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Landscaping Update: Canary Island Pine Issue

One oft-touted reason why residents chose to live in Laguna Woods Village is its lush greenery and seemingly endless parade of beautifully diverse and majestic trees.

The vision for the community’s wide-reaching green canopy began at its inception, when a well-meaning but short-sighted practice of overplanting almost guaranteed that one day, some trees would pose challenges. Some of the Village’s Canary Island pine trees now pose such challenges.

It’s a common practice for developers to overplant trees in new communities to give the landscape a fuller look for prospective buyers. When this community was constructed, the majority of the Canary Island pines were planted in groves or groups of three to nine trees. Many of these groupings were planted near buildings, carports and sidewalks. 

Within these groupings, due to the maturity of the trees, the canopies have become increasingly dense over time, negatively affecting their long-term health. 

Canopy density poses another significant concern. The quantity of needles, cones and branches falling onto nearby building and carport roofs has blocked gutters, roof drains, courtyard drains and down spouts, costing United Mutual vast sums in structure repairs. United Mutual expends almost $150,000 annually cleaning pine needles from gutters. Eliminating trees close to roofs in these groves will allow the remaining trees to develop full, healthy canopies without having a detrimental effect on the overall area aesthetics. 

In the fall of 2020, the United Board of Directors and the United Landscape Committee requested that staff investigate the possibility and cost of removing mature pine trees that exhibit at least one of the following characteristics: groves of trees, health decline, building conflict with roofs and gutters, dense canopies causing poor turf growth, dense canopies causing an abundance of leaf pickup tickets and infrastructure damage. In March 2021, staff brought preliminary findings to the Landscape Committee, which subsequently directed staff to develop a project and seek proposals for the work. 

Staff also investigated reconstructive trimming of the trees in lieu of removal. Many of these trees are well over 60 feet tall and difficult to access. Reconstructive trim averages $1,320 per tree; removal averages $1,552 per tree. Trimming will reduce some of the negative effects, but ongoing maintenance will still be necessary.

There are approximately 18,640 trees in United Mutual; effectively 79 trees per acre. In comparison, Third Mutual has 39 trees per acre. The proposed project would leave United’s tree density almost unchanged, at 77 trees per acre, or a removal of approximately 2% of the mutual’s tree stock. 

Landscaping Services Department Director Kurt Wiemann and his staff are staunch “tree huggers” who would never unnecessarily remove a tree. Their job is to protect United Mutual’s assets, and this proposal aims to do just that. The initial number of trees indicated are just a starting point; staff arborists will be working with residents over the next three months to re-examine the identified trees affected to ensure the health of our urban forest and quality of life of our residents.

NOTE: After hearing resident concerns, the United Mutual Landscape Committee has decided to put the project on hold for further review. Staff was directed to engage an environmental specialist and a third-party arborist to review the proposed project and its impacts.

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