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Village Matters

All in the Point of View

For nine years I lived and worked in a house on the oceanfront.  Dramatic views and crashing waves were constant embellishments to my life.  It was lovely but lonely.

Our house was one in a row of houses, every one facing out to the ocean view. There was the noise of the highway on one side and throbbing waves on the other, and so casually speaking to your neighbor was not possible. Shouting was required. We never met most of our neighbors, leading their private lives, disappearing into their automatically opened garages.

Now here I am in my log cabin cottage in the South Laguna village, with glimpses of ocean view, still benefiting from the ocean’s wafting cooling breezes, surrounded by a community of neighbors.  In the past three weeks there has been Barbara Granger’s birthday party, the community garage sale, Willa’s garden party, and a meeting to welcome the new gardeners.  We say hello to the people and the dogs as we take our walks.  The post office, the convenience store, and our favorite restaurants are only short blocks away. Village Green park just down the street, preserved hillsides and trails, community garden, new street improvements— these are projects our community has accomplished, working with local government.  We not only enjoy our community, we have shaped it ourselves and have improved it.

Do I regret losing the prime oceanfront location and ocean view? Not for a minute. The village life around our home has become more important to me than the views from the windows.

Cut to last week’s Design Review meeting where Aliso Creek shopping center/CVS was on the agenda.  A few weeks ago I told of the proposed false craftsman fronts that were proposed to be added to the center.  The revised submittal was much improved. The new fronts are smaller, the brick and concrete will be restored to their original surfaces and colors and parking lot trees will be allowed to grow to make shading canopies. Fake rock has been changed to real rock. There are more improvements that could have been explored, but the public testimony from neighbors above the center concentrated the Eucalyptus trees on the Coast Highway side of the parking lot.   Neighbors and shopping center owner had a bargain; the neighbors would endorse the center redesign and the owners would remove the trees.

We heard a litany of accusations about Eucalyptus trees: dirty, dangerous, exploding fire hazards, that keeping other plants from growing, the list is often heard. Unfortunately the more it’s repeated the more everyone believes it’s true.  It has become fashionable in some quarters to hate Eucalyptus and revile them, when in fact, like every other tree or any other facet of life, there are shades of gray, moderating factors, and appropriate applications for them.

Laguna’s heritage is linked with Eucalyptus trees, planted by early homesteaders to prove up their land claims.  They are the subject of many early plein air paintings. Lemon Eucalyptus is our official city tree, selected decades ago.

Much of the literature about fire hazards of Eucalyptus is based on dense groves growing untended, where dropping leaves and branches thickly accumulate. This dry material does become a fire hazard.  But where Eucalyptus is grown in a landscape setting, irrigated, maintained among other tended plants, they are no more of a fire hazard than any other tree.  Groups of Eucalyptus survived the 1993 Laguna fire, while the houses next to them burned.  Fire Chief Dewberry reported no “exploding Eucalyptus” in our fire.  In a wildfire forest fire, as in Australia, that would be a different situation, more like our forest fires of pines and firs.

The negative testimony damaged my illusion of the fine, compatible community I live in.  The neighbors wanted the views improved, plain and simple.  The false arguments were unnecessary to working out a solution.  It was disappointing to hear the negativity, without appreciation of our community’s work for years to improve the streetscape plantings, which include the Eucalyptus in question.  There are ways to accomplish the view improvement goal, without the severe solution they were proposing—removing all the Eucalyptus.  Pruning and thinning are proven methods, very feasible in this case.

The Design Review Board voted to remove six of the twelve Eucalyptus trees.

Our trees make a community setting, create sheltering canopies, and give a sense of history. To have these benefits most of us will be looking partially at trees.  It is inevitable, but not always bad.  It doesn’t have to be a battle between trees and views, rather we can pursue a well-rounded appreciation of the totality of our community, and case-by-case solutions.

Our enjoyment of our homes is not only in what we see looking out, but what we experience from outside looking and participating all around where we live.

Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor of Laguna Beach.

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