City Tree Regulations

In Palo Alto, certain trees are regulated by city rules. The following are regulated:

  • City-owned Trees
  • Protected Tree Species
  • Heritage Trees
  • Designated Trees
  • Trees that may interfere with utility lines
  • City-Owned Trees 

    Any tree growing on public property or in a street right-of-way is a city-owned tree. Note that it is not always obvious where the street right-of-way ends and private property begins. The line can be several feet into a front yard beyond the edge of the sidewalk or street. The city is responsible for the health and maintenance of city-owned trees and the Public Works Department is the agency in charge. Permits are required to do anything that impacts a city-owned tree. 

    For questions about or problems with a city-owned tree, contact the Public Works Arborist at pwd@cityofpaloalto.org or 650-496-5953.

    The Palo Alto law on trees, chapter 8.10 of the Municipal code, can be found in the Tree Preservation and Management Regulations.

    For details about the city tree ordinance, plus detailed guidelines on tree maintenance, construction around trees, and other important topics, read the Tree Technical Manual.

    For more information on tree regulations, contact the Public Works Urban Forestry Section at pwd@cityofpaloalto.org or 650-496-5963.

    Protected Tree Species

    Three tree species are protected by law in Palo Alto once they have grown to a specific size:

Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)–protected only when the tree measures more than 11.5 inches in diameter measured at standard height (54" above grade.)

Valley Oak (Quercus lobata)– protected only when the tree measures more than 11.5 inches in diameter measured at standard height.

 

Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)–protected only when the tree measures more than 18 inches in diameter measured at standard height.

 

Smaller oaks and redwoods on private property are not protected and can be removed without a permit. Examine any young oaks and redwoods on your property and consider whether you want to let them grow to the protected size. 

Heritage Trees

A tree, when requested by the owner, can be designated by the City Council as a heritage tree because of its unusual size, unusual age, historical links or other unique features. Once designated, the tree benefits from all the protection and provisions of the codified tree ordinance (Palo Alto Municipal code 8.10.) Anyone can nominate an individual tree for heritage status.
At this time, there are only seven heritage trees in Palo Alto, including the historic redwood El Palo Alto. Read about Palo Alto’s heritage trees.

Designated Trees

A commercial development typically has a landscape plan as part of its construction permit approval process. Trees listed on the landscape plan are called designated trees. If the property owner wants to remove designated trees (for example, to change the layout of a parking area) at any time in the future, a permit is required. It must be obtained from the Planning Department. A modified landscape plan will be required to show the new tree arrangement. Replacement trees or other mitigation may be required to ensure the property maintains a healthy level of shade trees and curb appeal. 

Trees That Interfere with Utility Lines

The California State Public Utilities Commission imposes regulations on any tree that might interfere with utility lines. In Palo Alto, these state regulations mean that the Palo Alto Public Works Division has a say in the maintenance of any tree that might affect the operation of an overhead or underground utility line, whether it is on private or public property. Trees near utility lines are only regulated to the extent that they interfere with the lines. The City may contact residents about trees that qualify for the Right Tree Right Place program, which allows for the free removal and replacement of trees interfering with power lines.

Tree Information: City of Palo Alto Contacts

Public Works Department
3201 East Bayshore Road Palo Alto CA 94301
Phone: 650-496-5953, Fax: 650-852-9289
Email: pwd@cityofpaloalto.org

The Public Works Department handles maintenance of city-owned trees, public queries and complaints about city-owned trees, and pruning of trees that affect power lines.
 
Planning Department, Arborist 
250 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto CA 94301
Phone: 650-617-3145, Fax: 650-329-2154
Email: planningdivision@cityofpaloalto.org

The Planning Department handles plans for construction when trees are included or affected, compliance with city codes regarding trees, the Palo Alto Tree Technical Manual, and public and volunteer organizations.

 

“Palo Alto’s extensive urban forest intercepts some 135 million gallons of rainwater before it hits our storm drain system. This reduces street flooding, expensive storm drain improvements, and creek erosion.”

~ Joe Teresi
Sr. Engineer, Public Works
City of Palo Alto