Friday, April 26, 2013

(Ventura) Grand jury calls on Thousand Oaks to document oak tree removal

By Wendy Leung, Ventura County Star -

Though Thousand Oaks requires property owners to replace oak trees when they are removed, the city has no such policy for its public projects, according to a Ventura County grand jury report.

Since 1989, the city has removed 128 oak trees — the majority of them hundreds of years old — but did not document the removal process, the report says.

The report is a result of grand jury interviews with City Hall staff members and research of city documents and newspaper articles.

Grand jury foreman Jay Whitney said he was surprised when he learned the city didn’t document its tree removal process.

“It’s such a part of the community, and it’s so well-known. Oak trees are protected,” said Whitney, a Thousand Oaks resident. “Seems funny that was not codified in law.”

The city has 60 days to respond to the grand jury report.

Asked whether the report contained inaccuracies, Community Development Director John Prescott said, “We’ll be taking a look at that.”

The city requires property owners to plant one or three trees in place of each oak tree removed. The requirement differs depending on whether the owner has private or commercial property and whether the tree is near an existing home.

Because oaks are not protected under state and federal law, Prescott considers the report unusual.

“It seems sort of unusual to weigh in on what local development policy should be. I’m assuming it’s within their purview,” Prescott said. “We are taking it seriously.”

Whitney said oak trees are an integral part of the community and a factor for someone wishing to buy a home in Thousand Oaks. The trees’ protected nature makes the situation suitable for a grand jury investigation.

“We shine a light on something that we think is wrong,” Whitney said.

In its report, the grand jury recommends the city follow tree removal guidelines like those required of property owners and publish or post online a list of tree removal and replacement permits. It also recommends replacement trees be planted in an “oak forestlike habitat.” The city does not have to follow the recommendations.

The report is one of two the grand jury has published this year. The other report is on college readiness in the Ventura County Community College District.

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