Remove a large tree in Sunnyvale?

Asked by CA Mom, Mountain View, CA Thu May 13, 2010

How hard or easy is it to remove a tree, primarily for light blockage and aesthetic reasons? Say, a large redwood or large magnolia. I see that you have to get a permit for nearly $300, but do the permit application get denied often? Thanks.

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Grace Hanamo…, Agent, Cupertino, CA
Sat May 15, 2010
Hello CA Mom and thanks for your post.

Depending on whether the tree is considered a "heritage" or "protected" tree, the process can be easy or difficult. A "heritage tree" or "protected tree" is defined, not by its height, but by the width of the trunk at a specific point above ground. In the case of Sunnyvale, measure the trunk of the tree at 4.5 feet from the ground and if the width of the trunk is greater than 38 inches, a permit (costing $223 each) and City permission will be required to remove the tree. If the tree trunk is smaller than 38 inches, you may pull the tree without permission despite the height.

If the tree is located in the backyard of the home and is NOT deciduous (meaning the leaves fall off in the winter and bloom again in the spring), then the chances for City approval are pretty good. Size of the tree, light, root invasion and "falling" or "dropping" hazards are all taking into consideration when evaluating a tree. In the case of the Magnolia (especially the "Saucer Magnolias" and "Liquid Ambers" that the City planted in all the frontage strips in Sunnyvale eons ago), we now know that these have extremely invasive roots and are being pulled in favor of other tree species. Similarly Semper Virens (redwoods) are often poorly placed--too near to irrigation systems, and, as a result, they grow too fast and too tall for the area. All of this is taken into review when the City arborist checks the application. To help your application process, plan to obtain the professional opinion and recommendation of a certified arborist to submit with your application.

One more thing, most cities now require at least "one" tree to be planted on a city sized lot of 6000-6500 square feet. If these are the only two trees at your home (not including any street frontage tree), then the arborist may require replanting at least one deciduous tree to ensure adequate air exchange at your home. So be prepared that, if you want permission for both trees to be removed, you may need to offer to install one deciduous tree in its place. There are many varieties of deciduous trees that are both beautiful and small enough to prevent light intrusion in the future--again, talk with your arborist for assistance.

Good luck!!

Grace Morioka, SRES
Area Pro Realty
Santa Clara County
Tel (408) 426-1616
2 votes
I agree with Jennifer, I never realized that they measured trees by their trunk size. I guess that makes sense since the height is usually proportional to the trunk. I agree with you though, there are a lot of companies out there that could cut down your tree. You just have to do a little bit of research.
Flag Tue Mar 24, 2015
It's helpful to know that they measure trees by trunk size, not height. I have a few pines that I'd like to remove, but they're so wide I'd need a professional at this point. That might be my next summer project--I know it would really improve the look of my yard. |
Flag Wed Feb 4, 2015
I think it depends on the tree. I would have a company come in and tell you how difficult they think it will be. They should be able to help you with the process as well as answer any questions you have. Good luck and I hope everything works out for you!
Flag Fri Dec 19, 2014
I'm not sure how hard/easy it is. I would call a tree removal company and give them the situation to decide how difficult the process will be. They will be able to tell you what kind of problem your looking at and help you from there. Good luck!
Flag Fri Oct 24, 2014
Gary, thanks for your post comments. I appreciate it. The job of removing a tree is not one that should be done by homeowners--but rather by experienced professionals. As for roots, Strevor, we seldom "yank" these out of the ground since most roots have come close to, possibly tapped into, and maybe even are on the verge of breaking water lines and sewer lines. As a result, its' far easier to complete something called a "stump grind" (where a large blade is used to chip the stump up to a depth of about 10 inches below the soil surface). Removing a stump can cause more harm than good, so unless it's far away from anything else (water lines, electrical lines, etc.), its best to grind the stump and place a tree near (but not on) the location where an old tree may have previously grown.
Flag Mon Sep 29, 2014
Sam Shueh, , San Jose, CA
Fri May 30, 2014
In San Jose, I have done it 3 times. Most of the reason is roots pushing side walk making it unsafe.

It is a dangerous work as the fall of a big tree can possibly damage structures nearby. You need to post cones, barriers. As for cost, it is all over the places. I have see several thousands dollars difference on the same tree. You need to consider digging up the roots and grind the trunk to the ground. Often the municipalities demand you replant a similar tree in its place based on what people plant in the neighborhood.

Hoe that helps,

Sam Shueh
KW Realty
1 vote
I wouldn't think about trying to do this by yourself unless you had the right equipment. Not only could branches fall, but you could also fall. I would make sure that you call a professional to help you out. For them, cutting down a large tree is just a walk in the park.
Flag Mon Mar 23, 2015
I agree, removing a tree can be pretty dangerous, especially if it is pretty tall. The branches can fall down and damage structures or vehicles. You should probably hire a professional service to help you out.
Flag Mon Dec 8, 2014
David Blockh…, Agent, Los Altos, CA
Fri May 14, 2010
CA Mom,

The location of the tree on the property and the reason for removal are questions the city will ask when you apply to remove a tree. Generally, "light blockage and aesthetics" usually aren't reasons to remove a tree if it is defined as a protected tree. A protected tree is any tree that has a trunk larger than 38 inches measure 4.5 feet from the ground. It also includes multi-trunk trees that has one trunk larger than 38 inches or a combination of trunks that are larger than 113 inches.

I would call the city of Sunnyvale Trees and Landscape Division at (408) 730-7505 to get specifics regarding the tree in question. Below is a link to the City's online tree removal application. You can download the tree removal permit application to get further information regarding the tree removal process and criteria.

Good luck

David Blockhus
Coldwell Banker - Los Altos
650 917-4250
1 vote
I think it depends on the size of the tree. If I were you, I would look into hiring a tree service company. They should be able to help you with all of your tree service needs. Good luck and I hope everything works out for you!
Flag Tue Jan 6, 2015
I had no idea there were 'protected trees' in this state. Even if it's my property, can they still stop me from removing the tree? If it's on my land, light blockage should be reason enough to want to take it out. Should I contact the city in this case? |
Flag Tue Nov 4, 2014
I would say it's pretty hard to move or remove a tree without the right tools. The easiest way to move a tree is call a tree service company, because they already have the tools and the skills. I'm sure you could find your own way to get the tree out, but this is by far the safest option.
Flag Mon Nov 3, 2014
Sam Shueh, , San Jose, CA
Thu Apr 23, 2015
not really. In SJ for example, they want you to replace it as part of street beautification....
0 votes
Gerald Vonbe…, Home Buyer, Jackson Springs, NC
Wed Apr 8, 2015
It sounds like a pretty tough tree. I'd imagine you wouldn't have much luck taking it out yourself. My brother and I tried taking one out of our grandparents' yard (it was pretty small) and we didn't have hardly any success. I would recommend finding some sort of tree service that can take it out for you.
0 votes
We had a big tree like that in our back yard. I wouldn't try to take it out yourselves. Even if you have the right tools, if you aren't experienced it could be really dangerous. I wish you the best of luck in removing this tree though.
Flag Tue Apr 14, 2015
Caleb Hart, Renter, Orem, UT
Tue Mar 31, 2015
Is the only reason you want to remove a tree is because of light? I would talk to a person in your city council. Maybe you need a permit before you can get it removed. You could also just talk to a tree removal company about it because they would know more about it than we would.
0 votes
Gerald Vonbe…, Home Buyer, Jackson Springs, NC
Fri Mar 6, 2015
I would imagine that actually removing the tree will be easy if you get a professional tree service to do it. However, the permit process will probably be the hardest part. There are a lot of individual regulations that cities have regarding trees. My grandmother was considering removing a tree in her yard once, only to later find out that it was a "city heritage tree" and couldn't be removed. Anyway, check with your city.
0 votes
lynnnchase9, , Omaha, NE
Mon Feb 23, 2015
I'm not sure how hard it is, but I would guess it wouldn't be easy if you tried to do it on your own. I would suggest calling a tree service company to see if they can help you. They should be able to give you a general price and help you understand how difficult it would be.
0 votes
Pat Kapowich, Agent, Sunnyvale, CA
Mon Feb 16, 2015
The City of Sunnyvale help desk is the best place to visit for this very important topic. Walk into the building and planning department at City Hall. They are very helpful and informative. You will have all the correct information within minutes. Plus, you will get it directly from the source face-to-face.
0 votes
Gerald Vonbe…, Home Buyer, Jackson Springs, NC
Mon Jan 19, 2015
It will depend a lot on how much time it takes to remove the tree. I think most tree removal services base their costs on labor. That being said, you could have some difficulty removing it if it's a protected tree. My grandma wanted to remove a tree in her yard a few years back and she got some opposition from the city because it was a protected tree. You might want to call a tree removal service before you remove it. They should know whether or not it would fall in the "protected" category.
0 votes
I think the question was more about getting a permit to remove the tree. Like you mentioned, some trees are protected in certain states. If the original poster has a good reason for removing the tree, though, then things should go smoothly. They'll probably have you meet with an arbourist, but that's about it.
Flag Thu Mar 19, 2015
Jackson Will…, Home Buyer, Provo, UT
Mon Jan 12, 2015
There are some reasons that a permit wouldn't be issued. I think you should look into the tree's history if you are worried about getting denied. For the most part, I would expect you to be able to get the permit unless the tree is important to the community. If not, you might be able to find a way to trim or prune it to help improve the things you want without tearing the whole tree down.…
0 votes
jimfurgeson88, , New York, NY
Wed Jan 7, 2015
I have heard that large trees can be difficult to get rid of. It takes a lot of work to get them out, and you will need a lot of help. Do you really need to remove the tree? Or do you think you could live with it?
0 votes
lewisremingt…, Home Owner, Rochester, NY
Fri Jan 2, 2015
I've heard it's quite difficult to remove a tree that large. What I would recommend is finding a tree trimming service near you. Trimming a tree will not only make it smaller, but will make it a more appealing addition to any yard or park.
0 votes
I would say that it's somewhat difficult if you don't know what you're doing. This is why I would suggest calling a tree service company around your area. They should be able to help you with everything you need and answer any questions/concerns you may have. Good luck and I hope everything works out for you!
Flag Wed Feb 4, 2015
Wally West, Home Buyer, Provo, UT
Thu Dec 4, 2014
When I bought my house, the previous owners had a big pine tree in their front yard and it obstructed the view from our driveway. It was concerning me because it is a big blind spot and is dangerous to pull out of our driveway. Our neighbors also thanked us for removing it because it obstructed their view as well.
0 votes
Gary Birtles, , Scottsdale, AZ
Wed Oct 29, 2014
It should be a pretty easy task. If there is substantial reason to have it moved, you should be able to get approval. It does depend on the area you live in though. As far as getting it cut down though, there are plenty of people that can help you.
0 votes
Myersjulie31, Home Buyer, Blakeslee, PA
Tue Oct 28, 2014
I think that if you want to get a tree of that size removed, it might be a bit difficult. I think that to do it on your own would probably be a difficult situation. I would suggest getting a service to help remove the trees. My neighbor had very large trees in their yard, but were able to get them removed without too much trouble.…
0 votes
Arpad Racz, Agent, San Jose, CA
Sat Sep 20, 2014
Hi CA Mom,

I also am in Mountain View, and perhaps I can recommend an arborist that can give you more specific advice. Please email me from my profile.

Kind regards,

0 votes
swesson487, , Calabash, NC
Thu May 22, 2014
One of the most important things you can do when you're contemplating tree removal is familiarize yourself with the applicable codes. Previously, we lived in Southern California. Many species of tree are protected to the point that you need a special permit to do any pruning, let alone removal.

Sal Wesson |
0 votes
Ruth and Per…, Agent, Los Gatos, CA
Wed Aug 25, 2010
Hi CA Mom

Right the city arborist can come out and give you some input.
Better yet call the city and talk to the them.

Without knowing the diameter of the trunk we can't give you a definite answer.

Good luck.
Web Reference:
0 votes
Grace Keng, Agent, Santa Clara, CA
Wed Aug 25, 2010
Hi, You have not told us how large is large. In city Sunnyvale for the tree with 18" + with good reason you will be granted to cut it except some protect tree like Oak.

City Sunnyvale let me cut a few large trees (larger then 18" dia) but requested me to plant the same amount value of plants at my property.

Grace Keng
Realtor, RE/MAX RES
408 799-8887
Web Reference:
0 votes
Marcy Moyer, Agent, Palo Alto, CA
Fri May 14, 2010
CA Mom.
Hopefully you did not buy a home with a large tree expecting to be able to remove it. However, from your previous posts and your due dilligence previously exhibited I am guessing that is not the case. This is a great example of why buying a house is not like buying a commodity. There are so many things to take into account it is important that any buyer be organized, study the market, know the local ordinances, get excellent inspections, and look at the pros and cons from many angles. I also believe it is important to have a smart, experienced realtor representing you who is NOT also representing the seller.

Marcy Moyer
DRE 01191194
Web Reference:
0 votes
David Allen…, Agent, Sunnyvale, CA
Fri May 14, 2010

Forget about it. Cutting a tree down in the City of Sunnyvale if it is a protected tree is almost impossible unless the tree has a disease, dying and in dangers of causing damage to property or people. Protetected tree is any tree that is over 38 inches around. Contact the city about it and they will send someone out to look at it. Good Luck
0 votes
I hadn't heard of protected trees before. Does this apply to all trees, whether it's on a homeowner's property or not? Would a tree removal company know what permits you need to get?
Flag Thu Nov 6, 2014
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