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Council approves revised native vegetation ordinance

New rules go into effect May 31. Fines and other penalties will be enforced.

May 09, 2012|By Barbara Diamond

Woe betide property owners or city staff who tear up native vegetation without the approval of the Design Review Board.

The City Council voted unanimously May 1 to add an ordinance to the municipal code related to the protection of native vegetation, its restoration if removed without authorization and penalties. Fuel modification zones, brush that is a hazard and cleared by the Fire Department for public safety, were exempted.

"This was an outcome of the Disaster Preparedness Committee, and I would like to thank them for their good work," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, who sponsored the committee.

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Some environmentalists had opposed the ordinance at the first reading during an April 20 hearing, voicing concern that the Fire Department was given too much power.

Lisa Marks said the ordinance as it was proposed left too much latitude for the fire chief to order fuel modification on valuable habitat with public review, although she acknowledged that another section of the city code prohibits such action.

"There is a process," said Fire Chief Kris Head. "All new fuel modification areas go through the design review process and require a coastal development permit."

Proposed fuel modification areas will have a public hearing notice so residents can comment on them.

"Existing fuel modification [areas] is our only concern," Head said. "We just want to continue what has been done for the past 20 years."

The new ordinance does not require a public hearing for the existing areas of fuel modification. Property owners, including staff or officials acting on behalf of the city, who violate the ordinance will be notified of their transgressions and given 30 days to submit a restoration plan, with an extra 15 days if good cause is shown for the extension.

The plan must be prepared by a wildlife biologist, ecologist or botanist with successful experience in the restoration of native vegetation.

Penalties for failure to comply with the provisions of the ordinance may be imposed, including fines and administrative, civil and criminal remedies available to the city.

The ordinance goes into effect May 31.

coastlinepilot@latimes.com

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