Council supports eucalyptus tree removal in Bluebird Canyon

Southern California Edison recommends cutting five trees that pose a threat to power lines. Many speak out in opposition.

October 20, 2011|By Barbara Diamond

Safety trumped the environment Tuesday when the City Council supported Southern California Edison's recommendation to chop down five eucalyptus trees at the top of Bluebird Canyon.

The utility is empowered without city approval to remove trees that pose a threat to high-voltage power lines that could cause fires.

Fire Chief Kris Head and Director of Public Works Steve May supported Edison's recommendation, while opponents protested the action as desecration of raptor habitat, to be undertaken only with expert guidance.


"These trees should not be removed," Charlotte Masarik said. "They are lookout trees and nesting trees for owls, redtail hawks, coopers, the beautiful red-shouldered hawk and the American kestrel, to name but a few."

Masarik said the raptors keep vermin in check. A single pair of barn owls with five chicks will eat at least 3,000 rodents in one breeding season, she said.

"If we can save lives and homes, owls can live in other eucalyptus trees," canyon resident Jean Keyes said.

There are an estimated 100 eucalyptus trees in the canyon. But Village Laguna President Ginger Osborne said removing the trees would create a bleak, sterile environment in their area of Bluebird Canyon and would set a bad precedent for tree removal in other areas of town.

Nine speakers opposed the removal of the trees. In all, 16 residents voiced opinions on the Edison recommendation.

Mace M. Morse III said trees don't just stand in a neighborhood — they define a neighborhood.

"But what happens if a tree falls?" Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson asked. "How do people get out? We should take Edison's advice while they will pay for it."

May estimated the cost for removal at $20,000 and said it would reduce the risk of power outages and fires caused by lines downed because of falling trees.

The Edison project was brought to the city's attention by Sue Kempf, a canyon resident who observed an Edison employee apparently checking out power lines along her street. She was told of the recommendation and that the utility has the money for project now, but might not in the next budget cycle.

"I live in a box canyon, and I am on the Disaster Preparedness Committee, so I felt it my responsibility to inform the city," Kempf said. "I am also very familiar with the safety element of the General Plan."

In a memo to the city manager, Head supported the Edison project as a safety measure.

"Removal of these trees would eliminate the possibility for them to cause downed power lines, and/or obstructing a primary egress route serving upper Bluebird Canyon," Head wrote. "Additionally, removal of these trees will have a positive effect on reducing the fuel load in Bluebird Canyon."

The council voted 4 to 1 to support the Edison recommendation. Councilwoman Verna Rollinger opposed; she wanted an arborist consulted.

"The Disaster Committee will be encouraging neighborhoods to take responsibility," said Pearson, council liaison to the committee. "This is the first neighborhood to do that, and I don't think it will stop at trees near some power lines."

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