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Laguna Beach updates tree removal and planting policy

The city of Laguna Beach updated its policy for public tree removal and planting on Tuesday at the City Council meeting.
The city of Laguna Beach updated its policy for public tree removal and planting on Tuesday at the City Council meeting. The agenda item established guidelines that take into account impacts on views for residents and public safety concerns.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach updated its policies regarding public tree removal and planting Tuesday, establishing a process for public input and notification.

Members of the public will be able to request for a tree to be planted and suggest the type of species to be included at a specified location.

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved the new-look tree removal and planting policy following a presentation from city arborist Matthew Barker.

Once a request is made for a tree to be planted, a site assessment will be conducted by the director of public works, or their designee, who will determine whether the proposed location is suitable for a tree to be planted.

The findings should account for various criteria, including how close the tree to be planted would be to other trees, conflicts with infrastructure and potential impacts to sight lines that fall under the city’s record of views. Proposed tree plantings will be marked by a wooden stake with a yellow ribbon.

Laguna Beach City Hall as shown on Aug. 12.
Laguna Beach City Hall as shown on Aug. 12.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“Many factors figure into this critical selection such as recommendations made by council-adopted guidelines, proximity to other trees, neighborhood objections and potential conflicts with infrastructure, pedestrians [and] vehicular traffic,” Barker said.

Parties to be notified in the event of a recommendation for a tree to be planted include property owners within 500 feet of the site, who will be mailed notices.

The recommendation will also appear on the city’s website, and those on the interested parties subscription list will receive an email.

The policy also states that the city will contact properties not within 500 feet of the proposed location if they are in the record of views and their view could be significantly compromised.

“This process you’ve established is a pretty deliberate process,” Councilman George Weiss said.

“People are going to be informed. People can select. People can recommend removal if something’s in decline, so it’s a very open process where people can argue if … there are residents who oppose it based on view considerations.”

Those impacted and interested will be notified whether there is consideration of a new tree to be planted or an existing tree is being replaced, Barker added.

Councilman Peter Blake referred to Laguna Beach as an ocean community, and he wanted to avoid planting trees that would block a view at any point in their growth cycle.

“My only concern on all this [is] any tree that would be planted would never have the ability to block a view, under any circumstances, even if we’re replacing a like tree,” Blake said. “If it were a tree that would, during its growth cycle, block a view in this town, that tree cannot be planted.”

Janice Huong ducks the winds at Heisler Park during a storm in Laguna Beach.
Janice Huong ducks the winds at Heisler Park during the storm on Tuesday morning in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The council ultimately decided to add language stating significant view impairment would be minimized when planting trees in new locations.

Public input on proposed tree plantings will be taken for 21 days, after which the city will furnish a final recommendation on the site and species that will appear on the city website.

Following the final recommendation, a council member shall have the opportunity to request that the tree planting appears on the agenda for the next City Council meeting.

If such a request is not made within two days of the recommendation, the tree may be planted.

The agenda item was considered on the day a storm rolled through with heavy rain and strong winds.

Sue Kempf, who became the newly appointed mayor at the start of the meeting, said she had safety concerns after a branch fell on a car in the city staff parking lot.

“I think you just need to be careful because every time we have a major tree failure, it’s usually a eucalyptus tree,” Kempf said.

“Like for like in some circumstances is fine, but if you’re going to replace a eucalyptus tree that fell over in the street, please don’t put another one in.”

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