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Laguna Woods HOA to hire outside experts to study pine tree project

United Mutual will spend up to $50,000 to hire a third-party arborist and an environmental specialist for its Canary Island Pine Tree Reduction Project.

Money not spent last year on tree trimming will be moved to this year’s budget, Kurt Wiemann, director of Landscape for Village Management Services, said during a regular meeting of the United board April 12.

Of the $933,588 budgeted in 2021 for tree maintenance, $184,760 was not spent, according to a VMS staff report. A portion will be used to hire the outside specialists.

An outside arborist would review the proposed tree removals, which earlier this year raised concern among residents, and an environmental company would perform an environmental impact report.

Director Maggie Blackwell said residents who spoke at recent meetings on the tree removal project  “wanted an environmental report. They wanted an outside arborist. … This is a request from all those who spoke so well and so eloquently at the last two meetings – they wanted neutrality.”

The Canary Island Pine Tree Reduction Project’s contract is on hold. Should the project advance, the supplemental appropriation would be used to fund tree reduction efforts. If the project doesn’t move forward, the balance of these funds would be used for tree maintenance, Wiemann said.

The board approved the resolution, 7-3-0. It takes immediate effect.

New trash dumpsters

The board also discussed the new dumpsters brought in by CR&R trash haulers. Several board members said they had heard from residents that the dumpsters were too tall and the lids too heavy for them to get their trash bags into the bins.

VMS Director of General Services Robert Carroll said the new dumpsters are, indeed, 6 inches taller than the old ones and he agreed that it’s a problem for some residents.

However, he said, CR&R is manufacturing its own lower-profile bins. He said that there are 600 of the new taller dumpsters in the Village and that residents have made requests to swap out 15 of them for lower-profile dumpsters. CR&R has agreed to do that, Carroll said.

Board members also said they have heard from residents who say CR&R does not respond to phone messages left at its number, 949-625-6735.

Carroll, who said he meets with CR&R and the city of Laguna Woods weekly, said he would bring up that issue.

Globe subscriptions

United passed a resolution that will cover an annual subscription to the Laguna Woods Globe for board members during their volunteership.

The weekly newspaper is a publication of The Orange County Register, providing independent coverage of the Village.

Annual subscriptions cost $25 per year, totaling $275 if all 11 directors opt in to the offer.

“I’m a little bit puzzled by this,” said Blackwell, who said she has subscribed to the Globe since she moved to the Village. “I don’t find $25 odious; I find it embarrassing to ask the members to (pay) $25 a year.”

Residents Elsie Addington and Dick Rader concurred with Blackwell’s statement, noting it’s a personal expense and “not directly business related.”

Resident Maxine McIntosh, a 25-year subscriber, called herself a “strong advocate” of the Globe, but she spoke against the motion as it would taint the volunteer aspect of serving on the board.

“It’s a moot point to make a whole community pay for your copy,” Director Cash Achrekar said. “This is not fair.”

Voting in favor of the motion, Director Pearl Lee reframed the resolution as a nice gesture when onboarding directors rather than a financial transaction.

“I think it’s very simple,” she said. “The main thing is that we all need to be informed and we want to have this available – I don’t think it’s a matter of figures.”

The board approved the resolution 6-4-0. The resolution takes immediate effect.

COVID-19 update

Orange County cases of COVID-19 remain down despite a northeast surge of the latest variant, Omicron subvariant BA.2, now making up 90% of cases nationwide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public officials reported a daily case rate of 4.6 new cases per 100,000 residents across Orange County as of Tuesday, April 19.

The city of Laguna Woods, as of Tuesday tallied 1,072 COVID-19 cases since testing began. In total, there have been 76 deaths.

Modest numbers repeat within the testing positivity rate – the number of swabs and spit tests that return positive for the coronavirus – which stood at 2.4% as of Tuesday.

The health equity rate – the test positivity of disproportionately impacted neighborhoods – was 1.9%.

Resale report

The average resale price for a co-op in United Mutual in March was $314,277, up from $258,460 in March 2021, according to a VMS staff report. Resales year-to-date numbered 122, up from 88 the same time last year. Sales volume in March was $13.5 million compared with $7 million in March 2021.

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