The Sordid Saga of the Saratoga Torrey Pine – A Chronology

by on August 26, 2016 · 26 comments

in Culture, Environment, Health, History, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

OB Torrey protest ed goodtree distSome of us who were involved in the unsuccessful effort to save the Torrey Pine at 4652 Saratoga Avenue, thought it necessary to develop a written account of the saga of the Torrey called “Esperanza” – or “Hope”.

A chronicle was needed telling the story of how it came to be that the city and its contractor cut down the 90-year old, 80-foot tall on Monday, August 22nd.

The following, then, is a chronology of the Torrey Pine and its removal. (Much is taken from an anonymous “Critique of Saratoga Torrey Pine Chronology”, some is from a “Fact Sheet” from the city’s Transportation & Storm Water division, the remainder from this reporter’s notes and memories.)

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Unusually strong storms, beginning in the winter of 2015/2016, brought down a number of widely-reported trees and large limbs around the city, and as a result, there was a city-wide heightened awareness of large trees and their vulnerability.

OB Damage 2-2-16 ElemSchool 2Late January – early Feb –  Strong winds brought down a large pine tree on Talbot Street in Point Loma – that caused some damage – and reportedly a 100-year old Torrey pine tree in the courtyard at OB Elementary School fell with no damage or injuries.

January 31, 2016 – Tragedy struck in Pacific  Beach when a huge pine tree (probably a Torrey Pine) was uprooted and fell on an OB woman musician who was in a passing car, killing her.

February 2016 – Shortly after the late January storm, the City determined that there were two, large Torrey pines on the 4600 block Saratoga Avenue that posed a safety hazard and they scheduled to have the trees removed.

The city’s Community Forest Advisory Board (CFAB) is supposed to review all tree removals. It is here that city staff make presentations and the Board makes assessments or determinations about the removal of trees. It is not clear whether city staff made presentations about the 2 target Torrey Pines at the Board’s February meeting.  Unfortunately, at the time at least, there was no District 2 representative on the Board, and hence, the Ocean Beach community was not privy to any of the prior discussion, assessments or determinations made about the two trees.  Minutes that are available online were researched, and indicated that at some point prior to the the removal of the 2 Torreys (February 9), the City had completed assessments on the two trees.

Yet, there does not appear to be any prior notice to the OB Planning Board regarding either the cause of the High Risk assessment, the current condition of the trees, or their intended removal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Geoff Page, Feb. 9, 2016

February 9th – Crews, equipment and trucks of Atlas Tree Services appeared on the 4600 block of Saratoga, without warning or notice to the community. There were “No Parking” signs up but they not specify what the activity was.

Before Atlas crews could approach the first target Torrey, local resident Geoff Page stepped in front of it and demanded to see the permits for the tree’s removal and for the street shut-down, refusing to budge until they were presented. Page insisted that contractors are required to have these type of permits present on site.

Since the permits were not on site, the work came to a halt – at least for a couple of hours, with the crew simply sitting around. Page stood his ground, waiting for the permits to be produced. Supporters and other residents gathered to show solidarity, and expressed their own objections to what was going on, as media showed up. Once the paperwork was presented to him and the media, Page, convinced of their authenticity, removed himself from in front of the tree. The Atlas crew proceeded to take down both trees in spite of clear community objection.

March 2nd – A visual assessment of a third Torry pine (Esperanza) – located in front of 4652 Saratoga – was performed by Atlas arborist, Ron Matranga. Matranga gave the tree a “high risk” assessment, and stated: “the tree poses a significant risk of failure; either large limb or complete tree failure is possible;” and that “removal of this tree is the only recommendation that will eliminate the risk of property damage, personal injury, or fatality;” Matranga recommended that the tree be removed.

March 30th – A Tree Risk Assessment was performed by city’s arborist. His overall tree risk rating was listed as “low”.

April 13th – Matranga of Atlas presented his Tree Risk Assessment, based on his March 2nd observations, to the city. His overall tree rating was still “high”.

April 27th – The City’s Urban Forester and arborist, Jeremy Barrick, conducted a visual assessment and reviewed the other risk assessments. Barrick did not write up any report.

May 16th – A large, lower limb on north side of Torrey pine was removed by Atlas.

June 10th – Barrick from the city conducted a visual follow-up assessment of the tree.

June 13th – Another Tree Risk Assessment was done by Matranga of Atlas, who determined that the mid-May pruning had lowered the overall tree risk rating to “moderate”.

At some point between June 13th and August 2nd, the City decided to remove the entire tree. There were at least two written reports, but they were not made available to the public until August 11th.

OB Torrey protest 8-4-16 circle bestTuesday, August 2nd – The City notified the OB Planning Board that the third Torrey pine on the 4600 block of Saratoga would be removed in two days, on August 4th.

Wed., August 3rd – City plans to remove the third Torrey on Saratoga were announced at the OB Planning Board meeting. OB activists began making calls and sending out emails, calling for a protest at the tree in the morning – this included an article published in the OB Rag, – detailing the city’s plans.

Thursday, August 4th – A group of local residents and supporters of the Torrey at 4652 Saratoga met Atlas crews at 7 a.m. and began a vigil at the tree to prevent is removal. Several TV stations sent cameras and reporters, who did interviews of residents and city staff, such as Bill Harris, the main PR person from the city onsite. He was distributing a “Fact Sheet”asserting that the tree was unstable, unhealthy and needed to be removed.

Around 9:30 a.m., OB Torrey protest 80416 in tree goodCrystal Rose Speros climbed up into the tree to prevent its removal. While up in the tree, Crystal gave several television interviews, and even sang Joan Baez’s song “Pave Paradise”. Clearly stymied, Atlas crews packed up and drove off to applause from the street. Later that day, Speros named the Torrey “Esperanza” or “Hope”.

Saturday, August 6th – Residents and supporters held a meeting in a nearby residence, formed the Friends of the Peninsula Trees, and began to map out strategy. With the help of sympathetic biologists, residents began a critique of the different city and Atlas reports. A GoFundMe page was set up to cover costs of an independent arborist. Over the weekend, the group gathered nearly a hundred signatures of neighbors and OBceans supporting a halt to the cutting.

Meanwhile, community citizens, biologists and birders had observed American crows approaching a nest in the upper branches of the tree. Plus several Cooper’s hawks were observed using and sitting in the tree.

Monday, August 8th – A dozen residents gathered at the tree before 7 a.m. but Atlas crews were a no-show.

Also, Chair of the OB Planning Board, John Ambert, issued a critique of city reports and called on the city to issue a work stoppage on the project until an independent botanist had reviewed the health of the tree, and the community groups had the opportunity to review all the information about the tree.

OB Torrey protest shift 2Aug. 9 – Aug. 12 – Through the remainder of the week, watch shifts are organized as residents continued their vigil, with plans to activate the network of supporters to mobilize at the tree if Atlas crews did appear.

Wednesday, August 10th – John Ambert met with city representatives, presented a critique of city and Atlas reports, requested a halt until the community had had a chance to retain the services of an independent arborist.

Also on August 10th, as part of its as-needed contracts and generic due diligence, the City had biologists from Helix Co., conduct a pre-construction nesting bird survey. The survey was conducted mid-afternoon and lasted 1 hour and 35 minutes. The crown was not accessed and visual observations were made from the ground. Three ‘inactive nests” were noted, but the report stated no nestlings were seen within the nests (at a height of 75 feet) and no birds were seen using or visiting the nest.

Thursday, August 11th – the City made an announcement that it was removing the Torrey at issue on Friday, August 12th. Public safety was cited. Here is part of the city statement:

The City of San Diego today alerted community members that a failing tree would be removed from 4652 Saratoga Avenue in Ocean Beach on Friday, Aug. 12, starting at 7 a.m.

“Public safety is of the utmost importance, and while our goal is to maximize the environmental benefits of trees, we must balance the risk of trees with the preservation of trees,” said Jeremy Barrick, a Board-Certified Master Arborist and the City’s Urban Forester Program Manager. “We have monitored and reviewed this tree for several months and consensus among multiple arborists is that this tree must be removed to entirely eliminate the risk of catastrophic failure. In order to extend the benefits of this tree, we will be working with a local artist to repurpose the wood and work with the community in planting replacement trees.”

This announcement had been made in mid-afternoon on Thursday. Just hours later, the city back-tracked and issued a statement saying it was halting the removal temporarily.

“The City of San Diego has temporarily suspended plans to remove a failing tree from 4652 Saratoga Avenue in Ocean Beach. The work had been scheduled for Friday morning.

While it continues to monitor the condition of the 73-year-old Torrey pine, the City will work more closely with community members to discuss the tree’s condition, safety concerns and replacement tree options.” [Our emphasis.]

Friday, August 12th – Residents and supporters gathered near the tree to ensure Atlas was aware of the suspension of removal plans. A strategy meeting was held, tasks were identified and assigned; during the meeting an independent arborist offered a phone discussion, based on his brief examination of the Torrey on the 11th. He criticized the city on its previous poor maintenance, and suggested root analysis be done later in the season when the additional water load wouldn’t be as stressful for the tree’s carrying capacity. This plan would necessitate a longer suspension.

Saturday, August 13th – Residents met at a nearby private residence. A majority at the meeting were so discouraged that a media statement was sent out under the name of Friends of Peninsula Trees stating that “all agreed” with the city that the tree should be removed – despite dissent expressed during the meeting, and despite the absence of key supporters.

Sunday, August 14th – Some residents hold a “memorial ceremony” at the tree. Messages are tied to the tree with expressions of good-bye.

Monday, August 15th – Local media carried the story that Torrey pine supporters had given up. The media continued to carry this narrative for a week, even though it wasn’t true (the San Diego U-T cited the surrender on the Sunday before the Monday removal) and despite the opposite momentum at the grassroots.

Yet, the push-back against the giving up on the tree, created momentum to enlist the services of an independent arborist. Part of that push-back included discussions about forming another group to focus solely on the Torrey Pines of Saratoga Ave.

Master Arborist Bradley Brown conducted a risk assessment of the Torrey. He was urged by residents to complete his written report as soon as possible.

Wednesday, August 17th – Brown completed his report; his overall risk assessment of the tree was that it was of “low risk”, that some of the corrective pruning had been beneficial, that it was a healthy tree and had no probability of any failure for at least a year; Ambert forwarded this report to city representatives along with the request for a “community forum”.

Saturday, August 20th – Another of the weekly meetings was held; bolstered by arborist Brown’s assessment, the general consensus expressed was that the group should continue its efforts to save the tree. However, the group decided not to send out any press statement or update in order to counter the previous statement about agreeing with the city, and instead agreed to wait for the city’s response to Ambert’s communication and the request for a community forum.

Sunday, August 21st – Residents on Saratoga saw “No Parking” signs up along the 4600 block.

OB Torrey cut stark trunkMonday, August 22nd – Before 6:30 a.m., yellow police tape, a dozen officers, Atlas trucks and equipment prevented any attempt by residents to protect the Torrey Pine; at least one resident had plans to climb into the tree. Half a dozen TV stations had cameras and reporters on hand.

Under police protection, Atlas crews cut off all the limbs within 3 hours, and then attacked the huge trunk. City representatives Barrick and Katie Keach could not or would not name anyone within the city who had made the final decision to remove the tree.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Frank Gormlie August 26, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Just received 2 comments appearing to be from different commenters, but from the same email address, the email address that had previously been used by “OB Surfer” – here they are:
“Dude, there is nothing sordid about this saga. There is no conspiracy here. Quit your whining.” and a much longer one:

Frankly, your “reporting” is filled with inaccuracies.

I only want to address one inaccuracy.. The August 12th discription of events. The arborist that we had evaluate the tree told us the tree could not be saved. He did say a root test could be done, but the tree most likely would fall during the test if the tree even made it to winter. We all heard it., yet you print a waterdowned version. That arborist would not even go on record because he didn’t want to be involved. We regrettably had to ageee with him, so we put out a press release agreeing with the city. We even went to a good bye ceremony the following evening.

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avatar retired botanist August 26, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Sigh. To whomever sent that comment, reluctant to rise to the bait, but:

1) What that arborist actually said on the phone was that if a root analysis was done now, in the drought of summer, it might be risky for the tree b/c it could soak up too large a volume of water and could become too top heavy. If the analysis was done later in the winter months, when the ground and tree were more saturated with water, it would put less stress on the tree. Its basic physiology. Further, there are alternative methods of root analysis that don’t even require water loading.

2) The arborist declined to provide a report in part b/c he did not have all the supporting information, such as when the adjacent concrete paving was installed, if and when the tree had prior root maintenance and how often and what kind of pruning had taken place previously. Further, he strongly suggested those questions be asked of the City. And they will. He also understood that the tree already had a high public profile. In the absence of full information, he didn’t want to put his opinion in writing, especially without doing a root analysis first, which he did not want to do during the summer. What’s wrong with that?

3) And “we” did not “regrettably agree” with him. Some did, some didn’t.

Why don’t you concentrate on the written reports, both the City’s and the independent assessment, rather than continuing to double back to a 10 minute speakerphone conversation that took place with about 8 people? It sounds like you weren’t paying attention and just heard what you wanted.

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avatar Nathanael Spann August 27, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Hello again “retired botanist”,
While I appreciate that this is an emotionally charged issue, you certainly know (as a rational scientist) that we cannot afford to be selective as it relates to both the totality and reality of the information that has come from this process. I know it was hard not applying an emotional filter when hearing the information that was given from the group’s initial arborist assessment, passed on via both email (August 11th) and via the phone (August 12th), but that is the responsibility we accepted. He was as clear in his opinions, as he “regrettably agreed with the city on many of the points of concern stated in the reports” and that “if the tree were properly maintained starting 5 to 10 years ago, it could have been saved.” In the phone call he reiterated the statements he gave in the email provided the day prior. Just to jog your memory, I have copied the email he sent to us below:

“I visited the site with the large Torrey Pine in the front yard on Saratoga Ave. There are several questions that can be asked but at this point, I think we need to focus on the rest of the trees in this community.
In order for us to protect our great urban Forest, we need to help the city in their own efforts to follow their own tree policies. We need to come together as a community and make sure that we are ALL informed of any changes or any tree activities now -or in the distant future.
Is there a pruning plan? If so, what type of pruning shall be done and how often?
Questions we need to ask regarding this particular tree are:
Was there any root pruning done next to the tree, if so, when?
What date did their current tree policy go into effect?
When was the last time the tree or trees on the street receive any crown pruning? When they did prune, did they reduce the tips of the branches, or did they just clean out the inside and deadwood?
What is the policy on irrigation and sprinklers next to Trees near the street?
There are several more questions we might be able to ask, but I cannot offer any suggestions try to save this tree other than doing a root collar inspection and try to collect more data. Several defects do exist on the tree and there’s not much we can do about the history and the defects. What we can do is focus on the rest of our urban Forest, and come together as a community and educate ourselves on how to properly maintain and care for all of these trees. Let’s be proactive in our efforts. Simply reacting to the city decision to cut the tree down is only the start in our tree preservation plan.”

When pressed for 20 minutes on the phone about what else possibly might be done to “stay the execution” of the tree, he presented a few possibilities of further information that could be gathered. But never strayed from the acceptance of the stated unfortunate reality.

His sincere views underscored the position of the city, clearly stated in this email from the mayor’s office (via John Ly) to John Ambert (copied below). Given the group knew this information, it was always clear what the decision of the city was going to be.

“John: I am sorry we could not touch base today via phone. Here is the information I was attempting to convey to you.
The City will be removing the beloved 68-inch Torrey Pine on the 4600 block of Saratoga in advance of the upcoming storm season. This towering tree has served the Ocean Beach Community for more than 75 years and was rightfully designated a Heritage Tree through the City’s Conserve-A-Tree Program.
Unfortunately, despite recent aggressive pruning measures to preserve the tree, it still poses an elevated risk to the community. This past spring a large limb that likely counter balanced the tree in severe wind events was removed because it was hollowing and severely decayed.
The City has monitored this tree closely over the past few months and several arborists agree that even after eliminating the risk of the decayed portions, the balance of the tree and signs of root upheaval indicate the risk of possible and potentially catastrophic failure.
The tree will be replaced with a specimen compatible with the City’s Climate Action Plan goal of increasing canopy cover. The new tree will offer the Ocean Beach community long-term growth potential with root and canopy structures suitable for the Saratoga site.
The tree will be removed in the upcoming days.
John Ly?
Director of Outreach?
?Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer?
City of San Diego”

So please don’t be on the defensive (per your reaction to above comment) when you were clearly remiss in your own ability to accurately assess the reality of the information given. I appreciate your passion, but true progression to the path ahead must be the course, even if that means changes that we don’t agree with. The group has strayed from an effective interaction with the city. So as an actual resident of Saratoga Avenue, wanting appropriate action for both long-term community stability and for my daughter to see what a responsible process looks like, I have had enacted my own dialog with various representatives of the city, regarding future maintenance and tree replanting plans. Each time I have requested information, they have been amenable and called me within a couple hours of my initial contact. During this process, many residents that live on Saratoga, have experienced similar ease of dialog with the city on the issue of the trees on our street. So please, for the sake of efficient progression of our community, try to remain objective. And if you want the accurate information about the actual physical state of the other Saratoga Avenue trees that were removed in February, please contact me. I actually observed them that night during the storms. Much love and respect for your passion.

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avatar Geoff Page August 29, 2016 at 2:08 pm

What actual information does anyone have about the big limb that was supposedly hollowed and decayed? Any pictures of it when it was removed? I think you are taking the city’s information too much as the real truth. When I asked for the information on the first two trees that were removed, the city’s “arborist” sent pictures supposedly showing gaps in the earth behind the cubs, pieces of concrete, and other little signs that showed how the trees were affected by the big storm. When I asked for pictures taken before the storm, they had nothing at all. They had no way to prove that any of what they saw was the result of the storm or just time.

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avatar Nathanael Spann August 29, 2016 at 8:02 pm

Hi Geoff,
Given the overwhelming beauty and endless emotional space that these trees held (an still hold) within me, as no doubt they do you; I understand your need to take in a subjective interpretation of the information that would be aligned with your emotional needs (and to support your action). However, the real information that I was referring to in my previous comment, was irrefutable empirically gathered via direct observation, with my own eyes, in the middle of those late January/early February nights. I did not see you out next to the trees that night, I only saw my neighbors, the people that actually live day to day with the trees here on Saratoga. The people who were jarred from sleep by the audible crack emanating from the suddenly splitting sidewalk, as the 80 foot, 70 ton tree underwent dramatically wild sway and torsion, causing abrupt and extensive uprooting. With each successive gust, the massive tree eventually darted towards the street with such a leaning-mediated angular force, that the curbs further split, pushing them out with such pressure that the top third of each section broke free and fell into the street. The freshly split sidewalk continually rolled, breathing like an open ocean swell, as the root system on that side of the tree gain further degrees of freedom. The next morning, the newly visible root system had 4-6 inches of vertical play, as they had loosened the hold that the surrounding ground had once had on them. So you see, we do not need any reports or before and after pictures; as this is the reality of the information I am referring to.
But you would have known this, if you could have been an intellectually and emotionally responsible human being, and actually respected the people of this street (as well as the tree) enough to engage in true dialog. All you had to do, before you decided that your agenda was the only worthy cause, was to first consult with the people who directly observed the tree, who actually live next to and with them everyday. To understand the state of the tree, you just had to “listen, to hear what it was saying”, via the way it was interacting within the context of its immediate environment (observed the characteristics I stated herein). Given the “loud and clear voice of the tree”, via its actions during those storms, its hold in this time and place was signaling and end. So you see, it was not “murder” of a tree, it was more of a collaboratively decided “euthanasia.” Providing us an opportunity, a doorway to taking on the responsibility of setting our ego aside, of creating and holding onto the next iteration of ourselves that such a life presents. For me, I sat in my yard from sunup to sundown those few days as the trees were removed. Taking in and honoring any output they had to give. Then each night, after the sun went down, for the next three months I sat in my front yard, within the candlelight, in quiet introspection with the massive trunk of infinite emotional dimension that was lying in my front yard. This communion was my process, my honoring of such a life. As a fellow lover of these trees, please tell, what was your deep place of honoring? Or was it merely focusing on an ego-driven agenda, ignorant of all the interwoven intricacies that such a passing might actually hold? Best wishes on your personal evolution…

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 30, 2016 at 10:07 am

Why is it that you Nathan criticize others for their “emotions” yet then you leave a long, long comment filled with your emotional responses?

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avatar Nathanael Spann August 30, 2016 at 8:55 pm

On the contrary Frank, I said I understood the emotion. I just didn’t feel it was utilized in an efficient manner, as it related to bridging with the other side of intellect, to comprehensively appreciate the context at hand.

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avatar Geoff Page August 30, 2016 at 10:26 am

Well, Mr. Spann, I hardly know where to begin. On first read, I couldn’t tell if you were actually arguing any factual points that I should respond to or if this was merely an opportunity for you to impress folks with your version of prose. Maybe some of both plus a little psychology thrown into the mix. I guess I will start at the beginning.

You wrote: “I understand your need to take in a subjective interpretation of the information that would be aligned with your emotional needs (and to support your action).”

My interpretation of information is based on a Public Records request that I sent to the city after they killed the first two trees and my review of the documentation that was provided. That information showed that the city had no empirical evidence that the trees were in danger of falling, what they had was similar to what you have written here, surface observations that did not substantiate the health of those trees. I’ll get to that in a minute. What real information have you reviewed Mr. Spann? I make my living as a construction claims consultant and my job entails objectively reviewing documentation and oral information, which often results in me telling clients, clients that hired me, that they are in the wrong. No, my interpretation of the information was not at all subjective. However, as you wrote in your next paragraph, your interpretation of what you saw that night was clearly subjective.

You wrote: “However, the real information that I was referring to in my previous comment, was irrefutable empirically gathered via direct observation, with my own eyes, in the middle of those late January/early February nights. I did not see you out next to the trees that night, I only saw my neighbors, the people that actually live day to day with the trees here on Saratoga. The people who were jarred from sleep by the audible crack emanating from the suddenly splitting sidewalk, as the 80 foot, 70 ton tree underwent dramatically wild sway and torsion, causing abrupt and extensive uprooting.”

“direct observation, with my own eyes?” “irrefutable?” Are you an arborist Mr. Spann? (That’s a rhetorical question because I know you aren’t.) The trees swayed in the wind, of course, it was probably the windiest I have ever seen it in OB and I’ve been here for 36 years. Trees sway but that doesn’t mean they are going to fall. You mentioned the crack of the sidewalk. The tree roots grow right under the sidewalks. Concrete is strong in compression but it is weak in tensile strength, which is why steel is added to concrete and sidewalks have no steel in them. It takes very little tensile movement to crack a sidewalk. The “extensive uprooting” you described was the surface rooting. Have you ever looked at a diagram of the Torrey pine root system? It is extensive and the movement of roots on or just below the surface is not, by any means, an indication that tree is in danger of falling.

You then wrote: “With each successive gust, the massive tree eventually darted towards the street with such a leaning-mediated angular force, that the curbs further split, pushing them out with such pressure that the top third of each section broke free and fell into the street. The freshly split sidewalk continually rolled, breathing like an open ocean swell, as the root system on that side of the tree gain further degrees of freedom. The next morning, the newly visible root system had 4-6 inches of vertical play, as they had loosened the hold that the surrounding ground had once had on them. So you see, we do not need any reports or before and after pictures; as this is the reality of the information I am referring to.”

After wading through the open ocean swelling in all of that, it is just more of the same. The curbs are made of concrete and they were old and they were already compromised by root growth. It did not take much movement to cause any damage. The surface roots, well I already covered that. Maybe you don’t need any before pictures but I do. I do not trust the city and I cannot place a huge amount of confidence in the observations of an emotionally involved resident on the street who does not have the proper credentials to interpret what he has seen. And, despite all of this, the tree survived the strongest winds in many, many years and stood tall.

Then, you got personal: “But you would have known this, if you could have been an intellectually and emotionally responsible human being, and actually respected the people of this street (as well as the tree) enough to engage in true dialog.”

I don’t place any value in your opinion of my intellectual or emotional responsibility and such comments don’t contribute to the discussion. Additionally, your comment that I don’t respect the people on the street is based on ignorance, you have no idea who I talked to. The opinions on the street varied, the most vocal ones were emotional and not based on any substantive information. I went to the source and found the information to be severely wanting.

You wrote: “All you had to do, before you decided that your agenda was the only worthy cause, was to first consult with the people who directly observed the tree, who actually live next to and with them everyday. To understand the state of the tree, you just had to “listen, to hear what it was saying”, via the way it was interacting within the context of its immediate environment (observed the characteristics I stated herein).”

I heard what the people had to say who lived near the trees but it was not enough to kill these iconic trees that were not proven to be at real risk. “listen, to hear what it was saying?” Really? Are you so attuned to nature that you can hear a tree and know it is saying “It is my time to die, son?” Sorry, that is a perfect example of what you have accused me of, a “subjective interpretation of information.”

You’re then wrote: “Given the “loud and clear voice of the tree”, via its actions during those storms, its hold in this time and place was signaling and end. So you see, it was not “murder” of a tree, it was more of a collaboratively decided “euthanasia.” Providing us an opportunity, a doorway to taking on the responsibility of setting our ego aside, of creating and holding onto the next iteration of ourselves that such a life presents. For me, I sat in my yard from sunup to sundown those few days as the trees were removed. Taking in and honoring any output they had to give. Then each night, after the sun went down, for the next three months I sat in my front yard, within the candlelight, in quiet introspection with the massive trunk of infinite emotional dimension that was lying in my front yard.”

I’m sorry, but this just sounds like a man who secretly wants to be a writer and has read too much flowery prose for our own good. The one thing I can take issue with was your statement about this being a collaboratively decided euthanasia because there was no collaboration at all. This was an execution decided by the city to avoid liability for it having damaged the tree above and below ground and to avoid proper maintenance of the tree and to avoid maintaining the hardscape the tree affected. This was not an occasion for spiritual prose, it was a far more mundane. This was a tree removal based on the city’s priorities that did not consider or respect the history of these trees. No amount of your alleged listening to the “loud and clear voice of the tree” “signaling and end” obscures what actually happened. It must get awfully noisy in your head with all the trees we have in OB. Perhaps you could offer the city your services and precede the tree removal company by listening to each tree to see if it is signaling its end or not.

Then, you returned to the personal when you wrote: “This communion was my process, my honoring of such a life. As a fellow lover of these trees, please tell, what was your deep place of honoring? Or was it merely focusing on an ego-driven agenda, ignorant of all the interwoven intricacies that such a passing might actually hold? Best wishes on your personal evolution…”

“Ego-driven agenda? “ignorant of interwoven intricacies?” “personal evolution?” Mr. Spann, I think you finally became so enamored with your own prose that you got lost. You don’t know me at all so you have no idea of my ego, my knowledge, or my personal evolution but I imagine you thought long and hard about how to end this spiritual piece. No, the simple fact is that I know a lot more about the city and these trees than you do and there was no proof that they needed to come down. I’m surely not going to rely on the emotional opinions of people on the street, the main emotion being fear. The city played on this fear, it is a wonderful motivator, just look what it has done for Trump. No, I am still convinced these trees were healthy. We fought and won one battle over a tree on Long Branch that is still standing in the same position it was when the city wanted to remove it, six years ago. And it lived through the same storm, Mr. Spann.

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avatar Mike Cassel August 30, 2016 at 5:07 pm

I could get lost in this rabbit hole of a discussion but responsibilities dictate otherwise. I just feel compelled to make a few comments, to Mr. Gormlie. One of the two trees removed this past winter was directly in front of my house. I agree with Mr. Spann’s characterization of a collabrative euthanasia over your characterization of assassination by City, mostly on two points:
1. The neighbors living beneath this tree woke up after the windiest storm night, walked out front and noted that the tree was leaning significantly. We talked about it, it was obvious. We all arrived at what we thought was an obvious conclusion, that the tree was an imminent threat. I am not an arborist but am still confident in our collective assessment. I don’t need a doctor to diagnose a compound fracture, and I didn’t need an arborist to tell me that the tree was leaning dangerously.
2. You state: “This was an execution decided by the city to avoid liability for it having damaged the tree above and below ground and to avoid proper maintenance of the tree and to avoid maintaining the hardscape the tree affected..”
I believe the greater liability for the city was human health risk from a falling tree. The city did drop the ball, but the liabilities for failed/improper maintenance are greatly eclipsed by the potential liabilities should that tree have fallen and injured or killed somebody. Trees, after all, seldom if ever sue. Sure, the City acted in self interest, but I doubt they feared any consequence of not better nurturing the tree so long as it wasn’t threatening any people or property.

They City did neglect to properly care for those trees. They could have had a slightly longer life with more attention and everybody suffered for that. Even the city. Those trees were a, albeit niche, tourist attraction. Even the City suffered for their failure. I can’t say I am surprised though. the City can’t even keep a fully staffed police force due to lack of resources. It makes sense to me that trees get little attention until they become a 6+ figure liability.

That’s all I have to say about that, I wish every body a wonderful OB evening.
-Mike

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avatar Mike Cassel August 30, 2016 at 5:08 pm

My apologies, the above comment was directed at Mr. Page, not Mr.Gormlie. It would be nice, OBRag, if we could edit our own comments.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 30, 2016 at 6:39 pm

If there is ever any problem, just notify us via our email: obragblgo@gmail.com and we’d be happy to correct typos, etc in comments.

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avatar Geoff Page August 30, 2016 at 9:30 pm

Mr. Cassel, There is a flaw in what you have said here. You recounted how the neighbors beneath the tree woke up after the windiest night of the storm and noted the tree was leaning significantly. You said you all agreed it was an imminent threat and it was leaning dangerously. If this was the case, can you tell me why the city took out two other trees in February of this year, some weeks after the storm event, that were not evidently leaning, but did not remove the tree we are discussing for another six months? Can you tell me why the city did not cite that the tree was leaning but instead said it was now off balance because they removed a large limb on one side of the tree?

In your second point, you apparently did not see that the liability I was referring to was a direct reference to the possibility of injury or death, property is nothing compared to that.

As for the city fearing consequences, a city is not liable for random falling trees and limbs. But, a city would be liable if it were proven that the city acted recklessly by improperly cutting limbs or damaging root systems while performing street repairs, because it took no precautions to protect the roots, and that caused the tree failure.

You are correct, the city failed OB in every way. The city failed those trees completely.

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avatar Mike Cassel August 31, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Mr. Page, the flaw is your misinterpretation of what I have said. My first comment was in reference to one of the two trees removed this past winter. (Third sentence of my comment: “One of the two trees removed this past winter was directly in front of my house”). It was a response to your statements, all related to the two trees removed this winter:
“My interpretation of information is based on a Public Records request that I sent to the city after they killed the first two trees and my review of the documentation that was provided. That information showed that the city had no empirical evidence that the trees were in danger of falling, what they had was similar to what you have written here, surface observations that did not substantiate the health of those trees. ”

““direct observation, with my own eyes?” “irrefutable?” Are you an arborist Mr. Spann? (That’s a rhetorical question because I know you aren’t.) The trees swayed in the wind, of course, it was probably the windiest I have ever seen it in OB and I’ve been here for 36 years. Trees sway but that doesn’t mean they are going to fall. You mentioned the crack of the sidewalk. The tree roots grow right under the sidewalks. Concrete is strong in compression but it is weak in tensile strength, which is why steel is added to concrete and sidewalks have no steel in them. It takes very little tensile movement to crack a sidewalk. The “extensive uprooting” you described was the surface rooting. Have you ever looked at a diagram of the Torrey pine root system? It is extensive and the movement of roots on or just below the surface is not, by any means, an indication that tree is in danger of falling.”

“The curbs are made of concrete and they were old and they were already compromised by root growth. It did not take much movement to cause any damage. The surface roots, well I already covered that. Maybe you don’t need any before pictures but I do. I do not trust the city and I cannot place a huge amount of confidence in the observations of an emotionally involved resident on the street who does not have the proper credentials to interpret what he has seen. And, despite all of this, the tree survived the strongest winds in many, many years and stood tall.”

This was all in the context, in YOUR comment, of the two trees removed this past winter. If we could all stay on topic this discourse could be more expedient.

I only responded because I strongly disagree with your interpretation of events. The tree in front of my home was not standing tall, it was leaning dangerously. I’ll say it again, because it was apparently missed the first time. I don’t need a doctor to diagnose a compound fracture and I don’t need an arborist to tell me that a tree I have lived beneath for 11 years had suddenly and significantly shifted and was leaning dangerously.

Finally, your statement, “As for the city fearing consequences, a city is not liable for random falling trees and limbs” is incorrect according to current California precedent:
City of Pasadena v. Superior Court (Mercury Casualty Company).

Finally, and just out of curiosity, (I know questioning one’s agenda could be inferred as an attack of sorts, and that is not my intent), what’s your agenda here? The trees aren’t coming back, and you don’t seem to be advocating for greater maintenance of the existing Torreys in OB. Your position seems to be entirely retroactive, I’m curious as to what I could be missing from this equation that would explain the engine driving your position.

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avatar Geoff Page August 31, 2016 at 1:30 pm

Mr. Cassel,

Unfortunately, what you wrote was unclear. My comments were based on the first sentence of your point #1 where you stated “1. The neighbors living beneath this tree woke up after the windiest storm night, walked out front and noted that the tree was leaning significantly.” When you said “this tree” I assumed you were referring to the subject of the story we were discussing, not the trees removed six months ago. Your comment that I was off topic was actually your problem, not mine.

So you disagree with my interpretation of events, I got that the first time and the part about diagnosing a compound fracture. So far, no one has produced any concrete evidence to support the contention that the tree was “leaning dangerously.” Compared to what? I was out there the day the trees were removed and I did not see this. The trees survived the highest winds I’ve seen in 36 years of living in OB. I’m going to research historical wind data to prove my point, I don’t expect anyone to take my word for it. The city’s “arborist” report contained pictures and maintained the tree was leaning but none of the pictures they had showed this at all and the report admitted that.

As for the legal case you cited, I would advise anyone who is not an attorney to be careful in providing examples of case history. Reread what you cited Mr. Cassel, the city only lost a legal maneuver, they did not lose the case as yet. Some additional reading is also recommended.

Finally, I have no problem with someone questioning my motives, what you call my “agenda,” it is a fair question. My agenda has always been to shine a light on the city and how it operates. The take down of the two trees in February violated every process that currently exists regarding tree removal in our Municipal Code. The city violates its own laws all the time and the only way to do anything about it is to shine that light. Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it best when he said “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Ever notice how cockroaches scatter when the lights go on? If we let the city operate in the dark, we will all be the worse for it. Other than that, I love trees and San Diego needs all the trees it has.

avatar Nathanael Spann August 30, 2016 at 11:21 pm

First of all Geoff, I would like to thank you for the appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of the writing. While that was not my intent, it means my utilization of empathy-driven intellectual output, was effective in currently defining the inner space of the target (even if you, the reader, are not used to interaction at that level). However, you clearly lost the facts that were conveyed, because you misinterpreted the descriptive language as a tale. Instead of seeing it for what it was, a detailed analytical account of the events. Don’t make the ignorant mistake of characterizing my account as merely prose, as your dogma-driven opinion, clearly clouded you of the details provided. You can read some superficial report generated days after the events actually happened, but that will never replace the facts according to objective first hand observation. As a top tier scientist, I not only objectively assess complex datasets, but I actually develop, optimize, and personally carry out the experiments whose summed results shape and define what we know of our biological existence at the molecular level. At this detailed level of direct understanding, through rigorous empirical data driven synthesis of constructs, a process by which the unknown then becomes the known you read of in textbooks. The known that generates such an understanding of the biological reality of various contexts, leading to real world solutions in the form therapeutics, which protect the population from onset and/or progression of disease. The kind of known that can only be found by direct intimate gathering and observation/analysis of the data, not merely consulting or reviewing, relatively indirectly via someone else’s assessment, ignorant of the truly detailed context from which it came.
And I am uniquely effective, among my peers, at creating novel but accurate elucidations of the complex mechanistic reality of any given context, because of a relatively vast emotional intellect that I effectively bridge with the scholarly analytical mind. This synergizing of the two internal worlds, makes understanding the conformation of the world around us much more detailed and efficient, even prose-like. The fact that society in general, isn’t well versed in understanding and thus teaching people to understand their reality at this level; I am used to being misunderstood. And this place of subjective, preconception-mediated misinterpretation, is exactly the plain that you existed on when you tried to take in the true nature of the events that I wrote about. Visual data confirmed and supported, via the temporally independently collected analyses of my neighbors (one of which commented here). So you see, given the subsequent collaborative dialog and agreement of the neighbors, you could not have been accurate in performing your due diligence as it relates to responsible extensive dialog with the people that actually live and observe the trees on a daily basis.
And I certainly didn’t claim to know the complete version of you. As I simply stated, merely the contextual version framed and validated by your actions (or lack thereof) that day. As you made clear, you do not put trust in information from either the city or the people who have first hand knowledge and observational analysis of the trees, on a day to day basis; yet instead decide to make an irresponsible life and death judgement, with no concretely demonstrated knowledge of the trees in this unique context. Only conjecture at best, citing contextually irrelevant information about normal Torrey Pine biology and structural characteristics of concrete that you are hoping would indirectly draw a connection to the nature of the trees on this street. Location, location, location, my friend…Every truly rigorous experimenter and assessor of the details of any given construct, understands that once the physical context changes away from the observed norm (from which dogma had originally been created), the known rules often no longer apply. So until you present something directly tangible, on the state of these trees, in this context; you aren’t talking about a reality other than the subjective one you created to support the fear-centric conspiracy theory within your head. And as I provided in a previous comment, as well as did others; the city has to make decisions based on levels of elevated risk. Thus, by combining this understanding with the drastic shift in the tree’s interaction with its immediate environment, it was clear what the responsible decision was going to be.
Is it a travesty that the city failed to provide proper maintenance, and thus not allowing a more stable coexistence with the surrounding structure of its confines? Of course it is. No one truly wanted to lose these trees. But given both the lack of foresight and preventive action, on the part of both the city and the OB community, that inevitable outcome of mortality came sooner than later. If you want to understand me, the true nature of my process of synthesis, convey the principles as it relates to that of yours, and conduct a truer dialog on this topic; just let me know, I can meet you down the street for coffee. Best wishes for your future endeavors, cheers…

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avatar Geoff Page August 31, 2016 at 10:41 am

My only regret, Mr. Spann, was that I had to read all of this to see what, if anything, warranted a response. There are ten minutes of my life I will never get back. You obviously have a very high opinion of yourself and you clearly love to hear yourself talk and you assume everyone else does as well. My response will be brief because there was very little in all of this that bears commenting on.

You said your previous post was a “detailed analytical account of the events.” I’ll leave it to those reading to opine on that, suffice to say your definition of an “analytical account” and mine vary greatly. Then you said I made the “ignorant mistake of characterizing” your account as merely prose. First, I did not say it was “merely prose” I only commented on your use of what you perceive as prose in writing about a concrete issue that did not lend itself to prose. It wasn’t actually prose; I was being charitable. Second, the word “ignorant” means a lack of knowledge, your use of it here was incorrect as was your use of the word “mistake.” I offered my opinion of your writing style and my opinion is neither ignorant nor mistaken, it is my opinion.

You wrote: “You can read some superficial report generated days after the events actually happened, but that will never replace the facts according to objective first hand observation.” The reports I read were the ones the city based its decision on to remove the trees. There was nothing about “first hand observations” by the people on the street in the reports. Additionally, the reports were supposedly written by people who were qualified to assess the trees so my focus is on them, not on the fear and emotions of people on the block who have no expertise.

The only other thing worth commenting on was you claim that there was “observational analysis” of the trees by the folks on the block. Ok, so what do you have to support that claim? Are there photographs taken over a decent period of time showing the tree getting worse? Has someone observed the trees over time and taken notes and measurements? The city didn’t even do this; they could not produce any photographs taken before the storm of the two trees they removed in February or any notes or measurements. They came out because the neighbors were worried, took pictures of broken concrete and some gaps between the backs of curbs and the earth and used that to declare the trees imminent dangers with absolutely nothing to compare that data with. On top of that, the city has no guidelines for an “imminent danger.” No, I think you are playing fast and loose with terminology designed to impress others with the language of your world.

Thanks for the invitation but I will decline, what I’ve read here tells me enough about you. A word of advice though. If you want to express your opinions in a public forum, if you want people to actually read what you write, I recommend that you tone it down. People may be interested in your opinion but may not care to take the time to extract it from this type of ego-driven writing. If this is what you like to do, I suggest writing letters to the Atlantic magazine, you would be in like-minded company there.

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avatar Nathanael Spann August 31, 2016 at 12:34 pm

I’m sorry Geoff that you still clearly missed the purpose within the flowing progression of this most recent comment, aimed at framing and conveying the context from which my original comments arose. Simply a dove-tailing process. As I said, context is everything, and it was (and is) clear that you do not understand the detailed context of my mind when I communicate any given concept. There is not any ego driving my written communication, the nature of my life path to this point extinguished that long ago. There is never any agenda other than sincerely presenting an understanding of a point of view. The style, the word choices are just a residue of the relatively unique way that my mental process works. That is just the way the words instinctively come to me. That is why I suggested a face to face meeting, so that misunderstanding can be cast aside, and I can understand how you would require the information to be presented to generate a more efficient dialog. Again, your interpretation of my intent is based on your own filter; and as I stated, given my methods are not status quo, I am often misunderstood. It’s a shame you did not take me up on my offer, so that two seemingly conflicting sides could better understand each other. Best wishes…

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avatar Geoff Page August 31, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Mr. Spann, I would have to say that the most telling statement in this comment is that you are often misunderstood. I tried to convey to you why, perhaps you should think about that, if you wish to be better understood.

avatar retired botanist August 30, 2016 at 12:26 am

Nathan, I’m not going to respond except to say for the record that I was not a recipient on either the arborist’s or the City’s email. Not that it changes my opinion. And there is no worthwhile dialog about emotions, filters, objectivity or community progression- one of your neighbors ripped me to shreds verbally and another ridiculously accused me of harassing her daughter. So that’s pointless discourse.

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avatar Ian August 30, 2016 at 7:44 am

retired botanist, let me suggest some perspective: Put yourself in the shoes of the people who live under the trees, experienced their moving and shaking on Feb 1st during the extreme wind event, then received the information from the city that their experts think the trees are dangerous, only to be inundated by protesters, who are more concerned for the life of a tree than the lives of their “neighbors”, trying to prevent the removal of a hazard.

It’s okay to disagree, but you should also make an effort to understand the people who have a different perspective than you.

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avatar retired botanist August 31, 2016 at 9:55 am

Haha Ian, I did make an effort and put on a couple pairs of shoes! The City’s shoes were filled with fear of future litigation and little else, so those didn’t fit at all. The neighbors’ shoes were filled with vitriol and its impossible to have a civil conversation with someone that wants to “rip your face off” and tells you “you’re ruining people’s lives”. And I think/hope Nathan would confirm that we actually did genuinely exchange/share some perspective offline. I understand that the views of nearby residents are filled with issues that are different than my own, but those are based on personal choices that color their priorities. At the end of the day, its a public street and a public tree, and the “greater interest of the public and the environment” are the shoes that fit me best :-)

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avatar Geoff Page August 31, 2016 at 10:46 am

Nice response, retired botanist.

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avatar Ian August 31, 2016 at 11:21 am

Oh no… I should have been more specific. When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you have to take your own off first!

I know you have been in them for a long time, and they might be hard to remove but it is well worth the effort.

Everyone’s views are colored by their own priorities. That is why you have to remove your own first to truly try one another’s.

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avatar Nathanael Spann August 31, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Hi Kris, no doubt we had sincere interaction offline, that I rather enjoyed. But that is one of the problems I find with these comment or message boards. Too much information is lost, relative to the sincere empathy-driven interaction and more comprehensive information exchange that occurs when human beings discuss things face to face. In that setting we can actually decipher each others emotional/intellectual patterns (what makes one that individual across from you), thus translating and relating our true intent much more efficiently. My experience is that people become trapped in a bubble when interacting through a keyboard. So feel free to contact me offline if you wish to discuss anything further. But as we’ve seen throughout these comments, we will just have to agree to disagree on the realities of this particular issue :-)

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avatar forgotten_leaf August 28, 2016 at 6:10 am

Frank, I’d like to respond to the comment by the OB Surfer. I’d like to challenge his notion that there is no conspiracy. Let’s all chill out. Looking back to when that Torrey Pine fell on car in PB? That wasn’t no ordinary storm. Winds that come from the west inland are very rare. If you think back to that storm, it shook my house. Did it shake yours? Long story short, perhaps the boys in blue were playing with a weather modification machine out in the Pacific, who knows? Now.
With the death of just a single tree, there is an old adage or physics proof, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” With that in mind, we all go into our homes complacent of the fact that the very walls that conceal the dry wall, and so forth is the product of our homes — trees. It sounds strange but as a whole populous or community need to consider that one day these trees (live and dead) can someday mitigate an earthquake. We just forget to thank the trees for holding together our houses :) I would like for a Dolphin to come up to OB Surfer next time he’s in the Pacific? Will he fear it?

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avatar Posey August 28, 2016 at 11:45 am

Other than witnessing such a magnificent tree being chopped down, the thing that bothers me the most is our city council office not responding to our Planning Board chair’s request for a delay until there is a forum with the community. Many of us called Atlas Tree Service, Laurie Zapf’s office, Faulconer’s office, we got nothing. I didn’t expect them to get back to all of us, but to ignore our Planning Board chair? Ignoring us, covering something up or both?

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