Do I Need a Permit to Remove a Tree in Contra Costa County?


Circumstances that may require the removal or destruction of a tree.

Trees are either assets or liabilities.

Trees are considered assets when they help reduce cooling and heating costs, and/or raise property value for the beautification or curb appeal they provide. However, trees can pose risks when overgrown, as they can edge closer to powerlines. Or, when becoming diseased, dying, or dead, they can also become unstable, which can cause injuries to people or damage to property.

When you need a permit to remove or destroy a tree in Contra Costa County.

In such instances when a tree poses a risk of danger or liability, you will want to contract with a reputable tree service company in your area, such as one that is skilled and experienced in providing tree removal in Contra Costa County or tree trimming in Walnut Creek. However, having a tree removal job done right goes well beyond a company’s skills and experience, as there are regulations in Contra Costa County that require permits to remove what the county designates as “protected trees”…more on that below, but first…

To get a permit, you will need to:

  1. secure the report 10 days prior to undertaking your project; and
  2. keep in mind that this will be required not just for the removal of trees, but also before:
    a.undertaking any trenching,
    b.topping (for more on topping, and some good alternatives to the practice, please see our other article by clicking here), and
    c.grading or filling within the dripline (the area defined by the outermost circumference of a tree canopy where water drips from and onto the ground).

In addition, a report by an arborist or RFP may be required.

Permits may be denied, however, when redesign of a site plan will avoid alteration of a healthy tree, if removal will cause drainage, erosion, stability problems, or if value to the neighborhood is greater than hardship to the owner.

But wait…what is a protected tree?

Specifically, “The Tree Protection and Preservation Ordinance” (Chapter 816-6) defines a protected tree based on:

(1) Any native tree species, which include:

  • Arroyo Willow
  • Bigleaf Maple
  • Black Cottonwood
  • Blue Oak
  • Box Elder
  • California Sycamore
  • California Buckeye
  • California Juniper
  • California Black Oak
  • California Bay or Laurel
  • California Black Walnut
  • Canyon Live Oak
  • Coast Live Oak
  • Coast Red Elderberry
  • Coast Redwood
  • Digger Pine
  • Fremont Cottonwood
  • Interior Live Oak
  • Knobcone Pine
  • Madrone
  • Tanoak or Tanbark Oak
  • Toyon
  • Valley Oak
  • White Alder
  • Yellow Willow

(2) Trunk size:

diameters larger than 6 ½ inches dbh* (this is specific to around either developed or undeveloped commercial property, including industrial properties).
*also known as diameter at breast height, you can measure the trunk’s diameter approximately 4.5 feet from ground level to get this value.

(3) Characteristics of the property on which it sits: to a creek (waterway), area parkland,
c.park trail, space,
e.foothill woodland or oak savanna area,
f.any undeveloped property within any district or private property that can be subdivided,
g.any area designated on the general plan for recreational purposes or open space;
h.part of a stand of 4 or more trees,

(4) Any heritage tree, which is defined as seventy-two inches dbh, or any tree in a group of trees worthy of protection as determined by the board of supervisors because of historical or ecological significance, or an outstanding specimen in location, size, age, rarity, shape, or health.

If that last one sounded vague and hard to decipher, you are not alone. To get clear this last hurdle in determining whether the tree you are considering of removing (topping or grading or filling) is protected, please contact the following county office:

Contra Costa County Planning Division
Phone: (925) 674-7205
Address:30 Muir Rd
Martinez, CA 94553

You may also access the county permit by clicking on this link.

However, each town or city within Contra Costa County also has their own regulations concerning the requirement for a permit to cut down or remove trees, such as one which we discussed in another article regarding the city of Walnut Creek, as you can find by clicking here.

We know it’s a lot to navigate, but we are always here to help you with expert advice not just in providing excellent tree services, but also in having everything in proper order before we even get started.Don’t hesitate to call us for help!

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