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Laguna Beach will consider changes to its rules for removing public trees

eucalyptus treeThe large eucalyptus tree at the Urth Caffe on the Aster St. side of the property.
This 50-foot-tall eucalyptus tree near Urth Caffe, seen here in 2016, had pockets of decay in its trunk, but the City Council voted not to remove it. The red gum underwent greater scrutiny under a city policy. The council will consider revisions to the policy on Tuesday.
(File photo)

Changes to Laguna Beach’s policy on removing certain types of public trees could be on the way.

On Tuesday the City Council will consider staff’s recommendation that arborist reports, peer review of the reports and public meetings with arborists no longer be required when dealing with trees of 6 inches or less in diameter that are damaged, in serious decline and/or dying, according to a city staff report.

“In most cases, a tree of that size is a younger and smaller specimen and is not a historic tree or tree of special significance,” the report said.

Certain kinds of testing on these types of trees have been “very expensive” and, with inspection and meeting fees, costs for one tree can exceed $3,500, according to the report.

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City staff members also suggest the on-site public meeting with two arborists no longer be required when considering removal of dead trees.

With the exception of city staff and two city-retained arborists, the public rarely attends the meetings and has not opposed removing dead trees, the report said.

The city said removing the requirement for arborist attendance could save more than $800 for each meeting. Savings could be used to care for the tree and conduct risk assessments, according to the report.

In the cases of dead trees and trees of 6 inches or less in diameter, city staff would still send notices to City Manager John Pietig, the City Council and other interested parties.

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Laguna staff also is seeking the council’s direction for certain trimming costs outside of the city’s regular schedule.

Currently, if a member of the public requests “extensive” aesthetic trimming services such as lacing and crown reductions that fall outside of the city’s regular trimming cycle, the person foots the bill, the report said.

City staff members want this arrangement to continue, but said the council could decide the city should be responsible for covering the cost. Out-of-cycle trim costs can vary depending on the tree’s size, ranging from $129 to $499 per tree, the report said.

The city maintains 2,647 trees consisting of 96 species, according to the report. Crews annually trim downtown-area trees and all palms, Indian laurel figs and coral trees, the report said.

The city also proposes a grid-based system for scheduling biennial tree maintenance.

Under the plan, trees located along and north of Park Avenue would be trimmed in the 2017-18 fiscal year, while trees located south of Park Avenue would be trimmed the following year.

In addition to trees in the north grid, 135 trees in the south grid are scheduled to be trimmed in the current fiscal year, the report said.

Tuesday’s discussion will be the latest regarding the city’s stock of public trees.

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Last year, the council adopted a policy that requires a thorough vetting — such as arborists reports and on-site meetings — of a tree’s health before a decision is made about whether it should be removed.

The vote came after tree advocates criticized the city for removing a eucalyptus tree in the Lumberyard mall area that experts said was at risk of falling.

In October, the council gave a 50-foot eucalyptus tree next to Urth Caffe at 308 N. Coast Hwy. at least six more months to see if it would regain its health after arborist Greg Applegate discovered pockets of decay in its trunk and roots crammed into a tight space, the Daily Pilot reported.

An email to Applegate seeking an update on the tree’s status was not immediately returned Friday.

The city will return to the council at a later date with a separate report regarding private trees.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce


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