Canyon trees saved from ax

The City Council on Tuesday approved a Southern California Edison proposal that will save five eucalyptus trees in Bluebird Canyon that had been headed for the chopping block.

Not everyone embraced the reprieve proposed by Edison representative Steve Nelson. They cited safety as their major concern.

"We saw in 1993 how catastrophic these trees are," said Peter Grohmann. "They explode in a fire, and the Fire Department has recommended their removal."

Fire Department officials said it's not just about the fire hazard, but also the fragility of the trees. Uprooted trees or broken limbs can impede evacuation and access by emergency vehicles in a disaster.

But arborist Greg Applegate, who had been hired by a group of Bluebird Canyon residents who resisted the idea of chopping down the trees, said there is no data that substantiates the belief that eucalyptus trees are more dangerous than other species.

"You are two times more likely to be struck by lightning than by a tree," said Applegate, who had once been called in by the city to treat the aging pepper tree in front of City Hall.

However, longtime city naturalist Kimberly Leeds had nothing good to say about eucalyptus, the nonnative transplants from Australia.

"Shallow roots don't hold well in sandy soil — and we have sandy substrate Topanga Formation in most of Laguna, including Bluebird Canyon," Leeds said. "The roots clog up sewers and burst water pipes, cause road damage and erosion on the hillsides."

Leeds said the trees are detrimental to species diversity.

"High levels of oil in the debris make it decompose at a very low rate — this limits the regeneration of topsoil," Leeds said. "The oil is toxic to most animals. Birds get the oil in their beaks and nostrils, often causing death."

High winds can knock off branches and fell the trees, she added.

"My husband's car and the home he lived in were destroyed — he was lucky to escape with his life," Leeds said.

Bluebird Canyon resident Mary Fegraus said she had a similar experience, but she accepted Nelson's proposal.

"It was sensible and sensitive," said Fegraus, founding executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

Under the proposal, tree maintenance will be accelerated, and Edison will pay for it.

"If further action needs to be taken, we will return to the city," said Nelson, who has been Edison's representative to Laguna for 20 years.

Councilman Kelly Boyd requested Nelson's appearance at the council meeting.

"I have never seen [five] trees get this much attention," Nelson said.

Eleanor Henry, one of the first Bluebird Canyon residents to publicly castigate the plan to remove the trees, thanked Edison for its reversal.

But it isn't just the five trees earmarked for removal that need watching, according to several of the 12 speakers who addressed the council.

Todd Green said all eucalyptus trees in the canyon need to assessed.

Native Lagunan Liza Interlandi Stewart, who has lived in Bluebird Canyon for most of her 52 years, went even further.

"All the trees should be looked at," she said.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, liaison to the Disaster Committee, said neighborhoods should organize tree reviews for the sake of their own safety.

"We need to be more proactive," Pearson said.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman suggested the compilation of a public list of suspect trees.

"Get these suckers under the wires," said newly seated Mayor Jane Egly. "It is not just diseased trees; it's also location."

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