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Laguna Beach needs more public trees, O.C. grand jury report says

Laguna Beach needs more public trees, O.C. grand jury report says
Laguna Beach has 12 street trees planted for every 100 residents, according to an Orange County grand jury report. That ranks it 23rd out of the 30 Orange County cities that provided information for the report. (File Photo)

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

Laguna Beach is one of eight cities that has “significantly fewer public street trees per resident than other Orange County cities,” according to the “Orange County’s Urban Forest” report. The grand jury determined its rankings by dividing the number of street trees a city owns by its population and multiplying the result by 100 to get the number of street trees per 100 residents.

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Using that method, Laguna Beach has 12 street trees planted for every 100 residents — ranking 23rd out of the 30 Orange County cities that provided information for the report, according to the grand jury.

Mission Viejo tops the list, with 47 per 100 residents. Aliso Viejo is last, with one per 100 residents.

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Laguna Beach also sits near the bottom in terms of its spending on street trees, the report states. The city allocates about 0.5% of its total budget for that purpose — $330,400 on 2,843 street trees, according to the 2018-19 report — placing it 21st out of 32 responding cities countywide.

The grand jury focused its research on street trees as a way of “investigating the efficiency of the operations of Orange County and its cities,” the report said.

The grand jury “observed that there was a great disparity between Orange County cities’ urban forests and wanted to study the reasons behind the disparity,” according to the report. “Why is it that some cities in Orange County have a healthy and vibrant urban forest while others do not? Are there best practices in creating and maintaining a healthy urban forest and, if so, why aren’t these practices followed by every city? … Could the grand jury suggest changes to the 34 cities in Orange County that would make our urban forest healthier and more beneficial to its residents?”

Ann Christoph, a local landscape artist and tree activist, believes Laguna Beach hasn’t put enough money behind replacing the trees it tears down. Many residential neighborhoods with skinny streets or no sidewalks don’t have planting areas set up for trees, Christoph said, so it is especially important to preserve existing trees.

As someone who has stood under trees to prevent the city from tearing them down, Christoph said she hopes the report will lend publicity to the cause.

“For the last 15 or more years, the pendulum has swung against trees in Laguna Beach and it has been almost unpatriotic to plant trees,” Christoph said. “You were considerate of your neighbors if you pruned your trees so they were out of their views, or removed your tree to satisfy a neighbor concern about view.

“You were considered to be a good citizen if you did those things,” she added. “And now I’m hoping that people also [will] consider it to be a good citizen if you plant a tree and if you take care of it properly.”

The grand jury report asserted that Laguna Beach is supportive of an urban forest program but hasn’t succeeded in making residents aware of it. It also said Laguna hasn’t fully realized the economic and environmental benefits of a robust street tree program, such as positive effects on property values, more-attractive shopping areas, lower air conditioning costs and natural beauty.

The report recommends 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.

Though the report did not paint Laguna Beach in a positive light, Councilwoman Toni Iseman said she was “so delighted” to read it because it lends support to the tree activists in town. The city loses too many trees through improper maintenance, she said.

“It’s a tree here and a tree there,” Iseman said, “and that adds up.”

The city budget adopted last month includes funding for a city arborist, whose job will be to improve Laguna’s tree program, mediate tree disputes and maintain the existing crop. Earlier in June, the City Council voted unanimously to simplify the city’s public tree removal policy.

This article was originally published at 4:45 p.m. and was updated with additional information.

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