Torrey Pine on Orchard Gets a Temporary Reprieve

by on August 28, 2013 · 14 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, Organizing

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The Torrey Pine in the back yard of Chris Caplaneris’ property. (All photos by Matt Wood.)

By Matthew Wood

The Torrey Pine on the 4300 block of Orchard Street estimated to be more than a century old is still standing, but neighbors wonder for how long.

A tree maintenance service team, scheduled to cut the tree down last week, was persuaded by Doug Harvey and Mary Cairns, neighbors across the alley, to postpone the job. They had reached out to Chris Caplaneris, the owner of the house where the tree sits, to trim branches that reached out over the alley. That somehow turned out into Caplaneris deciding to take out the entire tree, the neighbors say.

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The tree is obviously too close to these wires.

“This all came about because we wanted some branches to be pruned,” said Harvey, a real estate agent who says he is in the process of obtaining a degree in landscape architecture. “We’ll live with some sap.”

Caplaneris confirmed he plans to have the tree cut down, but refused to answer further questions. His son Peter, who lives in the upstairs building on the same property, was sympathetic to the cause of saving the historic tree, but also hoped neighbors would look at the bigger picture.

“I’m a tree-hugger too. I love this tree,” he said. “But it’s causing problems.”

Namely, the roots of the tree are creating plumbing issues for Caplaneris and his next-door neighbors to the east, who said they have already fixed cracks in their garage and driveway and patio caused by the tree, costing thousands of dollars.

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Cracks in neighbor’s patio attributed to the roots of the Torrey Pine next door.

“We fixed it three years ago, now we gotta fix it again,” said Adelaide Dasilva, who has lived in the house next to the Caplaneris family for the past 30 years. She also claims she fell while cleaning pine needles from the roof of her garage, resulting in $7,000 in doctor bills.

“I don’t want to spend money like that,” she said. “My husband works so hard (as a fisherman). Every time he comes home, he cleans the pipes. Water doesn’t come through.”

So the tree remains until the Caplaneris family obtains all the right permits, Peter the son said.

There has been some debate as to the legality of uprooting a Torrey Pine sitting on private land, a species of tree that is a protected species and San Diego County claims most of the Torrey Pines that exist.

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Alley steps with cracks.

“The bigger issue is, what are Point Loma and Ocean Beach going to do to protect these trees,” Cairns said of the vagueness of the law. San Diego Municipal Code 63.07 prohibits destruction or injury of Torrey Pines within the corporate limits of San Diego, but doesn’t specify if that covers private property as well.

Harvey estimates it would cost between $4,000 and $4,500 to take the entire tree out, which would also entail bringing down electrical wires that are close to the branches of the 40-foot-tall pine. His suggestion to have what is called a tree lacing done – “trying to get it to grow up, not out” – would cost around $3,000, of which Harvey says he offered to pay $1,000. Cairns also offered $500 toward the procedure.

He thought the situation would be simple when he originally asked Chris Caplaneris about pruning the branches.

“He said, ‘Do what you want,’ which I wasn’t expecting,” Harvey said of his original conversation with his neighbor. “Then he does a 180 and wants to take the tree out.”

Both the Caplaneris family and their neighbors say they don’t want to see the tree go.

“This tree is special. It’s of an age and size that puts it in another category,” Harvey said. “This predates all of us. It deserves respect.”

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To try to get a sense of exactly how large this tree is … Shot from neighbor’s yard.

Peter Caplaneris concurs, but takes a much more pragmatic approach, saying his family already had to pay $500 for the original trimmers to come out.

“It’s not designed for a yard,” he said. “If the neighbors want to take it, we’re cool with that. But at their expense. If he wants it, let him keep it.”

Matthew Wood is a recent transplant to Ocean Beach by way of Chicago, where he lived for 13 years while working at the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, AOL CityGuide and The Heckler. He writes a local music blog for Examiner as well as a personal blog detailing his adventures from the Midwest to this crazy beach community. He has assimilated to the OB lifestyle by eating a lot of fish tacos and walking around barefoot. An avid sports fan originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., he is a huge supporter of University of Michigan athletics and Detroit sports teams. He personally apologizes for the Tigers beating the Padres in the ’84 World Series, but not too much.

 Link to Examiner blog:

 Link to my personal blog:

Torrey Pines in Ocean Beach and San Diego

Editor: Torrey Pines are so special there’s a park named after them.  The OB Rag along with local tree activists saved a Torrey Pine on the 4600 block of Long Branch Avenue back in Jan. 2011. It was quite a saga – check it out here.  OB has a long history of having the protected trees.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

OB Dude August 28, 2013 at 10:05 am

Trees are beautiful! However, if this tree is causing structural damage and it’s on private property why can’t the homeowner remove it? What if they wanted to renovate the house and it required removal of the tree? Would that be a no no? If the neighbors are steadfast on keeping the tree…how about they sign a hold harmless agreement for waive rights to sue for future damages and agree to fund the trimming of the tree on an annual basis and put the money in an escrow account? If OB is in love with Torrey Pines plant some in our surrounding parks. Just a few thoughts and suggestions.

Caplaneris property, money, taxes, yard, tree, pipes, clean up etc. and it should be their decision what to do with it all.


Debra August 28, 2013 at 11:11 am

True, it “may” be a nuisance, but trees are not only beautiful they provide homes for birds and create oxygen for our environment. I have a huge pine tree in my yard that my neighbors constantly complain about dropping needles, etc., even though THEY have a tree that drops leaves on MY property and rubs on MY roof whenever the planes go over. I think there could be a better solution than just cutting down the tree located on Orchard.


Larry OB August 29, 2013 at 9:43 am

I thiink a photo taken straight down the alley would show that this tree is more public than some people realize.

Plus I think it’s likely the tree was there before someone put a garage and concrete on top of its roots. The tree has merely acted in self defense, and simply needs a good attorney. Where’s Gloria Alred when we really need her?


Terrie August 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I’m familiar with the issues created by Torrey Pines – and Ficus – as we had them, along with eucalyptus trees in the house I grew up in. They built around the Torrey Pines, and incorporated it into a patio/outdoor room, but the ficus – and the Eucalyptus trees uprooted, filled the plumbing, and then crashed into our roof and living room window. . .

So, perhaps it’s a community project with community funds. . .It would be nice to save the Torrey Pines AND the plumbing and electrical wires. What about the Historical Preservation Society? Do they also handle landscape-related issues? I know I should know that, but don’t. . .


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman August 29, 2013 at 10:31 pm

This story takes me back to early summer of 1989 when the man across the street from me near Windansea in La Jolla decided to cut down a massive Torrey Pine tree that towered over his small bungalow and his adjacent neighbor’s tiny Spanish-style hacienda. He labeled it “a dirty tree” — an expression I’d never heard anywhere but here in California.

Incredibly, the tree-cutting company was called MASH. The cutters wore their hair long and tied back with bandannas.It took them a week to do the job: the trunk was at least six feet in diameter and they worked on cutting and grinding, cutting and grinding, from morning to dark in the long days before summer solstice.

The tree was massively tall and broad. After winter rains and high winds, it was the source of huge pine cones for many Christmas mantles. It was home to throngs of migrating greenish-yellow birds in the Fall. When you flew out of Lindbergh Field heading north, you could spot this tree from the window of the plane and know it marked your neighborhood. The Torrey Pine had grown huge, fed by an old underground stream that ran down to the beach a few blocks west.

Passersby and witnesses were horrified at the destruction. Letters of protest were written to the weekly paper. Somebody called and offered a La Jolla solution that had worked for them and saved a towering Star Pine in another part of town: pay the owners money not to cut it down. Nobody had thought of that. Nobody did that. The owners were ostracized for a while. But there was no recourse: the Torrey Pine was not protected by City law or any other law and this one was on private property. So down it came — crown, trunk and stump.

This all happened to coincide with my 51-year-old non-smoking husband’s diagnosis of lung cancer, his several surgeries and removal of one lung, his struggle with the disease and his untimely death seven months later. Those two events are inextricably intertwined in my mind, even now, and make me deeply sad.

I hope your writing about this means you Obecians can save your Torrey Pine. But just so you know, for whatever it’s worth, ours was bigger than yours.


Larry OB August 31, 2013 at 4:38 pm

The city has put a lot of time and money into preserving a tiny plot of land in La Jolla, because it has a concrete Christian cross on it. It’s too bad they don’t put a similar effort into preserving our best trees. I personally would rather worship a Torrey Pine than a Chritian death rack.


Anna Daniels September 1, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Matthew and Fran- you both convey the feeling that so many of us have about a local tree–they become our neighbors too. Beloved neighbors, at that. Like you Fran, I never heard the term “messy trees” until I moved to San Diego. The term is often applied to jacaranda and the purple snow of their dropping flowers.
Matthew- welcome to San Diego and Ocean Beach and the OBRag. I look forward to reading more submissions from you.


micaela porte August 31, 2013 at 7:46 am

the trees DO need a good lawyer… where’s greenpeace when you need them?


doug porter August 31, 2013 at 9:38 am

Sadly you won’t find much in the way of great sausages around OB like you could in Chicago. But if you miss the annoying attempt at an alt-weekly, at least we have a version of the Reader. Welcome to the Rag!


squidward September 1, 2013 at 8:24 am

Little Harvmo is right; let it live! This babe who fell off the roof should spend a little coin next time and hire the neighborhood kid too sweep the needles off her roof. She tried to save a couple bucks and it ended up costing her $7000.


Annie September 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Like my mother, I have counted the trees that have been cut down in my neighborhood with increasing sadness and, until reading your article, I thought the situation with the Orchard Street tree was a simple matter of a couple of unappreciative residents. Thank you, Matthew, for getting both sides to this story.

At the risk of being eviscerated, I think some empathy for the Caplanerises is deserved. Damage to personal property and financial loss would make me reconsider my tree-hugging stance, though it would weigh heavy on my heart.

My preference is that the tree stays, though if it must go – and isn’t transplanted – I hope something commemorative can be made of its historic remains – a plaque, a bench, anything to remember it by.


Debbie September 2, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Went by the tree this weekend. It’s definitely on private property and there is ton of dry pine needles about.

Annie, great suggest on “something commemorative”. My family had to remove a tree from their backyard that tore up the pipes and intruded on the neighbors property. It just go too big for its britches and cost a fortune to remove. Since you can’t put a tree on a diet there are limited choices on how to proceed when it begins to cause problems. Happily, the tree lives forever as stepping stones that were cut and beautifully varnished, a part of the tree base was used as a table and and the top was decorated with tiles as a mosaic tree. Another tree was planted in it’s place. All is good.


Mary Cairns August 22, 2014 at 8:44 am

Today, Aug 22, ’14, the torrey pine that was the subject of several prior emails, will be coming down. It is in the second day of taking the tree down. I have mixed feelings. While it provides shade, protection for the local coopers hawk and this spring was filled with western tanagers and hooded orioles during migration, shade in my backyard, it also is very messy, filling my backyard with needles, shading my citrus trees. I understand some of the main branches were splitting, and the tree was becoming dangerous and a liability for the owners (who would be responsible should it fall or branches break and land on other property and do damage). But it was a grand ol’ lady. It will be missed.


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