The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an updated policy to simplify the public tree-removal process, which in some cases has required multiple arborist opinions and site meetings.
"We spent a significant amount of time administering our current policy," said Shohreh Dupuis, assistant city manager and public works director.
In the last three years, the city has had to remove more than 100 trees, Dupuis said, partly because of storm damage.
Some of those cases required extensive disease testing and arborist visits, costing up to $5,400, as well as the expense of 40 to 60 staff hours, she added.
The new policy would remove some of those steps. For a public tree to be removed, it would have to meet criteria that it is damaging public or private improvements, is diseased, dead or dying, or represents a fire hazard.
The updated policy would no longer require an in-person meeting at the tree in question, but would add a tree-replacement clause.
Anyone who requests removal of a public tree would have to pay to test it unless the city determines it is diseased following an inspection, Dupuis said.
The council's vote also directed staff to bring back a recommendation for adding an arborist — either as a contracted or staff position — for consideration at the next budget meeting.
The recommendation came after some discussion about creating a resident-based tree committee to mediate arboreal issues. Councilwoman Toni Iseman supported the idea, but council members Peter Blake and Sue Kempf shot it down, saying the city needs a certified arborist.
"The weather patterns are changing; the dynamics of our weather and the way our trees are responding are concerning," Kempf said. "I'm worried about liability. I don't want to be handing things off about an iffy tree to a tree committee and then have an issue."
The city's policy has long been scrutinized by local activists who say the city does not do enough to maintain and replace trees.