As one of the Arbor Day Foundation’s designated Tree City USA communities, the City of San Diego has taken steps to increase its overall tree canopy and protect its existing trees.
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 Diego, California.
Emergency Tree Removal from Public Property, Power Line, Sidewalk or City Street
Within this information are the regulations regarding the trimming, cutting, and removal of dead, dying, injured or hazardous tree cases, and how they are to be addressed and resolved:
Tree Emergency Blocking Road or Traffic – If storm-damaged limbs or a fallen tree is found in a roadway or on public property day or night, the situation should be reported to the City of San Diego’s Streets Division by calling (619) 527-7500, or by visiting San Diego’s Get It Done online portal.
Power Line or Utility Interfering Tree – Residents of San Diego are encouraged to report any tree on public or private property which poses a hazard to power lines by calling the City of San Diego’s Streets Division or San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) at (800) 411-7343 press option #1 – “for downed power lines” or say “emergency”. SDGE considers interfering trees as an emergency situation.
Public Tree Fallen on Private Property – When a tree located on public property falls onto private property, the City’s Street Division Dispatch should be contacted immediately at (619) 527-7500.
Private Tree Fallen on Public Right-of-Way – When a tree located on private property (or is a street tree adjacent to private property) falls into the public right-of-way, immediately contact the San Diego Street Division.
Street Division will remove the portion of the tree up to the private property line. The portion of the tree left on the private property is the responsibility of the property owner to have it removed.
Tree Removal Permit Regulations for Private Property
The City of San Diego, CA has established a number of tree policies designed to protect its population of designated 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.
The tree is:
• A Landmark Tree
• A Heritage Tree
• A Parkway Resource Tree
• A Preservation Grove Tree
• A Street Tree
• Required by a Development Permit
* see below for definitions on each of the above conditions
A permit is required for the lawful removal of any tree from your property that falls under any of the above categories.
San Diego Tree Ordinance Policies and Permit Definitions
Since June 13, 2005, a public tree protection policy, enacted by City Council has protected San Diego’s community trees, specifically ones that possess historical value, by designating these trees as heritage and landmark trees.
The following are the terms and definitions of trees that are protected under this policy.
Landmark Trees – These are unusual trees which present aesthetic qualities to the community. These trees are seen as unusual due to:
• Their size having far surpassed the norm for their species.
• The tree has grown in an unusual shape unlike other trees.
• The tree has a unique aesthetic form.
• The tree is of a species rarely occurring in the city.
• The has interesting and unique flowers and/or branching patterns.
Heritage Trees – Either naturally occurring or planted, trees qualify to be designated as heritage trees if:
• They are 50 years or older.
• Have a connection to a historic event, building, or district.
• Were planted by a historically significant person.
Parkway Resource Tree – These are trees of the same species planted in groups within the public rights-of-way, public parking lots, or trails to provide a consistent design theme.
Also considered parkway resource trees are groups of varied species providing a consistent canopy over a street or portion of it.
Preservation Grove – These trees are naturally occurring and are found in the public right-of-way, open space, parkland, or designated Environmentally Sensitive Lands. To be considered a grove, the following criteria must be met:
• Within an area of a quarter acre, a minimum of 6 trees of the same species or similar form, with their trunks no more than 100 feet of each other.
• The above mentioned trees should be native, endemic, or naturalized, and thriving without human intervention or supplemental watering.
The San Diego Tree Removal Application Process
In the event you are intending to remove a tree that requires a permit, this information will educate and guide you through the process.
For the removal of street or protected trees in the City of San Diego, 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 has become a safety hazard
• The tree is causing street, sidewalk, or structural damage
Council Policy 900-19, Public Tree Protection, provides for the protection of designated trees. These trees are Landmark, Heritage, Parkway Resource, and Preservation Grove.
If the above conditions apply, the below will guide you through the permit application process.
Download or print the City of San Diego No Fee Tree Permit Application or call the No Fee Street Tree Permit Line at (619) 236-5513 for assistance.
Make certain that the following requirements are satisfied when you submit your Tree Permit Application Form:
• Fill in all applicable information to the best of your ability/knowledge.
• Provide a detailed site plan (page 2 of the application form)
• For tree planting, your selection of species must be consistent with the community’s street tree plan, or match existing species in the community.
• Obtain a DigAlert ID when planting or removing a tree
Before any planting or tree removal permit is granted, a DigAlert ID number must be submitted with the application process. This ensures that the digging activities will not interfere with the delivery of public utilities. For more information or to schedule an assessment, dial (800) 227-2600 or 811. You can also visit www.digalert.org
When planting or replacing a tree, visit the City’s Street Tree Selection Guide at https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/street-tree-selection-guide.pdf to determine which tree species should be planted.
In the event of sidewalk damage from removal and replacement activities, the property owner is responsible for the repairs of such damage. The required City permit for sidewalk replacement can be obtained by contacting Development Services at (619) 446-5000.
Note: If the area your activities will occur in falls under San Diego County jurisdiction, fill out the Application to Plant, Remove or Trim Shrubs or Trees in County Road Right of Way, and submit it to the County of Sand Diego Department of Public Works.
How To Submit
To submit your No Fee Street Tree Permit Application in person, schedule an appointment at the Development Services Department at (619) 446-5300 or contact the Street Tree Coordinator at (619) 236-5513. You can make contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for other alternatives.
City of San Diego CA Arborist Department Information
Permit Submittal, Review and Issuance
Development Services Department
1222 First Ave., MS 301
San Diego, CA 92101-4101
Community Forest Advisory Board
2781 Caminito Chollas
San Diego, CA 92105
24 Hour Dispatch
No Fee Street Tree Permit Line
800-227-2600 or 811
County of Sand Diego
Department of Public Works
5510 Overland Avenue, Suite 110
San Diego, CA 92123
City of San Diego Tree Protection Ordinance
The following are excerpts from the City of San Diego City Council’s Public Tree Protection – Policy Number 900-19 Effective June 13, 2005, which address the criteria for tree protection designation, special protection for trees with a protected status, and penalties for the removal or damage of protected trees without a permit.
B. Criteria for Tree Protection Designation
1. All public trees within the City of San Diego that are classified as trees (defined as having a single trunk or can be trained into distinctive multi-trunks versus branches) and that have a caliper of at least 8” measured at 4 feet above the ground surface, shall be considered as potentially qualifying under this tree protection policy. The size of the tree caliper does not guarantee its qualification under this policy, though it does require that the tree be evaluated for consideration once nominated…
2. As required in other sections of this policy, all tree removal permit requests will be sent to Community Planning Groups, the Community Forest Advisory Board as
well as to the Council members. Reviewing individuals will have the normal 30-day period to request an extension of time on the removal if they feel that the tree may qualify according to one of the four categories listed above. The City Manager’s designee, considering any input received from community group members, the Community Forest Advisory Board, and Council members, will make a determination on extension requests and if the tree qualifies. If the tree qualifies, the City of San Diego Urban Forester or Park Arborist will designate the tree as protected. …”
“C. Measures Afforded Tree Protection Categories
Special protection offered trees with tree protection status, as designated under Section B include:
1. No permits will be issued for tree removal unless a clear, imminent and significant public safety hazard exists or if the City Urban Forester, in consideration of any comments received from the Community Forest Advisory Board, informed by a certified arborist’s report and recommendations, determines that protection may not be the appropriate course and the project applicant or adjacent owner has agreed to pay 100% of the assessed value of the tree.
2. Tree pruning or root pruning will only occur under the guidance of a licensed arborist, with the written approval of the City Arborist. This shall not apply to root pruning that is necessary to protect the water and sewer infrastructure.
3. Extraordinary measures will be taken to avoid excessive pruning, topping or removals related to line clearance that may be required by the California Public Utilities Commission.
4. Regardless of sidewalk damage, no action will be taken that will result in the death of the tree. Sidewalk relocation or redesign may be considered. …”
“D. Penalties and Fines for Tree Removal or Damage without a Permit
The following fines shall be assessed to those individuals found to be responsible for removal or damage of protected public trees without a permit:
1. For protected trees, fines in the amount of 300% (or up to the maximum amount allowed currently under municipal code) of the assessed value of the tree will be levied for anyone found responsible for intentionally removing trees without permit or causing fatal damage to any tree found in the public street rights-rights-of-way. The assessed value will be determined by the City of San Diego Urban Forester. …”