Tree vandalism raising concerns in Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach police are investigating two downed eucalyptus trees in South Laguna, the latest attack on trees that has raised concerns among residents and city officials.

Two trees were discovered lying on a hillside Dec. 28 in the 31000 block of South Coast Highway, police Sgt. Jim Cota said.

The trees’ owner is involved in a dispute with a neighbor who says the trees, valued at a combined $400, block a view, Cota said. No arrests have been made.

Unrelated tree vandalism occurred earlier in 2017 and in 2016, Cota said.

At a recent City Council meeting, several residents urged the city to find the person who, months earlier, pounded nails into and poured a substance that smelled like fuel around the base of a 60-foot-tall eucalyptus at 31942 S. Coast Hwy.

Firefighters placed absorbent material around the tree to remove the substance. On an arborist’s recommendation, the city tried to stop further damage by removing any residue from the substance left on the tree.

A few weeks later, the city removed a dozen nails that had been inserted in the trunk, Public Works Director Shorhreh Dupuis said.

An arborist said the tree could recover but it wasn’t likely, Dupuis said. The tree eventually died and the city removed it Dec. 7.

“Yes, it may have been in somebody’s view. I understand the frustrations with views,” Ruben Flores, founder of Visionscape, a landscape design company, told the council. “I don’t know what the mind-set of people is that allows them to think that doing something like that is OK. You would not go and put nails in somebody’s car. Yet the value of that tree is superior to most cars.”

Resident Ginger Osborne added, “If we don’t treat this as a crime, it will continue.”

Tree vandalism also occurred in November 2016 at the Montage Laguna Beach resort at 30801 S. Coast Hwy.

Five eucalyptus trees ranging from 40 to 45 years old sustained 1- to 2-inch cuts at the base of their trunks. A Montage security guard reported the cuts to police.

The trees are next to a walkway close to the highway and are monitored by arborists, according to the resort’s engineering director, Chris Russell.

Detectives are investigating each vandalism case separately, Cota said. It’s a challenge to solve these types of cases because of conflicting statements and a lack of witnesses, he said.

Councilman Steve Dicterow characterized the acts as malicious and the perpetrators as mean-spirited.

“There are certain levels of what people think is right and wrong behavior,” Dicterow said. “More people do not care about the consequences of what they do.

“It goes deeper than the behavior. It’s reflecting a psychological stirring within a person that leads them to do that.”

Mayor Kelly Boyd called the incidents disturbing.

“I don’t understand it; we have a great view ordinance,” Boyd said. “Why people are doing this is beyond me.

“I don’t know what the solution is unless they are caught.”

A revised view ordinance took effect in January 2015 and requires property owners in a dispute to attempt a solution on their own or with a mediator before the city-appointed View Restoration Committee considers the matter at a public hearing.

Eucalyptus trees have a mixed reputation in Laguna. Some residents bemoan them as a fire hazard, while others say their majestic stature contributes to neighborhood character.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

Alderton writes for Times Community News.

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