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Landscape committee hears public input

Tuesday's meeting focused on water conservation, streetscape, heritage trees, native plants, fire safety and geology.

October 31, 2013|By Bryce Alderton
  • Ann Christoph, Greg Vail, Belinda Ann Deines, Bob Borthwick, Rob Zur Schmiede and Anne Johnson (not pictured) make up the Landscape and Scenic Highways Element Committee, which seeks to include issues such as streetscape, heritage trees and native plants into the city's general plan.
Ann Christoph, Greg Vail, Belinda Ann Deines, Bob Borthwick,… (Don Leach / Coastline…)

Landscape architects and Laguna Beach planning commissioners are working to give the city's landscape-related policies teeth.

The Landscape and Scenic Highways Element Committee's goal is to consolidate two existing documents that focus on landscape and scenic highways into one unified section of the city's general plan.

"This element [document] seeks to create a long-term comprehensive plan that highlights the significance of our picturesque natural setting and unique artistic heritage," reads a description on the city's website.

The group includes lead consultant Greg Vail, a former Laguna Beach planning commissioner, current commission Chairman Robert Zur Schmiede, Commissioner Anne Johnson, landscape architects Ann Christoph and Robert Borthwick, and Assistant City Planner Belinda Ann Deines.

The committee held an open house Oct. 3 to introduce the project and a public workshop Tuesday to gain input.

Residents at Tuesday's meeting touched on the importance of fire safety, the unintended consequences of development, and benefits of trees.

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Councilwoman Toni Iseman spoke about the effects of building large houses on small lots.

"You excavate and take out hundreds of cubic yards of dirt, which is a problem for air quality," she said, alluding to the number of truck trips required to transport the dirt. "We're bending over backward when we should say no. From the standpoint of the global environment, damaging it is to encourage excavation."

Ruben Flores, owner of Laguna Nursery, favors benefits for residents planting drought-tolerant plants.

"What if we were able to give someone a break on their permit filings if they had drought-tolerant plants?" Flores said.

One question committee members face in crafting a plan is how to deal with natural habitat areas that abut urban sections, such as residential neighborhoods.

Resident Johanna Felder sees the interplay first-hand from her yard.

Felder said goats near her home have eaten all the grass, which worries her when storms come. The city has used goats since the early 1990s to eat vegetation as a fire safety measure.

"Supposedly there's a biologist going before and after [the goats] to follow and move them," Felder said. "It's not happening. They're eating nothing. They give them hay and [goats] stay for a week. The problem is that when rains come there's no vegetation on the hillside. If we're going to have goats, we need to do this wisely and restore hillsides with native vegetation."

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