study of city and county tree ordinances in California (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1991). We reviewed 159 enacted city tree ordinances and 9 enacted county ordinances in addition to a small number of proposed ordinances. This sample represented about 50% of the city tree ordinances and 80% of the county tree ordinances in effect in California at that time.

For the purposes of our review, we grouped tree ordinances into three basic categories:

Among California cities, street tree ordinances were more common than tree protection ordinances, although many city ordinances include elements of both. County tree ordinances were most commonly tree protection ordinances, and most of these regulated tree removal on private property. View ordinances were relatively uncommon. We received view ordinances from only four cities and one county. Most of these were "self-enforcing", that is, they set forth a procedure through which private parties could resolve conflicts without direct intervention by the city or county.

Although other types of ordinances, such as grading ordinances, may be related to trees and other vegetation, our discussion will be limited to these three categories, which encompass the overwhelming majority of all tree-related local ordinances.