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Will Laguna Beach Clone Its Prized 135-Year Old Tree? Probably Not

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A tree grows in Laguna Beach — or at least, it did, at one point, starting in 1881. Now, the 135-year-old behemoth is diseased and dying and nobody, it seems, can figure out what to do with it.

Many residents of the coastal resort town see the 36-foot-tall pepper tree as a local landmark and a living—well, barely—piece of history. Presiding over the entrance to City Hall, the tree was planted by Laguna Beach homesteader George Rogers and predates the city’s founding by nearly a half century, long before an MTV reality show made Laguna Beach world-famous.

Kelly Boyd, Laguna Beach’s Mayor Pro Tem, told LAist that the city consulted one arborist after another several months back, concerned that the tree could be dangerous if it were to fall over, and each arborist said the same thing: “Cut it down.”

“We decided it was time to get rid of it, and there was a big hullabaloo about it,” Boyd said.

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That directive doesn’t sit right with many nostalgic locals. But one resident had a particularly unorthodox idea about how to save the tree: Clone it.

Thilde Peterson floated the proposal at a city council meeting last Tuesday, and the city has agreed to research the idea, according to the OC Register. If Laguna decides to pursue the plan —which the Mayor Pro Tem seems to think is highly unlikely— an initial assessment would cost roughly $1,500 and the four-year incubation period would cost an additional $13,000 at UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, the institute that Peterson recommended, according to the OC Register.

“People started coming up with all these other ideas like cloning it and doing this and bringing in some professor from Harvard or something like that,” says Boyd. “It’s getting out of hand. I just said, ‘Let’s get rid of it and move on.’”

Cloning a tree isn’t cheap, and it’s not exactly easy, either: The process involves transplanting cuttings from a tree to a container and feeding it growth hormones for a year, and even then, success isn’t guaranteed.

The tree drama has been sprouting at City Hall for over a year now. It all started last summer, when City Council decided to hire a landscape design group that proposed replacing the tree, according to the L.A. Times. Then, several months ago, City Council took up Peterson’s suggestion of consulting with specialists to investigate alternatives to saving the tree (this was prior to the introduction of the cloning proposal). Ultimately, said Boyd, City Council settled on a compromise last week: cut the tree down to ten feet and plant a smaller replacement tree next to it.

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“It’s still a symbolic thing sitting there, but it won’t be dangerous,” says Boyd. “So hopefully this is it.”

He’s ready to put the tree debate behind him and move forward, cloning be damned. The final fate of the tree remains to be seen.