Extreme Tree Trimming Questioned

Residents are questioning SCE and its policy regarding tree trimming, which many residents feel is excessive.
Photo by Mary O’KEEFE


Crescenta Valley is known for its abundance of rocks, as any gardener knows, and for its trees. Many residents have said they moved here because of the tree-lined streets.

In fact, over the years residents fought to maintain their forest-like atmosphere. The Los Angeles Tree Protection Ordinance that was originally established in 1980 has been amended along the way and was put in place to protect trees from overzealous developers. Most cities and the County of Los Angeles followed their their own ordinances. In La Crescenta, there was a spontaneous protest against a Foothill business that attempted to remove a Moreton Bay fig tree.

This mamma/papa bear protective attitude has often run into direct conflict with the state standards that Southern California Edison is required to follow.

SCE has been responsible for years for clearing limbs and removing trees from power lines but in 2017 the state standards for clearing tree limbs from power lines changed from four feet to a recommendation of 12 feet. This prompted SCE to create its Grid Safety and Resiliency Plan in order to meet this new standard.

More attention has turned to utility companies and their practices after PG&E pled guilty on charges of involuntary manslaughter and unlawfully starting the 2018 Camp Fire.

Two residents of the Briggs Terrace area recently reached out to CVW concerned about the aggressive tree trimming that has been occurring at their homes in the 5800 block of Irving Avenue. While they support the need to clear trees and debris from electrical wires and action to prevent wildfires, they questioned the methodology of how tree removal for fire protection is evaluated and processed.

Steve Toley said he has been patient as crews contracted with SCE have trimmed many of his trees in the front and side of his property but, as the trimming became more extreme, he began to question whether the company’s goal was to trim or destroy his trees.

“This tree is not near the power lines,” Toley said as he pointed to the top of a tree. “My trees have been trimmed 10 times in the last two years.”

His neighbor said one of his trees that is at the edge of his front yard had been deeply cut back about six times just this year.

“I have contacted five different people at [SCE]. They keep rotating those [contacts],” Toley added.

His neighbor estimates that about 40% of his 100-year-old oak tree has now been trimmed.

Both residents said they have been in contact with the management of the SCE contracted tree trimming company and each time it was not explained why SCE needed to trim so aggressively. They were only told that, by law, SCE has the right.

In 2012, AB 2556 was introduced to help residents with their issues on extreme trimming; this was prior to the extended 12-foot recommendation. The bill would have required each “electrical corporation and local publicly owned electric utility to avoid excessive tree trimming that threatens the health of a tree, to make a good faith effort to implement good forestry practices and vegetation management practices and to preserve the health of the mountainous lands, forest-covered lands and brush covered lands,” according to the bill.

It would have also required the utility company to obtain the written confirmation by an arborist of the need to remove a tree. The bill died in committee.

SCE does have an arborist who has in the past answered some of the questions of Toley and his neighbor; however, it is often contradictory to that of the private arborist they have reached out to.

Toley added a few years ago they were complaining about the aggressive trimming and SCE held a community meeting.

“That seemed to help,” Toley said. “Things got better.”

But then what many residents considered extreme trimming returned, as did communication issues, including residents not being told when crews were showing up. SCE stated it sent notices far in advance of the trimming but Toley said there have been several occasions when he or his neighbor have come home to find their trees were cut or crews were in the process.

“When you call [Los Angeles] County Board of Supervisors with a tree issue they forward you to a vegetation management [person],” Toley said.

He added he has attempted to get a response from that vegetation management person and left several messages but has yet to hear back.

CVW has been with SCE crews that included an arborist, and where notifications had been received by residents. The trimming was to the recommended levels and SCE officials were on-site to answer concerns from residents; however, SCE contractors are not all created the same and some, as is alleged by Toley, are not as accommodating.

“At Southern California Edison, the safety of our customers, employees and communities is our number one priority, and managing vegetation around our equipment is one of the ways we help mitigate the potential risk of a significant wildfire. We take the health and well-being of each tree seriously when considering the best way to keep them a safe distance from high voltage power lines and other electrical equipment,” said Reggie Kumar, SCE spokesman. “Recently, SCE contractors were performing tree maintenance with overhanging branches that posed a significant risk to power lines. It is our practice to communicate with property owners regularly when we perform vegetation work on their property. We understand some customers have concerns about this type of work but it is important to maintaining the safety and reliability of our system. We encourage all our customers to schedule an inspection by calling SCE at 800-655-4555 if they have concerns about vegetation near power lines.”

The question as to why it would take six or more trimming trips by the tree service was not answered and is still an issue with Toley.

Toley was quick to say that he is not questioning the need to keep debris and trees limbs from power lines as a means to protect against wildfires, but the aggressive trimming can lead to possibly damaging the health of the tree and that is at the center of the concern.

If the trees are removed either by SCE crews or, due to the trimming, cause the tree’s health to decline there is the question of what problems the lack of trees could cause especially after a history of mudslides in the area. The environmental impact will be looked at in upcoming CVW articles.