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Laguna will clone pepper tree

A contractor will begin removing parts of a 135-year-old pepper tree in front of Laguna Beach City Hall next week, Public Works Director Shohreh Dupuis told the City Council on Tuesday night.

The matter was not on the agenda but the meeting allowed the city an opportunity to update the council on directives given earlier this month. Those instructions included reducing the size of the 36-foot-tall tree to a height of 12 feet in some sections and investigating cloning the tree.

Multiple arborists have said the tree is structurally unstable and in danger of falling, the Daily Pilot reported earlier this month.

Councilman Steve Dicterow said he and Mayor Toni Iseman, who were a part of a subcommittee, met with Dupuis on Monday to suggest steps regarding the current tree, a replacement tree and a venue for Hospitality Night, the city’s annual event to usher in the holiday season.

UC Davis experts agreed to a “very small” cloning process for less than $2,000, Dupuis said.

The city will ship cuttings to the university in a cooler.

The suggestion to clone came from Laguna resident Thilde Peterson. Earlier this month Peterson told the council that she contacted specialists such as biologists and botanists at several universities.

A local arborist agreed to take some of the cuttings and grow some trees, Dupuis said. If the saplings take root and grow, Dupuis said the city could donate the trees or plant them in public parks.

Dicterow and Iseman recommended to not immediately remove a cork pine tree that stands near the lawn area in front of City Hall until after the pepper tree has been shortened, Dupuis said.

The reason for waiting is to assess whether the proposed location of a replacement pepper tree — where the cork pine currently stands — is still the preferred space, she added.

Two arborists suggested the cork pine be removed because it’s not in good health, Dupuis said. The city found a smaller, and less costly replacement pepper tree than a 28-foot-tall specimen mentioned during a prior meeting.

The 28-foot tree carried a price tag of $53,500, but the smaller tree, at 17-feet tall, will cost $2,100, Dupuis said.

It will cost the city $3,700 to cut the pepper tree, the Pilot reported earlier this month.

Because the pepper tree will be reduced in size, this year’s tree-lighting ceremony during Hospitality Night will move to a pepper tree in the Peppertree lot, at 322 Forest Ave.

Laguna staff members said the lot is a better gathering place and they can keep Third Street open to cars, Dupuis said.

Councilman Robert Zur Schmiede said the time taken to vet options for the tree was worth the effort.

“This is the best solution on so many levels,” Zur Schmiede said.

The council postponed a discussion of potential rules regarding removal of privately-maintained trees because they were concerned the meeting would run up to or past midnight.

Tuesday’s meeting lasted four hours, 48 minutes.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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