A piece of Laguna Beach’s horticultural history was lost last week when a large eucalyptus tree dating from the community’s beginning around 1880 was removed from Ramona Avenue.
People in the neighborhood are distressed by the removal of the tree, which was more than a century old and rose above 100 feet high.
“I’ve got neighbors up and down this street that are just sick about it,” 25-year Ramona Avenue resident Randy Hargrave said.
Hargrave has pictures of his house on Ramona Avenue from 1916, which show the tree looming large even then.
Neighbors question whether the tree really had to be removed.
Laguna Beach codes require adjacent properties to maintain most street trees in the city. The house adjacent to the tree is owned by Los Angeles resident Doris Evans, who rents the house out.
Hargrave claims the city had been asking Evans to trim the tree for four years. He said the first notice he and neighbors were given that the tree was to be removed came in a notification to ensure his vehicle was out of the way for the project the day before the removal operation.
Evans could not be reached for comment, but neighbors believe the decision to cut the tree down may have been made to eliminate future trimming costs. A few said they would have gladly paid the costs to save the tree.
“I think if they went door-to-door and took a collection, the neighborhood would have kicked in to save the sucker,” resident Mary Kastner said.
But the tree might not have been salvageable, according to the tree cutter.
The leader of the 3D Landscaping crew that took the tree down said the center of the tree’s trunk was dead, but two large and heavy branches growing horizontally were still alive, which could be dangerous.
One of the large branches was hanging over apartments next door to the tree’s property and the other grew over the street’s power lines.
The landscaper, who declined to give his name, said eucalyptus trees are known for dropping large branches. If one dropped, there was a possibility of property damage or of leaving the area without power.
Residents said despite the danger they would have liked the option to seek alternatives to taking the tree down completely.
Kastner said the tree was a landmark in the area. She said she routinely swims out into the ocean and always used the large tree as a landmark to maintain her bearings.
She also said the tree’s shade will be sorely missed. Kastner estimates her house will be five degrees warmer now that the tree won’t block the sun.
Other neighbors say their street looks naked without the elderly tree.
“That was really the last vestige of any sort of nature; I’m really bummed,” said four-year Ramona Avenue resident Patrick Sark.
According to the Laguna Beach Historical Society’s website, when Laguna Beach was settled, much of the land was homesteaded. When land was homesteaded, people who squatted on land could obtain ownership for free as long as they proved they had improved the land.
Many homesteaders planted trees to improve the land, and in Laguna Beach, eucalyptus was the tree of choice.
The Ramona Avenue tree might have been planted by such a homesteader.
According to Public Works Director Steve May, the city maintains a registry of these historic homesteader trees and protects them, but in order for a tree to be protected, the landowners must take the time to fill out the paperwork and the City Council has to approve it.
“If it’s not one of those trees adopted by the City Council, there’s nothing we can do,” May said.
The Ramona Avenue tree is not listed in the historic registry.