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Laguna Beach rebuts O.C. grand jury conclusion that it doesn’t have enough public trees

Ficus trees form a near canopy on Ocean Ave near PCH in downtown Laguna Beach.
Ficus trees stand along Ocean Avenue in downtown Laguna Beach. An Orange County grand jury report stated the city has too few public trees per 100 residents.
(File Photo)

The city of Laguna Beach says an Orange County grand jury report was too generalized in its assertion that Laguna doesn’t have enough public trees.

A letter the City Council authorized Tuesday night addresses several findings in the grand jury report issued earlier this year.

A recent Orange County grand jury report reprimanded Laguna Beach for having too few public trees.

The city says the report did not account for the differences between “master-planned communities with large parkways and organically developed communities that limit the amount and location of street trees due to street size, parkway size or lack thereof and the topography or terrain.”

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“The report and conclusions in the grand jury’s report ... do not fully recognize other important factors in the urban forest,” the letter states. “Cities that have significantly different circumstances and conditions are treated with a one-size-fits-all solution that is predicated on the number of street trees per capita.”

The city owns 12 planted street trees for every 100 residents — ranking it 23rd among the 30 Orange County cities that provided information for the report. Mission Viejo led the rankings with 47 trees per 100 residents, and Aliso Viejo was last, with one tree per 100.

The letter, signed by City Manager John Pietig and addressed to Orange County Superior Court Judge Kirk Nakamura, also says the report did not acknowledge the more than 16,000 acres of open space — the “Greenbelt” — surrounding Laguna Beach, which the city says should be factored into any study regarding the urban forest.

The letter acknowledges restrictions on planting public trees in the city’s view preservation and restoration ordinance. “Increasing tree canopies in many areas of the city would be unpopular and would lack support from interested and affected residents,” according to the letter.

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“Laguna Beach is working toward increasing street trees in locations that can accommodate them without reducing [Americans with Disabilities Act] access, disrupting view equity or causing tree overcrowding due to density,” the letter adds.

The response also notes the city has allotted funds in its 2019-20 budget to add a full-time arborist.

The report recommended that the City Council develop policies to improve the street tree count, start a public awareness campaign about urban forest benefits and commit to maintaining and inspecting existing trees.

Laguna Beach agreed to the majority of the recommendations. An exception is one that called for the city — either individually or with other cities — to hire or contract an urban forest coordinator. Laguna views that as unwarranted.

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