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Street Trees and Sidewalk Maintenance
Street Tree Policies
Street trees are trees that are located on the lawn or right-of-way area also known as an easement (usually the area between the street and the sidewalk of your lawn). Right-of-way is the area dedicated to the City (usually when a home is built) and the area where utility lines are typically placed. Because the City must have access to these utilities, the City retains ownership of right-of-way areas.

The City has adopted ordinances and policies which regulate the installation, maintenance, and removal of street trees throughout the City. Ordinance No. 132, adopted in 1954, specifies a process for requiring permits for tree maintenance, planting, and removal. That Ordinance has been carried over into Chapter 14.12 of the Placentia Municipal Code and clearly requires the abutting property owner to obtain a permit to plant, maintain, or remove a tree in the street (defined as the area between the curb and sidewalk). Moreover, since its adoption in 1954, the Ordinance has stated that a tree to be removed after issuance of a permit may be planted, maintained (trimmed) or removed by City forces but only after the cost thereof has been paid to the City. In other words, tree maintenance is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. While the City may have, in past years, provided tree trimming at no direct cost to the property owner, the City did so without obligation to continue doing so.

Street Tree Maintenance
In general, proper care and maintenance for an established tree consists of structural pruning on a regular cycle (typically every 3-5 years depending on the species, size, and location of the tree) and regular inspection by a certified arborist (recommended every 1-2 years) to assess the condition of the tree and determine the presence of any disease or damage that could lead to failure of the tree.

Key factors that can contribute to the failure of a tree include:
  • Excessive or atypical wind direction
  • Saturated soils 
  • Excessive branch weight 
  • Uneven distribution of tree canopy 
  • Damage to root structure resulting from things such as root pruning, hardscape repair, soil compaction, and insufficient oxygen supply to the roots; all of these things can potentially cause root decay 
  • Improper or excessive pruning of the tree canopy 
  • Insect infestation and/or disease 

Things to look for as indicators of potential tree problems:
  • Cavities or decay within the stems or branches 
  • Unbalanced or improper tree shape and/or structure 
  • Recent movement of the tree canopy and/or surrounding soils 
  • Extensive presence of dead, dying or diseased branches 

The City’s Public Works Department provides street tree services including the issuance of permits for tree pruning, removal and planting; tree inspections to ensure that work performed on street trees is properly done; advice on tree care and maintenance; and coordination of emergency response.

Sidewalk Repair and Liability
An individual property owner’s obligation to maintain and repair sidewalks and related appurtenances adjacent to his or her property is not new. In fact, existing state law, originally enacted under the Street Improvement Act of 1911 (California Streets and Highway Code § 5600, et. seq.) imposes the obligation to maintain upon the adjacent property owner.

Under § 5610 of the California Streets & Highways Code, a property owner is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk area (including trees placed on public property between the curb and the sidewalk) adjoining his or her property. As defined by the Streets & Highways Code, “sidewalk area” includes the sidewalk, as well as a parkway or parking strip maintained in the area between the property line and the street line and also includes curbing, bulkheads, retaining walls or other works for the protection of any sidewalk or of any such park or parking strip. Under Streets & Highways Code § 5615, if a property owner fails to maintain the sidewalk area, the City can perform the work and proceed to collect the cost from the property owner.

In 2004, the Court of Appeal held that § 5610 properly imposes a duty of repair within the “sidewalk area” upon the adjacent property owner. In addition, the Court of Appeal held that a City is authorized to go further and adopt an ordinance that extends to the property owner liability to the public for injuries caused by the property owner’s failure to maintain the sidewalk area (Gonzales v. City of San Jose (2004) 125 Cal.App. 4th 1127; see also Jordan v. City of Sacramento (2007) 148 Cal.App.4th 1487).

The City's policy on sidewalk maintenance, which dates back to 1975, states that sidewalks will be repaired by the City when damaged by an “Act of God” (i.e., earthquake, flood, etc.) or when a City-owned tree (like the palm trees in the sidewalk area on Kraemer) damages the sidewalk. Otherwise, sidewalk repairs are the obligation of the adjacent property owner (click here to view Sidewalk Repair Policy No. 618).

The City of Placentia is willing to assist residents with sidewalk maintenance in several ways including offering a list of pre-qualified contractors who can repair lifted or cracked sidewalks and by performing temporary repairs with asphalt ramping and grinding until a property owner can replace the damaged sidewalk. The City evaluates each request on a case by case basis and assists property owners based on budget availability.

Any person desiring to construct or reconstruct any sidewalk, curb, curb return, gutter, pavement or driveway, or desiring to cut any such curb, curb return, gutter or sidewalk in or upon any public street, alley or public place in the City shall, before entering upon such construction or causing the same to be made, file with the Public Works Director a written application, showing the nature and exact location of the construction proposed to be made and the name of the person who shall perform the construction.

Upon receipt of an application, the Public Works Director will review the application to ensure conformity with the applicable rules, regulations and specifications of the City and issue an encroachment permit.

Additional Information
Property owners with questions regarding street trees, sidewalks, and permits should contact the Public Works Department at (714) 993-8131.

Letter from the Mayor Regarding Street Trees and Sidewalks
Sidewalk and Street Tree Maintenance Information Brochure
Right of Way Service Request Form
Street Trees and Sidewalk Regulations Memorandum - September 9, 2013

401 East Chapman Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870
(714) 993-8117