Utility giant Southern California Edison took full responsibility for the health of six towering eucalyptus trees in Bluebird Canyon at the City Council meeting Tuesday, including paying the bill for maintaining them.
“I’ve never seen six trees get as much attention as these have had,” said Edison spokesman Steve Nelson. Nelson was referring to the diligent efforts of Bluebird Canyon residents who want to save the eucalyptus targeted for cutting in October due to their proximity to power lines and potential to spark a fire.
Utility arborists analyzed the trees after receiving an independent arborist’s report paid for by residents; they agreed with the earlier report’s conclusions.
“Pruning the trees, reducing the crown of the trees and removing any weak branches along with monitoring the trees on a more accelerated schedule would satisfy our concerns,” Nelson told the council. Edison has set aside $15,000 to cover the costs, which was initially allocated for removing the trees. Company arborists couldn’t attend the council meeting, Nelson said, due to assisting with tree damage from hurricane-force winds this week in Los Angeles.
Despite SCE’s offer to maintain the tops of the trees, some residents preferring their removal voiced concerns about exposed root balls that can make the soft-wood sentinels susceptible to toppling over.
“They have shallow roots that don’t hold well in sandy soil,” said Kimberly Leeds, a naturalist who has lived in Laguna Beach for 25 years and Bluebird Canyon for 10. “There are better alternatives for replacement.”
Jean Keyes, 1500 Bluebird Canyon Drive, asked if Edison was legally responsible for the trees since the company is trimming them now instead of removing them. “Who pays if there’s damage to someone’s home or someone’s car or we can’t get out?” she said. Liability depends on the circumstances regardless of the property owner, Phil Kohn, the city’s attorney, said later.
Mary Fegraus, asleep when a eucalyptus crashed across the roof of her Bluebird Canyon home during last December’s record-breaking rainstorm, urged the council to err on the side of caution. She said if the tree had fallen a few feet differently, local headlines might have read: “Mary Fegraus, Killed by Eucalyptus Tree.”
But fear is also something to monitor, said arborist Greg Applegate, the tree-root assessor who wrote the independent arborist report. Statistics show it’s twice as likely to get struck by lightning as it is to get struck by a falling tree or tree branch, he said, adding that trees are less of a threat, whether there’s a fire or storm, if they’re maintained.
Jane Egly, selected as the new mayor by the council Tuesday night to follow Toni Iseman, underscored residents’ concerns by pointing out a recent headline in the Los Angeles Times: “Wind Turns Arboretum Into Splintering Chaos.”
“Those were healthy trees. They were in the L.A. Arboretum,” she said. She supported Edison’s plan to trim the trees “…if you can get those suckers below the (power) lines.”
Taking up a suggestion by Verna Rollinger, mayor pro tem, for a city-wide tree assessment starting in Bluebird Canyon, City Manager John Pietig told the council that funding a one-time review may be possible depending on the outcome of a mid-year budget review.