One rare tree received a reprieve while seven others that shade downtown streets but are buckling sidewalks will get the ax during a sidewalk repair project underway, Laguna Beach’s City Council decided Tuesday, voting to postpone their replacement until looking further at alternatives.
Though staff determined the project to be exempt from design review, Council member Toni Iseman requested the project to be considered by the full council.
In all, staff had earmarked eight trees for removal including six ficus trees, to be replaced by metrosideros excelsa, also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree, and two eucalyptus trees, to be replaced by another eucalyptus species called the silver dollar gum. The species recommendations originated in the city’s Landscape and Scenic Highways resource document.
Steve May, the city’s director of public works, explained that the mature trees were buckling sidewalks and creating tripping hazards near storefronts. Additionally, uneven trimming to keep branches off buildings made them unbalanced, he said.
“We need to learn to trim the trees correctly,” testified local resident Ruben Flores, owner of Laguna Nursery, who indicated proper trimming of tree crowns can slow root growth and be done without leaving them lopsided, and that the roots themselves can be trimmed and curbed to mitigate damage.
Flores favored removing some of the targeted ficus trees, but argued for saving two ficus ratus trees by the Presbyterian Church, but especially a eucalyptus tree near the Forest Avenue telephone booth, a rare specimen. “There are some beautiful tress in our downtown area, so we should preserve those if we can,” he said.
“I don’t have a problem getting rid of the ficus trees,” said council member Bob Whalen. “But we should look harder at what to replace them with.” He noted that the chosen varieties, judging by photos provided, seem to grow large crowns that, like those being removed, might also become equally imbalanced.
Mayor Kelly Boyd, former owner of the Marine Room, said that after 25 years of doing business on Ocean Avenue, where three of the targeted trees grow, he’s seen the damage the ficus trees do there. “Those trees are in our streets, under our sidewalks and in our buildings,” he said, adding that he’d like to see them removed as a matter of safety.
Members of the public had similar feelings about the ficus trees. “It’s a tree I won’t hug because I hate it,” confessed Eleanor Henry.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson suggested they authorize the removal of the trees, so as not to delay the sidewalk repair efforts, but temporarily put off their replacement a few weeks, pending further investigation of replacement options. Iseman asked that the eucalyptus by the phone booth, at 305 Forest Avenue, be given a “stay of execution.”