Village Matters

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What Bad Thing is Next?

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

Have you seen the YouTube video that is going viral in Laguna where a fictitious version of Hitler finds out that the reopening of Third Street has been delayed once again?

The dreaded dictator has been transplanted to Laguna Beach as a frustrated resident and he is fed up. He shouts to his feckless military aides, “If the traffic mess isn’t fixed by summer, we are going to have f’ing riots on Forest Avenue…”

Yes, we’ve been besieged and impeded from going about our daily lives, but there’s more construction in store. There will be additional sewer work on Park Avenue, undergrounding of utilities at Big Bend, an enlarged reclaimed waterline installed under south Coast Highway, and finally the five-year sewer tunnel replacement in South Laguna. More noise, traffic jams and disruptions in our neighborhoods are coming.

Yes, we understand that infrastructure improvements are needed, but are they being managed and coordinated to minimize impacts on the residents? The Hitler skit makes it seem laughable, but most of the words the video maker Merv Jones put in his mouth through subtitles ring true.

In addition to the construction and traffic there are lots of other pressures on residents, and one of the greatest is the feeling that we are not secure in our neighborhoods. I’m talking about the feeling that something could be done at any time to disrupt our environment, serenity and way of life. Another construction project starts. No notice of Design Review. Are there permits? Gradually a changed house is materializing before our eyes. There are not only construction vehicles and noise, there is the feeling of vulnerability and not knowing what will be coming next.

Then there are the trees. A truck pulls up and saws start in. What was a shady, leafy setting becomes a copse of hacked off branches, or worse, all becomes fodder for the shredder. No neighborhood input there either. While one can file a complaint and require neighbors to cut their trees to suit their neighbors’ views, and the Fire Department can declare them a target for removal, we can’t seem to do anything about guiding the pruning and preserving the trees that make our neighborhoods feel sheltered and a part of nature.

Somehow all the complaints about trees impairing views have given the impression that all trees are a threat and unwelcome. The debacle of the cutting of the historical trees at the Lumberyard last week (reported in detail elsewhere in this paper) is the culmination of these attitudes.

Whereas the Lumberyard trees are landmarks in a highly visible location, similar tree losses in other areas of town may go on almost unnoted except by neighbors. I seem to be the one who gets the telephone call from a frantic neighbor. “They’re cutting down a beautiful tree in the neighborhood. What can I do?” The fact is, here in Laguna Beach, almost nothing can be done unless the tree is a city maintained tree or a Heritage Tree. There are very few trees on the Heritage Tree list, and the original heritage tree ordinance has been changed so that only a tree owner can nominate one. Now staff requires that the owner fund preparation of an arborist report justifying the heritage designation. How unlikely it will be that we will have very many more Heritage Trees under these conditions?

We can change our regulations —other cities have incorporated more effective tree protections into their municipal codes. We should not only preserve trees of a certain size and importance, but also prohibit severe pruning.

As for the substantial construction projects that go on without neighborhood noticing and Design Review, the city council and design review board will be discussing this at their conference on Saturday, April 9 at 9 a.m.

Let’s urge city action on all these fronts–so we can live our lives again, as the video suggests.



Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.









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