Outlined below are guidelines that will assist you in the lawful removal of trees from public or private property, and proper handling of tree-related situations in San Jose, California. Within this information are the regulations, specific steps, and ordinances regarding the cutting and removal of dead, dying, injured or hazardous trees.
Emergency Tree Removal from Public Property, Power Line, Sidewalk or City Street
Listed below are varying cases for the removal of dead, fallen, or hazardous trees, and how they are to be addressed:
Tree Emergency Blocking Road or Traffic – If storm-damaged limbs or a diseased fallen tree is found in a roadway or on public property day or night, the situation should be reported to the City of San Jose’s Department Of Transportation (DOT) Dispatch at (408) 794-1900.
Power Line or Utility Interfering Tree – Residents are encouraged to report any tree on public or private property which poses a hazard to power lines by calling the City of San Jose’s DOT Dispatch and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company at (800) 743-5000 and press option #1 – “smell natural gas, downed power line, or dangerous condition”.
Public Tree Fallen on Private Property – When a tree located on public property falls onto private property, the City’s Department Of Transportation (DOT) Dispatch should be contacted immediately at (408) 794-1900.
The DOT will send a city inspector to the site. If the tree is deemed to be the city’s responsibility, the city of San Jose will take responsibility for the removal of the tree and damages incurred.
Private Tree Posing a Safety Hazard – Immediate action is required when an ordinance-size tree located on private property has become a safety hazard or is in danger of falling. Contact the San Jose Planning Division by calling (408) 535-3555.
Immediately contact the City Arborist at (408) 794-1901, if the tree in question is a street tree or a heritage tree.
Private Tree Fallen on Public Property – When a tree located on private property (or is a street tree adjacent to private property) falls onto public property, the City’s Department Of Transportation (DOT) Dispatch should be contacted immediately at (408) 794-1900.
As with the previous scenario, the DOT will send a city inspector to the site. In this case however, it is the property owner’s responsibility to have the fallen tree removed.
Note: If the property owner fails to take action, the DOT will take measures to remove the tree and invoice the property owner for all related costs. Municipal Code 13.28.245 holds a property owner responsible for any and all costs accrued, resulting from tree related work (on or adjacent to the property) required to abate a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation.
Tree Removal Permit Regulations for Private Property
The City of San Jose, CA has established an extensive and strict tree ordinance which protects its population of trees. Property owners should note:
A permit is not required for the removal of dead, dying, diseased or hazardous trees from your property if none of the following conditions apply to the tree in question.
- Street tree
- Heritage tree
- Ordinance-sized tree
- Any tree located on multifamily, commercial, industrial, mixed use property or in a common area.
A permit is required for the lawful removal of any tree from your property if it falls under any of the above categories.
The following guidelines and resources below will assist you in attaining the appropriate permit or learning if your tree is considered a street, heritage, or ordinance-size tree.
San Jose Tree Ordinance Policies and Permit Definitions
In 2011, The City of San Jose enacted its Tree Policy Manual & Recommended Best Practices. While this document provides a descriptive definition and path for the proper care of the trees in San Jose, some of the permitting information (specifically for Chapter 3 – Private Property Tree Removal Permits) has become outdated. Thus, we outlined the pertinent points, definitions, and how to file and acquire the permit below.
The following information will assist in the planting, pruning, or removal of dead, dying, diseased or hazardous trees from your private property, street trees adjacent to your property, and in dealing with heritage and ordinance-sized trees.
Street Trees – These trees are located between the curb and sidewalk of the public right-of-way. It is illegal to prune or remove street trees without a permit. A permit from the Department of transportation (DOT) can be requested here for street trees at no cost. The pruning or removal of a street tree without a permit may result in fines of up to $15,000 per tree.
NOTE: As a reminder, street trees are the responsibility of the property owner of which they are adjacent to.
Heritage Trees – These trees are unique, for their historical significance, size, or species. It is illegal to prune or remove a heritage tree on any property. Consult the San Jose City Arborist at (408) 794-1901 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Heritage Tree Map to determine if your tree is a heritage tree. The pruning or removal of a heritage tree without a permit may result in fines of up to $30,000 per tree.
Ordinance-Sized Trees – A permit accompanied by a certified arborist report is required for the removal of any ordinance-sized tree from any property (even if the tree is unhealthy, dead, or dying). An ordinance-sized tree – single trunk – measures 56 inches or more in circumference measured 2 feet above ground. Multi-trunk combines the measurements of each trunk circumference measured 2 feet above the ground adding up to 56 inches or more.
NOTE: Every ordinance-sized tree legally removed from a single-family or duplex lot, must be replaced by a minimum 15-gallon tree. For other properties, the Planning Division should be contacted regarding the requirements for replacement trees. The City of San Jose recommends contacting Our City Forest to acquire replacement trees on a tax-deductible donation basis. Our City Forest can be reached at (408) 998-7337 or at www.ourcityforest.org.
Take immediate action if an ordinance-sized tree on private property is determined to present a safety hazard or is in danger of falling. Contact the City’s Planning Division at (408) 535-3555 or the City Arborist at (408) 794-1901 if the tree is a street tree or heritage tree.
Any Tree on Multifamily, Commercial, or Industrial Property – A permit is required for the removal of any tree (of any size) on these types of properties. If the tree is an ordinance-sized tree, fill out the removal permit application below, attain a certified arborist report, and submit them with the original landscape plan.
If not an ordinance-sized tree, a Permit Adjustment Application must be completed instead. Contact a city planner at (408) 535-3555 for further questions regarding the removal of trees on these types of properties.
When a permit is required, the approved permit must present on site before any tree work may begin. When the work is complete, return the signed permit, make sure it is completed before the permit expiration date. A final inspection will be made to approve the completed work. Find below the instructions to apply for your permit.
The San Jose Tree Removal Application Process
For the removal of ordinance-size trees, a permit application will only be considered for approval upon verification of one or more of the following:
- The tree is dead, dying, or diseased
- The tree limits or restricts the development or improvement of a parcel
- The tree has become a safety hazard
- The tree is unsuitable
Make certain that the following requirements are satisfied when you submit your San Jose Tree Removal Permit Application Form:
- Tree description and site plan (pages 3 & 4 of the application form)
- Color photograph of each tree (showing the entire tree) printed on 8.5” X 11” paper.
- Pay the non-refundable fee if required: Checks made payable to: City of San Jose. (See screenshot below for fees)
- After review, City staff may require an arborist report. If you have already acquired one, it may be included with your submission.
The chart below lists tree removal fees (which are accurate as of our publishing date). The fees below are subject to adjustment by the City of San Jose at any time.
Should you need assistance calculating the total estimated fees, you may consult a planner by calling (408) 535-3555.
How To Submit
No appointment is necessary. Bring the application, site plan, photographs, and arborist report (if needed) to the Permit Center Assistance Desk; be prepared to pay the respective fee if applicable.
200 E. Santa Clara Street
Tower, 1st Floor
San Jose, CA 95113
Phone: (408) 535-3555
NOTE: 2 days before removing a tree or having a stump removed, it is recommended to call 811. This free call will notify local utility companies that you intend to dig. They will come to your project site and mark any existing underground lines. The marks remain valid for a period of 28 days.
City of San Jose CA Arborist Department Information
The City of San Jose’s Department of Transportation, Planning Division, and City Arborist Department work in tandem to oversee and maintain the City’s urban forest. Below is the contact information for each department.
City Arborist Department
Department of Transportation (DOT)
Trees & Landscaping
1404 Mabury Rd.
San Jose, CA 95133
Monday – Friday
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
200 E. Santa Clara Street
Tower, 3rd Floor
San José, CA 95113
Fax: (408) 292-6055
City of San Jose Tree Ordinance Code
In June of 2011, the City of San Jose enacted its Tree Policy Manual & Recommended Best Practices. This document was built upon the verbiage and guidance of the San Jose, California – Code of Ordinances / Title 13 – Streets, Sidewalks, and Public Places.
Two points of interest from the City’s Code of Ordinances relate to the designation of heritage trees and to the property owner’s responsibilities to properly maintain the trees on that property.
The following are exact quotes from the San Jose, California – Code of Ordinances:
“13.28.220 – Heritage trees.
A. Any tree which, because of factors including but not limited to its history, girth, height, species or unique quality, has been found by the city council to have a special significance to the community shall be designated a heritage tree. Such trees shall be placed on a heritage tree list which shall be adopted by the city council by resolution, which resolution may be amended from time to time to add to or delete certain trees therefrom.
B. Any person who unlawfully vandalizes, mutilates, removes or destroys a heritage tree shall incur a civil penalty in an amount up to thirty thousand dollars for each such tree so vandalized, mutilated, removed or destroyed within a three-year period, the collection of which shall be enforced by civil action brought in the name of the city by the city attorney.”
“13.28.440 – Hazardous conditions; sight obstructions on private property.
A. No owner or person in possession or control of any premises shall maintain any tree, shrub, hedge or other landscaping located on such premises in a manner that causes or may cause a hazardous condition on a street.
B. No owner or person in possession or control of any premises on any corner or interior lot abutting upon a street shall permit the existence of any tree, shrub, hedge, landscaping, mound of earth, or boulders that obscure and impair the view of intersecting or entering traffic from a street of passing motorists or pedestrians or which impairs the view of the street signs, traffic signs, or any other control devices or signs placed upon the streets for the safety and convenience of the public.”