The board of Village Laguna is stunned by the destruction to candidate heritage trees at the Lumberyard last week. These two monumental trees are the last remaining of the grove of blue gum eucalyptus planted in 1879 by homesteaders Henry and George Rogers and companion trees to the pepper tree in front of City Hall. Forest Avenue was named for this grove.
We are grateful that Mayor Steve Dicterow and Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman intervened at mid-day on April 1, and that Acting City Manager Christa Johnson persuaded the tree removers to stop. But this situation should have never arisen.
Preservation of the trees was required when the Lumberyard shopping complex was approved, and any change to them should have received review in a publicly noticed meeting. City staff decided not to require such a hearing, taking the word of the arborists that the trees had to be removed immediately. The reports that staff relied on made only general statements about decay compromising the structure of trees of this type and age. Neither of the arborists did the tests that would have indicated whether these statements applied to these particular trees. During the process of cutting the trees no decay was found.
Local professionals could have been asked to evaluate the situation before such an important and irrevocable decision was made. Since both arborists were from out of town, they were not familiar with the history of the Lumberyard or the special soils conditions of the downtown basin that might have mitigated their recommendations. None of the indicators that might have supported immediate removal—splitting of trunks, falling branches, tilting of formerly vertical trunks, evidence of the trunks or roots pulling out of the ground—have been observed in recent weeks. All this suggests that there was time for a normal public review process to take place.
We ask that the lone remnant tree be allowed a chance to regrow. For now, it will be a reminder of how not to treat our treasured trees. Eventually it will recover and continue to be a living and growing component of the beauty and heritage of our town.
We recommend instituting clear policies on the processing of tree removal requests, policies that ask first, “How can we preserve trees?” and involve public review prior to staff decisions. It is not enough to accept this loss and say, “This will never happen again,” because unless strong measures are taken it will.
Johanna Felder, Laguna Beach
The author is president of Village Laguna.