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Permits are needed to remove certain trees, Laguna Beach City Council decides

Property owners can rest assured that they will not have to get a permit from the city if they want to remove a tree on their land, the Laguna Beach City Council decided Tuesday.

As for trees that are in the public right-of-way and maintained by a private owner, council members unanimously agreed the city should notify the surrounding community, such as by placing a tag saying it is a public tree and a person wants it removed.

This would allow the city to assess the pros and cons of keeping trees in the public right-of-way, which Community Development Director Greg Pfost said are the city’s property.

Councilman Robert Zur Schmiede requested the matter be discussed because he was concerned about property owners cutting down trees without letting the city know ahead of time, the Daily Pilot reported last month.

Council members said that requiring a property owner to get a permit to remove a tree on his or her property would go a little too far in government meddling.

“I don’t want the city telling people on their own private property what they can and cannot do,” Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Boyd said. “We have said no to people for so many things. You can, you can’t. You can, you can’t. It’s got to stop sometime.”

Laguna currently has rules in place for people seeking to remove heritage trees, trees on a city-approved landscape plan and privately-maintained trees rooted in the public right-of-way, such as a sidewalk in front of a house.

But the current rules for privately-maintained trees that stand in the public right-of-way kick in only when a tree has a "perceived risk of failure," a city staff report said.

People may want to remove a tree for various reasons including view improvement, aesthetics, or because of decay or damage.

Mayor Toni Iseman noted another reason why a person would want to remove a tree.

“I know there are some people who will face financial hardship and take down a tree because they can’t afford it [maintenance],” Iseman said while noting trees’ benefits. “It’s clear to me when I’m not in Laguna and looking for shade, it’s hard to find shade. It’s not hard to find shade in Laguna. It’s part of our charm.”

The city maintains 2,700 trees on public land, while there are more than 10,000 privately-maintained trees in the public right-of-way, such as on paper streets, Public Works Director Shohreh Dupuis told the council.

“Generally speaking, a paper street is a right-of-way that has been dedicated or offered to the city, but has not been improved to city standards and formally accepted into the city’s official street system for maintenance,” City Atty. Phil Kohn wrote in an email Wednesday.

Council members directed staff to return with a draft ordinance that includes language requiring a property owner obtain a permit from the city to remove a privately-maintained tree in the public right-of-way, penalties for tree removal and trimming during birds’ nesting seasons.

The council on Tuesday was scheduled to discuss whether to adopt rules for temporary outdoor furniture, such as umbrellas, but postponed the matter to a later date at Councilman Steve Dicterow’s request.

“It was premature to come straight to the council,” Dicterow said during a break in the meeting. He said he wants a subcommittee to vet the potential advantages and disadvantages of such rules.

Concerns have centered on open umbrellas and free-standing patio covers blocking views from neighboring properties, a city staff report said.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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