The Planning Commission soon will be talking treehouses after City Council members on Tuesday decided La Cañada Flintridge needs to specify its zoning code to allow for in-tree structures to be built in non-protected species — so long as the structures meet current building code standards and, perhaps, additional to-be-determined requirements.
The conversation began April 3, when LCF resident John Womack approached the City Council to ask that they review the topic. He’d received a notice of violation from the city’s code enforcement personnel after someone reported that he’d built a treehouse in a protected oak tree on his property.
He said he did research on the city’s website before he built the small platform for his two kids, and finding no ordinance forbidding treehouses, got to work.
“From the outside looking in, your job is to protect the way of life in the community, you have to make sure the environment is being protected,” Womack said last month. “But I think you also have to make sure the family portion of La Cañada is being protected.
He added: “I didn’t cut the branches or alter the tree. The tree is still living, the roots are great.”
But at Tuesday’s meeting, arborist Rebecca Latta testified that a tree could be harmed if someone drills even small holes in it or alters the way it grows around a structure. She suggested residents who want to construct treehouses consider freestanding structures that serve the same function without endangering the tree.
Still, after discussing the current ambiguity about the city’s rules on treehouses, none of the four council members present Tuesday wished to force Womack to tear down his structure. Council members could not, however, rule on the fate of Womack’s case in particular (code enforcement staff will review it, taking into account direction from council members, city attorney Mark Steres said).
The council did establish a desire to better define treehouse-owner rights, while also supporting the city’s protected trees: California oaks, California sycamores and deodars within the LCF’s Historic Deodar Cedar District. (The municipal code’s protection plan includes penalties: In the case of a loss of a protected tree, homeowners can face restitution fines of between $1,062 and $10,800.)
“This is a really big balancing act,” Councilman Greg Brown said. “The tree ordinance has now been really narrowed to just focusing on truly protectable trees. And for those trees, it doesn’t make sense … when we have standards on water, trimming and being able to build near them and then to say, ‘But you can put in nails and things that actually damage those trees.’
“But on the other hand, if someone is building a treehouse [in a non-protected] tree, I think we ought to have a provision for it. You ought to be able to build your kid a treehouse.”
Citing past complaints that resulted in the removal of at least two treehouses, City Manager Mark Alexander suggested councilmembers — and the Planning Commission, which will take up the topic first — consider adopting criteria related to height, size and setback standards to protect the privacy of neighbors.
UNLOCKED CARS HIT
During his monthly public safety report, Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Blasnek implored drivers to lock the doors on their parked cars.
Of the 15 car thefts that were reported in April, eight were the result of thieves allegedly breaking windows and taking items inside, he said. Seven allegedly occurred after thieves found a car door unlocked.
“I want to remind everybody to take those laptops and those phones and anything important out of your cars and to lock your cars at night,” Blasnek said. “These people will come in, jiggle some door handles and be on their way again.”
After no residential burglaries were reported in March, Blasnek said there were four last month, bringing the total this year to 22 — 14 of which happened in January. Several of those, Blasnek said, are being tied to suspects who were traced back to Hesperia and arrested.
In addition to commending “a great investigation by our detectives,” Blasnek applauded residents’ increased use of video surveillance equipment and also touted his station’s response times. He told council members that personnel from the CV Station are logging response times of 3.8 minutes for emergency calls, 6.5 minutes for priority calls and 15.7 minutes for routine calls.
YOUTH COUNCIL MEMBERS
Chase Kerstein and Emily Strauss were appointed to join the LCF Youth Council, an organization that meets monthly and offers local youth the opportunity to make recommendations about city policies affecting their lives.
The council also voted to reduce the number of Youth Council members from 11 to nine because only Kerstein and Strauss applied before the March 30 deadline.