City Council Adopts Changes to the City of Mill Valley Tree Ordinance


The City of Mill Valley City Council recently adopted changes to the Tree Ordinance (MVMC 20.67, which will go into effect on June 1, 2017). While no changes were made regarding the types/number of trees that require City review prior to removal, the fines for illegal removal or damage to trees that require City approval have been strengthened. Requirements for replanting have also been adopted to ensure continued health of the City’s woodlands.

Heritage Trees in Mill Valley: *Measured 4½ feet above ground level 
     • Redwoods larger than 95” circumference (30” diameter)
     • Oaks and Madrones larger than 75” circumference (24” diameter) 
     • Tanbark oaks larger than 65“ circumference (20” diameter)

What are the current City’s Tree Rules? / When is a tree permit required?

  • Normal pruning that does not damage the tree’s health and is not more than 1/3 of the tree’s canopy, does not require a permit. Removal of up to three non-heritage trees in a 12-month period is also allowed on all developed lots.
  • A permit is required to cut more than three trees over 19-inches in circumference (6” diameter) in a 12 month period on a developed lot.
  • No tree with over 12½ inches in circumference (4” diameter) may beremoved from a vacant site without a tree permit.
  • Permanent damage to trees (including topping of redwoods or other pruning which permanently damages the health of the tree) is considered removal.
  • Tree removal permits that are part of a larger development projects are reviewed as part of the development application (Design Review, etc.)
  • For trees to be removed as part of a voluntary Vegetation Management Plan, please contact the Planning Department.
  • The Department of Public Works reviews all requests for trimming or removal of trees on public property.

Illegal removal includes:

  • Permanent damage to trees (including topping of redwoods or pruning that permanently damages the health of the tree);
  • Removal of more than 3 trees larger than 6” diameter in a 12 month period without an approved Tree Removal Permit (or any tree larger than 4” diameter on a vacant lot);
  • Removal or damage to trees slated to remain during the course of a construction project
  • "Tree Farming" - removal of trees prior to, and in anticipation of, a development application where the removal would be reviewed as part of the Design Review application. Tree removal in these instances will result in a required “waiting period” of 24 months before the owner can apply for a development permit. This does not apply to emergency situations or when the development permit is not related to the tree removal.

Fines for illegal removal/damage have been substantially increased: $1,000 min. (or value of tree) for non-heritage trees and $5,000 min (or value of tree) for Heritage trees.

Why is tree permit required for more than three trees if they are being removed to reduce Fire Hazards?

Removal of more than 3 trees larger than 6” diameter in a short period of time can result in unstable slopes, privacy concerns for adjoining properties, harm to wildlife habitat, and other unintended consequences. The City reviews each permit within the context of each site, and requires any conditions as appropriate to prevent harm. Additionally, any replacement trees are reviewed by both the Planning and Fire Departments to ensure that any new trees planted are consistent with the Fire Department's Vegetation Management Plan goals as well as habitat preservation goals.

The Planning and Fire Departments also coordinate closely during the Design Review process and other Tree Removal permit reviews (such as voluntary Vegetation Management by homeowners) to ensure that any new trees planted are consistent with the Fire Department's Vegetation Management Plan goals as well as habitat preservation goals.

What is not changing?

No changes have been made to the current policy of allowing up to three non-heritage trees to be removed per 12-month period, and tree removal within this category will not be subject to replanting requirements. Pruning to create a fire-safe landscape is encouraged, and pruning for views or solar access is still permitted, but must be done in ways that do not cause permanent damage to the trees.

No changes were made to the types and sizes of trees considered “Heritage.” Additionally, changes to the types or sizes of trees that are regulated, or considered 'Heritage," was not modified.

What’s next?

The City IS anticipating working on further changes to some of these items in a second phase of updates to the Tree Ordinance, such as what trees are considered Heritage trees, whether or not to ‘exempt’ certain nuisance species from replanting or other requirements, etc.

If you have comments on these items, or would like to be involved, please contact Kari Svanstrom at the Planning Department, or 415-388-4033, to be added to a contact list and be notified of meetings for this continued work.

If you have general questions about the City’s tree regulations, contact the Planning Department at 415-388-4809 or for questions about private trees, or the Parks Department at 415-388-4242 for publicly-owned trees