Santa Monica residents are protesting a neighbor’s decision to cut down several trees on the 300 block of Adelaide Drive.

Removal of the trees began last week to make way for what critics described as additional parking at the site. Local activist Jerry Rubin temporarily obstructed the removal until Santa Monica police arrived and informed neighbors that Santa Monica had no jurisdiction over the site.

The disputed trees reside on a property on the north side of a street that marks the boundary of Santa Monica. Determining jurisdiction over the site uncovered a tangle of overlapping rules.

At the time of the initial removal, officers explained that the property in question was on Los Angeles County land and therefore out of their jurisdiction.

Calls by the Daily Press to the Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning resulted in several internal transfers and a conversation with an official at the Los Angeles Department of Public Works who reported that all addresses on Adelaide Drive were considered a part of the city of Santa Monica.

A representative from Santa Monica’s Building & Safety Department clarified that only the even numbered addresses on Adelaide are considered a part of Santa Monica, and that the property in question fell outside of that. Subsequent calls to the L.A. Department of Public Works revealed that 339 Adelaide Drive was a part of the City of Los Angeles, not the county.

Debbie Lee, Communications and Public Affairs Officer for the City of Santa Monica, said that the Adelaide property owner had contacted Santa Monica regarding the trees. However, the City of Santa Monica instructed her to contact the City of Los Angeles and Lee said Santa Monica had no further involvement with the matter after that.

Neighbors are protesting the tree removal, claiming the homeowner has not received appropriate permits. A representative from the Los Angeles Department of City Planning confirmed that a permit is required to cut down a tree in the city of Los Angeles. However, the Daily Press was unable to verify that permits were issued for the disputed work as calls to multiple Los Angeles agencies were not returned.

Some trees are entitled to specific protections. According to the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Malibu Forestry Unit, the level of protection afforded to trees varies based on the tree’s type and location.

The Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning’s Tree Preservation Policy protects four categories of trees, including those protected by city ordinances, those trees designated as “Heritage Trees” or “Special Habitat Value Trees” and trees deemed of particular value to a specific city park.

City ordinances protect coast live oak, valley oak and any tree of the oak genus indigenous to California that meets certain size specifications. Heritage trees are individual trees of any size or species that are specifically designated for their historical, commemorative or horticultural significance. Special Habitat Value Trees are those trees that serve any of a few designated functions, such as providing a habitat for state or federally protected animals species, native trees located in the Pacific Flyway used by migratory birds and native trees that “provide a foundation for a healthy ecosystem.”

Pine trees, like those in dispute, are not protected as a species through the designation as a Special Habitat Value Tree. However, they could still be protected, as the ordinance also covers trees that are judged to have aesthetic, sentimental, economical and environmental value.

Illegal pruning or damage to any protected oak tree can result in a $10,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

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