With Southern California Edison footing the bill, the City Council agreed Tuesday to the removal of five eucalyptus trees in Bluebird Canyon despite pleas by some Laguna Beach residents to save the habitat for birds of prey.
With an hour’s worth of public comment, residents wanting to keep the trees thought better approaches would be to trim rather than uproot as well as to underground utilities so trees could not pose a safety threat.
Another suggestion from residents wanting to preserve the trees was to hire a professional arborist to determine the stability and health of the trees. “It’s a dangerous precedent to start taking out trees of this magnitude without having tangible advice from an expert before we do that,” said Bluebird Canyon resident and landscape architect Bob Borthwick.
Last month, work crews in Newport Beach removed more than 100 trees near where a 50-foot eucalyptus tree fell onto a car and crushed the driver.
City Manager John Pietig estimated the cost to Edison to remove the five trees, which the utility company said are threatening 6,000-volt power lines, at $15,000 total.
“Edison has gotten stingy lately,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, recalling a denied request to remove a tree in her neighborhood. “So if Edison thinks these five are potential problems in terms of public safety, I think we have a responsibility to do something about it and do it while they’re willing to pay for it.”
Residents who live in Bluebird Canyon as well as conservationists who live elsewhere in Laguna, said the trees, some estimated at nearly 100 years old and weighing several tons, benefited the community as look-out posts for predatory birds such as osprey and brown owls.
“These raptors are our natural vector-control department,” said Charlotte Masarik, who lives in central Laguna. “Do you know that a single pair of brown owls with five chicks will eat at least 3,000 rodents in one breeding season and a large red tail [hawk] can eat three roof rats a day given half a chance.” Masarik suggested lacing tree limbs periodically, preferably not during nesting season.
But Bluebird Canyon resident Ed Keyes said lacing wouldn’t have worked in his case. During a severe windstorm, he said his driveway lifted three inches because the root balls of eucalyptus trees in his yard were being pulled out.
“This is purely a matter of safety. With a lot of these trees, the roots are exposed and they’re going to fall over eventually,” he said, with his wife, Jean, adding, “Then the owls can live in the other eucalyptus trees up there. We’ve got many.”
During last December’s record-breaking rainstorm, Susan White, a 20-year Bluebird Canyon resident and landscape architect, said she also experienced tree-uprooting nature’s way. A 10-ton eucalyptus tree in her yard fell onto her neighbors’ garden and grazed their roof. “My eucalyptus tree falling was not a fluke; it was inevitable.”
White added that the non-native trees fare better in their homeland, Australia. “Eucalyptus don’t belong in our densely populated box canyon with steep slopes, Santa Ana winds and 16-foot-wide, winding roads.”
Given Bluebird Canyon’s experience with landslides, fires, and wind storms as well as its single-road access, Egly suggested that the city’s Disaster Preparedness Committee continue to research the possibilities of an evacuation route at the end of the canyon.
Bluebird Canyon resident Sue Kempf brought Edison’s tree surveying to the city’s attention in September and submitted a petition supporting tree removal signed by 13 nearby residents.
“Edison has the ability and the right to trim, remove, whatever they need to do, trees or vegetation that is threatening their utilities,” said Steve May, the city’s director of public works.