Tree Lovers Defend Bluebird Canyon’s Grove

Residents' opinions are split over Edison's plans to remove some Bluebird Canyon trees.

An arborist’s analysis of trees deemed a high-voltage hazard and destined for the chainsaw says the towering blue-gum eucalyptuses in Bluebird Canyon should stay put.  The report is the latest offshoot in a dispute that broke ground in October.

The report from Tustin’s Arborgate Consulting determined that five eucalyptus globulus trees, singled out by Southern California Edison for removal, only need a trim.

In reaction to the City Council’s endorsement of Edison’s plan, a group of Bluebird Canyon tree-lovers pooled $700 to hire Greg Applegate, Arborgate’s certified tree-risk assessor. Applegate analyzed the condition of each tree headed for the chopping block due to posing high-wire or rooftop hazards.

“The primary risks are related to limb or branch failure,” he reported, “but only two of those (trees) threaten the wires and those can be adequately mitigated by pruning.”

Applegate said that doesn’t eliminate danger.  “If the ground is wet enough and the winds strong enough, almost any tree can blow over,” he wrote, adding that there is no ideal maintenance plan that completely eliminates trees toppling or shedding branches.

And liability is the city’s concern.  A woman was recently hit by a falling branch in Bluebird Canyon from a tree deemed safe in an arborist’s analysis four years earlier, City Manager John Pietig recounted.  Pietig said he wants to eliminate any possibility of city responsibility for such incidents.

The pro-prune group of neighbors, who say the trees define the character of the canyon, has asked the City Council to revisit the issue so that they can have a greater say in the matter.

“I’m notified about skylights or fences or bay windows or room additions,” enumerated Todd Greene, a general contractor and landscape architect who’s owned a home in Bluebird Canyon for 22 years.  “But from my perspective, most of those items don’t have any impact on me.  However, something as significant as these eucalyptus trees, I’m not told about that?”  Greene maintains three mature eucalyptuses on his property that he regularly trims.

In October, the City Council sided with Southern California Edison’s intention to absorb the $15,000-cost to remove five trees.  The utility company trumps local jurisdiction when it comes to felling trees that pose a fire risk due to proximity to high-voltage power lines.

But the ensuing debate over the trees’ removal swayed Edison, according to public affairs officer Steve Nelson, to postpone any action at least until the end of the year while the company conducts its own analysis.

In the meantime, Councilman Kelly Boyd, who favors keeping the trees, said he’s asked the city manager to arrange a meeting with an Edison representative to discuss using the money for tree lacing and pruning over several years instead of cutting down the earmarked trees.

Nelson said Edison has received a copy of the arborist report and plans on meeting with city officials soon.

But Sue Kempf, who initially notified the city of Edison’s intentions to remove the trees, said safety rather than views or esthetics should guide decision making. She said her home was without power during last December’s rainstorm and assumed Edison was planning on undergrounding the lines when she saw an engineer surveying the trees this fall.

“I like trees just as much as anybody else,” said Kempf, who is also a member of the city’s Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee.  “It doesn’t have to do with the condition of the trees.  It has to do with the proximity of the trees to the power lines.  We live in a dangerous box canyon.”

Greene said he moved to the box canyon because of the trees, some estimated at 100 years old.  “I like the landscape, the feel you get up here in the canyon,” he said.  “There’s no place else in Laguna that has this dominant canopy.  I would rather look through a nicely laced tree and have a distant ocean view than just see power lines.”

Mace Morse, another Bluebird Canyon resident, said he found himself surprisingly pro-trees and sees removing them as setting a dangerous precedent.  “My biggest fear is that there are hundreds of these trees that could face the ax.  There really wasn’t any public discussion about it.  I was never approached.”

Morse said he was thinking about surreptitiously trimming two of the designated trees that stand outside his front door to divert their demise. He added that if any tree posed a threat to anyone’s safety, he would have it removed himself.

Laguna has had a long affair with the flowering Australian myrtle tree.  According to local history, the aromatic eucalyptus was considered a good source of building lumber and a way to “prove up” or improve land, required of the earliest homesteaders in the 1870s.

Greene said he’s frustrated due to what he regards as a lack of regard for Bluebird Canyon’s unique tree-top character.  “Over a period of several years, eucalyptus trees have been systematically removed.  They’re systematically being eliminated, whether it’s being done on purpose or not. To eliminate them up here drastically changes the landscape.”



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