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High winds, fire danger prompt Laguna Beach to remove poisoned 50-foot tree

Ranulfo Peralta, of West Coast Arborists, Inc. , sits in a boom over Coast Highway to cut down 15-foot segments of a 50-foot eucalyptus tree. (Photo by Erika I. Ritchie, staff)Ranulfo Peralta, one of a five-man crew, sits in a boom high over Coast Highway to get at the dead 50-foot eucalyptus tree. (Photo by Erika I. Ritchie, staff)View of the intersection at 8th Avenue and Virginia Way of the 50-foot eucalyptus tree as it is cut down on Thursday, Nov. 7. (Photo by Erika I. Ritchie, Staff)50-foot eucalyptus tree cut down in south Laguna. (Photo by Erika I. Ritchie, Staff)Samuel Jimenez, a foreman for West Coast Arborists, Inc. , cuts down a 15-foot segment from a 50-foot eucalyptus tree on Dec. 7, 2017. (Photo by Erika I. Ritchie/staff)Show Caption of Expand
LAGUNA BEACH — The high fire danger and strong winds this week made the 50-foot sugar gum eucalyptus tree that city officials say appears to have been poisoned a priority for removal.
The city-maintained tree, a fixture in a South Laguna neighborhood, was being cut down on Thursday, Nov.  7.
A five-man crew started work at 8 a.m., removing 15-foot sections and lowering them to the ground to be cut into smaller pieces.
“Normally, we cut the branch and let it fall,” said Samuel Jimenez, the foreman from West Coast Arborists, a contractor hired by the city. “But here we have to be careful with the garage and the high-voltage power lines.”
Jimenez said the dead tree became a high priority for the city with the gusting winds and fire danger.
The tree removal drew interest from neighbors who had watched its decline over the past few months.
“It needed to come down, it was a torch,” said Steve Hayer, who was out on his driveway watching the work. “It was an eyesore.”
Hayer said some of his neighbors were among the first to smell gasoline around the base of the tree and reported it to police.
The tree, a block from the beach at Virginia Way and 8th Avenue, had been under the care of a city-contracted arborist since a vandalism report was made to the Laguna Beach Police Department in August.
The report stated that someone had been pouring gasoline on the tree, said Shohreh Dupuis, the city’s director of Public Works, whose department oversaw efforts to save the tree.
Police determined that a substance that smelled like fuel had been poured around the base of the tree, but they were unable to locate the culprit, she said.
Pepe Mercado said he walked by the tree last week and noticed it was becoming more and more dry. He posted a photo of it on Nextdoor, the neighborhood social media site.
That drew dozens of comments from neighbors who wondered why it had been poisoned.
Tree vandalism is not uncommon in Laguna. The vandalism is often associated with issues over views, officials said.
In December 2016, Laguna Beach police were called when five eucalyptus trees near the sidewalk at the Montage Resort were attacked by vandals who cut two-inch-deep gashes at the base of their trunks.
Ann Christoph, a local landscape architect and former mayor, said the tree was considered a public tree maintained by the city. But it was historically listed as a heritage tree to be protected before South Laguna was annexed into the city. she said.
Many of the South Laguna’s tall trees were part of a tree-planting program initiated in 1935, she said.
“It was during the Great Depression and people were looking for jobs,” Christoph said. “They hired 10 workers to dig 350 holes to plant trees. That’s how the big trees here came about. It’s not inconceivable that this tree was one of them.”
Neighbors on Thursday lamented its loss.
“It sure changes the way our neighborhood looks now,” Hayer said. “Now we’re just getting a good look at power lines.”
Source: Oc Register

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