The County of Santa Clara recognizes the significant value of its tree population. Trees provide aesthetic and scenic beauty, prevent erosion of topsoil, protect against flood hazards and the risk of landslides, counteract air pollution, and can be valuable historical and community assets. They provide wind protection, shade, climatic balance, privacy, and wildlife habitat. In addition, studies have demonstrated that trees increase property values.
When is a tree removal permit required from the County?
A protected tree on any private or public property shall consist of any of the following:
- Any tree having a main trunk or stem measuring 37.7 inches or greater in circumference (12 inches or more in diameter) at a height of four and one-half feet above ground level, or in the case of multi-trunk trees a total of 75.4 inches in circumference (24 inches or more of the diameter) of all trunks in the following areas of the county:
- parcels zoned "Hillsides" (3 acres or less)
- parcels within a "-d" (Design Review) combining zoning district
- parcels within the Los Gatos Specific Plan area.
- Any tree having a main trunk or stem measuring 18.8" or greater in circumference (6" or more in diameter) at a height of 4.5' above ground level, or in the case of multi-trunk trees, a total of 37.7" in circumference of all trunks (12" or more of the diameter) in the "h1 " New Almaden Historic Preservation zoning district.
- Any heritage tree, as that term is defined in §C16-2 of the Tree Preservation Ordinance.
- Any tree required to be planted as a replacement for an unlawfully removed tree, pursuant to §C16-17(e) of the Tree Preservation Ordinance.
- Any tree that was required to be planted or retained by the conditions of approval for any use permit, building site approval, grading permit, architectural & site approval (ASA), design review, special permit or subdivision.
- On any property owned or leased by the County of Santa Clara, any tree which measures over 37.7 inches in circumference (12 inches or more in diameter) measured 4.5 feet above the ground, or which exceeds 20 feet in height.
- Any tree, regardless of size, within road rights-of-way and easements of the County, whether within or without the unincorporated territory of the county.
Exceptions to tree removal permit requirements
Except in the case of heritage trees, no permit shall be required from the Planning Office for the cutting, removal, destruction, or pruning of a tree in the following circumstances: The tree is (1) irreversibly diseased, is dead, or is dying; or (2) the tree is substantially damaged from natural causes (a determination by a licensed arborist, tree surgeon, or forester may be required).
- Tree cutting to remove a hazard to life and personal property as determined by the Planning Director, or his or her designee. It shall be the responsibility of the property owner or other person responsible for removing the tree to demonstrate that any tree removed without a permit was irreversibly diseased, substantially damaged, or presented an imminent danger to human life or safety or to property.
- Trees planted, grown and/or held for sale by licensed nurseries and/or tree farms.
- Trees in the active production of agriculture or orchard production, where there is no active plan to convert the property to another use
- Tree removal necessary to carry out building site approval or other land use application approved by the County. No removal shall be permitted until such grading or building permit has been issued by the County as indicated on approved plans. The number of trees cut may not exceed the minimum number necessary to carry out the permitted action.
- Maintenance work within pubic utility easements.
- Trees removed or pruned as part of maintenance of County Parks under established policies and procedures of the Parks & Recreation Department.
- Trees removed or pruned as part of maintenance of County right-of-way under established policies and procedures of the Department of Roads & Airports.
- Trees removed on properties with a comprehensive vegetative management program approved by the County;
Tree removal in AR (Agricultural Ranchlands) & HS (Hillside Zoning Districts)
Tree removal allowed as a matter of right, special permit and use permit in the AR & HS (parcels greater than 3 acres) zoning districts are governed by §C16-5 & §C16-6 of the County Ordinance Code.
Is a fee required for a tree removal permit?
No fee shall be assessed for an administrative permit for tree removal.
How do I apply for a tree removal permit?
Any person desiring to remove any tree under an administrative permit shall file an application with the County Planning Office not less than 10 days prior to the date of such planned removal. Removal of any tree, regardless of size, located within a County road right-of-way shall require an encroachment permit from the Department of Roads & Airports not less than 60 days prior to planned removal.
The following information shall be included in applications for tree removal:
A brief statement of the reasons for removal of the tree.
A photograph of the tree(s) proposed for removal.
A tree survey (map) with the accurate location, number, species, size (diameter measured four and one-half feet above ground, approximate height, and approximate canopy diameter), general health, and approximate age, if known.
Location of property lines, names of the streets fronting the property and edge of any street right-of-way.
A replanting and/or revegetation plan for all trees to be removed. Replacement trees shall be of a like kind and species of tree removed, if native and feasible, or of a kind and species to be determined by the Planning Department. Replacement tree planting shall utilize at least five gallon size stock.
Who approves the permit?
The Planning Office staff or, in the case of appeals, the Planning Commission.
What criteria determine whether my request will be approved?
Criteria set forth in the Tree Preservation Ordinance include, but are not limited to, the following:
whether the tree is diseased; poses a risk to property, health, or safety; interferes with vital public utilities; or will be replaced by approved plantings;
the topography of the land and the effect of the proposed tree removal upon erosion, soil retention, and the diversion or increased flow of sediment;
the number, species, size, and location of existing trees in the area, and the effect the proposed removal would have upon shade, privacy impact, scenic beauty, property values, and potential impacts upon adjacent trees (i.e. increased windthrow);
the historical significance of the tree to the community;
the tree has caused repeated sewer/sidewalk damage and created a sewer/sidewalk problem that cannot be resolved by any other means;
removal of the tree would benefit roadway usage, i.e. road widening, sidewalk installation, etc. as determined by Department of Roads & Airports staff.
Display of permit/notice to neighbors
The approved tree removal permit shall be posted on the site a minimum of seven (7) calendar days prior to actual tree removal operations and shall be available to any person for inspection. The issued permit shall be posted in a conspicuous place at eye level at a point near the closest street or roadway. It shall be the property owners responsibility to see that adjoining property owners also receive a copy of said tree removal permit a minimum of seven (7) calendar days prior to actual tree removal operations. Removal of the subject tree(s) shall be allowed to take place at the end of the seven (7)-day noticing period if no written objection to the issuance of the permit has been received by Planning staff.