Many South Laguna residents consider the process redundant, explaining that an inventory of heritage trees, including six owned by the city in Village Green Park, was conducted before South Laguna was annexed to Laguna Beach in 1987. They say
the selected trees and many others should already be on the Laguna Beach Heritage List as a result of the city's adoption in 1989 of the South Laguna Specific Plan, which included an inventory of heritage trees.
"We believed the trees were protected," Greg O'Loughlin said.
Before annexation, the county had jurisdiction over South Laguna and did not have a heritage tree ordinance, although specific plan policies encouraged preservation of trees and owners were advised of the inventory.
Ron Wisecup opposed the requested heritage-tree designation.
"Property owners are using the designation shield to hide behind," Wisecup said. "It lessens the pressure they feel when a neighbor asks them to remove the trees or just trim them. They just say this is a heritage tree."
Differences between city and county policies on heritage trees have led to confusion about the status of the South Laguna trees on the inventory, City Manager John Pietig said.
Attorney James J. Joseph contended in a letter to the council that the legislative intent of including portions of the South Laguna Specific Plan in the city's general plan meant that whatever protection was accorded to city-designated heritage trees applied to the inventoried South Laguna trees.
Councilmen Steven Dicterow and Robert Whalen, both attorneys, found the letter and later city actions troubling.
"Process is important," Dicterow said. "2009 agenda bills seem to clearly state that the South Laguna trees became city heritage trees."
However, that issue was not on Tuesday's agenda. Whalen said the question in front of the council only referred to the specific trees on the agenda.
"But the real question is what was the intent in 1989 and the documentation at that time," Whalen said. "We need to study that."