Article Title: Pacifica California guide to trees Image: Golf course with large trees and the sun setting behind them
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Pacifica CA Guide to Trees: Tree Preservation Ordinance

The City of Pacifica celebrates its natural beauty and coastal landscape. It has a long history of valuing its trees. Efforts to preserve the city’s green spaces began in the mid-20th century. At that time, rapid urban development threatened to alter the local environment significantly. Therefore, the community recognized the importance of maintaining tree cover for environmental, aesthetic, and recreational purposes.

In fact, in Pacifica, as in any community, trees offer far more than just aesthetic appeal. They are vital strands woven into the fabric of society itself.

Trees foster a sense of connection. They create shared green spaces where neighbors gather, recreate, and form lasting bonds. Mature trees stand as iconic landmarks that become cherished symbols of a community’s history and identity. Additionally, the presence of trees correlates with lower crime rates, improved physical and mental health for residents, and higher property values. Trees provide tangible economic and environmental benefits, from shading homes to purifying the air.

At the same ground level, trees quite literally unite a community by extending their intricate root systems underground. Trees form a living network that transcends property lines.

Development of the Ordinance

The city established the Tree Preservation Ordinance to protect significant and heritage trees in response to increasing urban development and the loss of mature trees. The ordinance aims to balance development needs with environmental preservation.

Initial Implementation

The initial ordinance focused on preventing the indiscriminate removal of large, mature trees and ensuring that tree removal was justified and necessary.

Amendments and Updates

Over the years, the city has updated the ordinance to address emerging concerns, such as climate change and habitat preservation.

Considerations in the Ordinance

The city included several critical considerations in the tree ordinance to ensure comprehensive protection and management of its urban forest.

Environmental Impact

Recognizing the role of trees in reducing carbon dioxide levels, providing oxygen, and offering habitats for wildlife.

Aesthetic and Cultural Value

Preserving the city’s scenic beauty and cultural heritage linked to specific trees and tree-lined streets.

Public Safety

Ensuring that trees do not pose hazards to public safety, such as falling limbs or roots damaging infrastructure.

Urban Planning

Integrating tree preservation with urban planning to create green corridors and enhance the quality of life for residents.

Pacifica CA Guide to Trees: Heritage Trees

Heritage trees are designated based on their size, age, species, historical significance, and cultural value.

Heritage Tree as Defined by the Pacifica Municipal Code

Title 4 Chapter 12 of the Pacifica Municipal Code (Tree Preservation) stipulates regulations designed to preserve and protect heritage trees on private or city-owned property. See sections 4-12.08 of the Pacifica Municipal Code for a complete definition of a heritage tree.

The following types of trees are considered heritage trees in Pacifica:

Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia): Native to California, these evergreen oaks are valued for their beauty, ecological importance, and historical significance.
Monterey Cypress
(Cupressus macrocarpa): Known for their dramatic shapes and resilience to coastal winds, these trees are iconic in the coastal landscape.
Monterey Pine
(Pinus radiata): Once widespread in the region, these pines are now protected due to their declining numbers and importance to local biodiversity.
California Bay Laurel
(Umbellularia californica): These aromatic trees are native to the coastal forests and are valued for their ecological role and historical uses.
(Sequoia sempervirens): Although not as common in Pacifica as in other parts of California, redwoods are protected for their impressive size, age, and ecological significance.

The city keeps an updated list of planned removals on its website.

Pacifica CA Guide to Trees: Community Input

Public Participation

The city involves extensive community input in developing and updating the tree ordinance. Therefore, officials conducted public hearings, workshops, and surveys to gather residents’ opinions and concerns.

Residents’ Concerns

The protection of neighborhood character, the environmental benefits of trees, and the need for clear guidelines on tree removal and pruning are common concerns.

Support for Preservation

Residents give strong support for stringent tree protection measures, emphasizing the importance of trees in maintaining Pacifica’s unique landscape.


The town has a point-of-sale requirement. This ordinance, enacted in 2012, requires property owners to obtain a Sewer Lateral Compliance Certificate.

There are four situations that create the need for the inspection and repair, if necessary:

Property Transfer
Remodel or addition that costs $50,000 or greater
When adding any plumbing fixtures
When a change in water service is requested (change of meter size or adding second meter)

Start Here

The first thing to do is to check with the city to determine if the Compliance Certificate is current.

The Cause of the Concern

Pacifica’s aging sewer system, constructed in the mid-20th century, became a growing concern for the community. The system uses Orangeburg pipes which were a popular choice at the time due to their affordability and ease of installation.

These pipes are made of layers of wood pulp and pitch. However, over the years, they have proven to be less durable than other materials. They become brittle and prone to collapsing or developing cracks as the pipes age. This can lead to frequent blockages, leaks, and even sewer clogs.  Backups are not only inconvenient but also pose significant health risks and environmental hazards.

Having worked with this requirement the beginning, my top recommendation is to use a local realtor and service provider. This approach ensures that the professionals you’re collaborating with are up-to-date with the latest standards.

Installing a New Sewer Line

An arborist must be retained to inspect the danger to the tree if a tree more than a foot wide is within 50 feet of an excavation, Ensure the arborist is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and has adequate insurance. You can find certified arborists through the ISA website or local directories.

Root Protection Zone

Ensure that excavation and construction activities do not damage the root systems of protected trees. An arborist may assess and monitor the impact on any trees.

City Permits and Inspections

Installing a new sewer line requires permits from the City of Pacifica’s Public Works Department.
The inspection involves testing the lateral for leaks or defects, through video inspection. Then, the video is submitted to the city for review.

For the purpose of a property transfer, if any breaks or leaks are discovered, the parties must negotiate to repair or replace the lateral. The cost can range from $5,000 to $20,000. A home owner may get approval from the city to extend the completion date so that the sale isn’t delayed, depending on the situation.

Once the lateral passes inspection, the property receives a compliance certificate valid for 7 years.

This requirement aims to identify and address potential problems with the aging sewer infrastructure before the property changes ownership. It’s one way the city can ensure that at least some of the faulty lines are repaired. 

Permit Application

The plumbing company you hire will need to submit detailed plans showing the location and specifications of the new sewer line. Therefore, start early when applying for the permit. It could take 30 to 45 days to get it.

If the street has been paved previously, an asphalt contractor must be hired to cut the street. Sidewalk, curb or driveway trip hazards must be repaired at the property owner’s cost.

Discount Plumbing has gotten creative. They will manage the whole process from permitting, to inspections, to replacing the pipe. Moreover, they will finance the project taking their payment from escrow at the time the sale closes.

City Public Works Department

The Public Works Department is responsible for maintaining city streets. You can check the status of street paving projects by contacting them directly.

Tree Pruning or Removal

You must obtain a permit to prune or remove a heritage tree. Please see the city’s website for the most updated information and fees required.


Tree City Pacifica – Volunteer

Pacifica welcomes volunteer efforts to plant and maintain trees throughout the city from private citizens. Tree City Pacifica is a citizen’s group of local residents working to inspire Pacificans to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.

Tree City Pacifica also works to educate residents regarding the value of trees to increase property values, enrich biotic communities and fight climate change. The group was instrumental in helping Pacifica become a Tree City USA city — a designation granted by the Arbor Day Foundation. Each year on the second Saturday in November, Tree City Pacifica works with the City to organize Pacifica’s annual Arbor Day. Volunteers are welcome to come plant and celebrate trees.

For more information, go to the Tree City Pacifica Facebook page, or contact them at

Contact Information of Pacifica Planning Department

City of Pacifica Planning Department
Phone: (650) 738-7341

City of Pacifica Public Works Department
For sewer permits and street paving information

ISA Arborist Directory
International Society of Arboriculture (ISA): To find certified arborists.

City of Pacifica, CA FAQ

City of Pacifica Sewer Compliance Certificate FAQ


Maintaining and managing trees in Pacifica, involves adhering to local regulations, obtaining necessary permits, and ensuring the health and safety of significant and heritage trees. Understanding the local requirements and available resources can help you navigate these processes efficiently, whether installing a new sewer, checking street paving status, or hiring an arborist, . The history and community involvement in tree preservation highlight the city’s commitment to balancing development with environmental stewardship. Heritage trees such as Coast Live Oaks, Monterey Cypresses, Monterey Pines, California Bay Laurels, and Redwoods are protected for their ecological, cultural, and historical significance, reflecting the community’s dedication to preserving Pacifica’s natural beauty for future generations.

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