Council adds 25 South Laguna trees to heritage list

Twenty-five South Laguna trees made the cut Tuesday to be designated Heritage Trees.

The City Council on Tuesday approved the request of 10 property owners for the designation. City Planning Manager Ann Larson said the city's ordinance mandates proper maintenance to preserve the character and health of the heritage trees.

The council decision came after two hours of discussion, much of it focused on the process by which heritage trees were chosen.

Many South Laguna residents consider the process redundant, explaining that an inventory of heritage trees, including six owned by the city in Village Green Park, was conducted before South Laguna was annexed to Laguna Beach in 1987. They say

the selected trees and many others should already be on the Laguna Beach Heritage List as a result of the city's adoption in 1989 of the South Laguna Specific Plan, which included an inventory of heritage trees.

"We believed the trees were protected," Greg O'Loughlin said.

Before annexation, the county had jurisdiction over South Laguna and did not have a heritage tree ordinance, although specific plan policies encouraged preservation of trees and owners were advised of the inventory.

Ron Wisecup opposed the requested heritage-tree designation.

"Property owners are using the designation shield to hide behind," Wisecup said. "It lessens the pressure they feel when a neighbor asks them to remove the trees or just trim them. They just say this is a heritage tree."

Differences between city and county policies on heritage trees have led to confusion about the status of the South Laguna trees on the inventory, City Manager John Pietig said.

Attorney James J. Joseph contended in a letter to the council that the legislative intent of including portions of the South Laguna Specific Plan in the city's general plan meant that whatever protection was accorded to city-designated heritage trees applied to the inventoried South Laguna trees.

Councilmen Steven Dicterow and Robert Whalen, both attorneys, found the letter and later city actions troubling.

"Process is important," Dicterow said. "2009 agenda bills seem to clearly state that the South Laguna trees became city heritage trees."

However, that issue was not on Tuesday's agenda. Whalen said the question in front of the council only referred to the specific trees on the agenda.

"But the real question is what was the intent in 1989 and the documentation at that time," Whalen said. "We need to study that."

The city's problem is that none of the property owners on the inventory requested inclusion on the list, as required by the city's heritage tree ordinance.

"They may have thought they were on the list so they didn't think they had to take any action," Dicterow said.

To clear up the confusion, the city requested by mail that property owners listed on the inventory state their desire to have their trees on Laguna's Heritage Tree List.

Of the 190 property owners and their neighbors, 19 asked to be put on the city's list, 91 declined but wanted their trees designated as candidate Heritage Trees, 47 owners did not respond and 29 informed the city that the specified tree no longer existed or was not located on their property.

The requests for heritage tree status had been whittled by Tuesday's hearing to trees on 10 properties, all requests approved unanimously.

Five other property owners requested inclusion, but issues with neighbors must first be resolved.

Separately, the council voted 4 to 1, with Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson opposed, to keep all remaining trees on the inventory on the city's candidate list and treated as heritage trees until the item comes back to the council.

The agenda item can be reviewed on paper or video on the city's website,

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