Burbank is known for its quaint neighborhoods — some with impressive tree canopies along the streets. A tree lined street is considered a plus by many prospective home buyers. Despite the attractiveness of these large city-owned trees — some homeowners are having them chopped down to cut expenses. Heartbreaking, but perfectly legal under certain stipulations in the Burbank Municipal Code.
Earlier this year, I saw a city crew destroying a huge camphor tree on East Alameda Avenue. I asked the crew supervisor if the tree, which looked healthy, had a disease or harbored some kind of pest. I was told the tree was fine, except its roots were getting into the sewer line and the homeowner wanted it removed.
These parkway trees are under the jurisdiction of the Burbank Park, Recreation and Community Services department. Jan Bartolo oversees the care of parkway trees. In an e-mail exchange, she explained the code requirements and removal procedure due to sewer problems: “The Burbank Municipal Code (BMC) stipulates that trees can be removed if they are located within 5 feet of the sewer line.”
“When we receive a complaint from a resident who may be experiencing sewer issues possibly related to a tree and/or its roots, we request Public Works (PW) to provide us with a sewer print out map. PW’s also provides us with the service of marking the sewer line location. We then make a field inspection and check the distance to the tree and assess all other pertinent factors when at the site.”
“If the tree does fall within the BMC’s code allowance for removal, we will then schedule the tree’s removal accordingly should the property owner desire this course of action. While our inventory system does track tree removals, it does not itemize the individual reason for each removal.”
The homeowners who have the city street trees ripped out because of root problems will most likely see their bills for cooling their homes during the hot months go up. I experienced this when, for some mysterious reason, the huge camphor that shaded the front of my house died a few years ago. I had it replaced with a young camphor that is slowly growing to fill the hole in the street canopy, however, it provides little shade for my home during the summer.
In this tough economy with costs rising and paychecks getting thinner, homeowners should not have to try to save a few dollars by having a city tree removed. Bartolo says these trees are generally 20-70 years old — and the city does not require homeowners to accept free replacement trees. So the damage is permanent to the tree canopies in some neighborhoods.
At a time when city officials are hounding Burbank residents about conserving natural resources like water, they ignore the needless destruction of these valuable trees. There is a solution. Last night at the Burbank City Council meeting, Councilman Dave Golonski spoke about $9 million in unrestricted funds, a repayment loan, that the city has available. Why not put aside some of this surplus to handle sewer repairs due to tree root problems?
If homeowners no longer have to shoulder the financial burden for those sewer repairs, beautiful and environmentally beneficial trees would be left alone for all to enjoy.