Torrey Pine on West Point Loma Coming Down

by on July 9, 2014 · 16 comments

in Environment, History, Ocean Beach

OB 5035 West Pt Loma

The Torrey Pine right in front of 5035 is the tree being cut down. It does not appear to be in the public right-of-way. (google maps)

A Torrey Pine on private property at 5035 West Point Loma Blvd is coming down today – Wed., July 9th.

Even though Torrey Pines are a protected species, the San Diego Municipal Code does not protect them if they are on private property. Public property is another matter, as it is illegal to cut them down.  Here’s what the SD Muni Code say:

§63.07 Destruction, Injury of Torrey Pines Trees — Prohibited

That it shall be unlawful for any person or persons to cut, injure or destroy any trees known as the “Pinus Torreyana” growing upon Pueblo Lots Nos. 1332, 1337 and 1338 or any other public lots or lands, belonging to and within the corporate limits of the City of San Diego.

Of course, OBceans have been planting and saving Torrey Pines for a century. Here is what we posted awhile ago in December 2010 in the midst of a fight to save the Torrey Pine on the 4600 block of Long Branch Avenue:

Torrey Pine Trees

The Torrey Pine tree (pinus torreyana) is one of the rarest pine trees in America and even the world. Whether it is the very rarest in the U.S. is up for contention. Right now, there are only two locations where it grows in the wild: Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands 175 miles off the coast of Southern California and in Del Mar, up the coast from OB.  Today’s large Torrey Pine trees in Ocean Beach were all planted back in the Thirties.

It’s estimated that there are only 2,000 – 3,000 Torrey Pine trees remaining that are growing in the wild.  It’s also believed that the Torrey Pine was the one dominant tree species of Southern California, its forests blanketed the area. But by time the Europeans arrived, there was only the two basic locations. The trees were very important to local Indians.  According to Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening:

The wild groves of these trees still in existence were once part of a much larger forest that, probably due to climate changes, shrank to the limited area we know today. In the 16th century these trees served as a prominent landmark to seafaring Spaniards on an otherwise bare coast. They gave the name “Punta Des Arboles”, the Point of the Trees, to the current location of Torrey Pines State Reserve. …

Called “Soledad Pine” by the Spaniards, the species was renamed in 1850 by Dr. Charles Christopher Parry, a traveling botanist [part of the US-Mexico Border Survey party] in honor of his friend, Dr. John Torrey, the greatest botanist of his time.

For centuries before the arrival of Europeans, the Torrey pine was an important source of food and craft materials for local Kumeyaay Native Americans. In fall they gathered the nutritious nuts off the ground. They used the sap to make glue and sealant and the needles for coiled baskets.

By the time San Diego was settled, there were only several groves of the trees left up in Del Mar.  Local philanthropist and newspaper publisher Ellen Browning Scripps bought the grove of trees south of the Penasquitos Lagoon to protect them and their native area, and with her foresight and generosity donated the core grove that eventually became what is today the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Among trees, pine trees in general are the longest living trees in the wild. And among pine trees, Torrey Pines have some of the most longevity. It takes most species of pine trees two years for their pine cones to mature; for Torrey Pines, it takes three years.  And according to experts, Torrey Pines in the wild live 200 years.

The roots of Torrey Pines can spread out far beyond the length of its branches; a forty foot tree can have 2 to 3 times that length in roots.  In the wild, they are known for their deep roots and wind-blown shapes.

The Torrey Pine is an endangered species.  An endangered species is one that is at risk of being extinct.

Coastal communities that are fortunate to have Torrey Pines in their midst treasure them for their unique history.  Within the City of Del Mar, the Torrey Pine is protected by law, having become their “heritage” tree. And in Ocean Beach a few years ago, strenuous efforts were made to protect the strand of Torrey Pines on the 4600 block of Saratoga Avenue.  Buckled sidewalks were removed and re-poured to fit around the trees and metal grates were put in place to be able to move when the earth and trees grow.  Under citizen pressure, the City of San Diego did this.

San Diego in general honors the Torrey Pines, and has named the following sites after them: Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve, Torrey Pines Golf Course, Torrey Pines Gliderport, among others.

Some History in the Protection of San Diego Torrey Pines

At the time of their naming, Torrey Pines were thought to only be in one locale, the Del Mar area. Dr Parry – the botanist who had named the Torrey Pine, returned to the area in 1883. He was shocked at the lack of protection for the main groves of wild Torrey Pines in the Del Mar area, and wrote to the San Diego Society of Natural History an historical and scientific account of the tree, emphasizing the need to protect it from extermination.  That resulted in some movement towards guarding their groves. The State Preserve’s website states:

The first source of protection came in 1885 from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. They posted signs citing a reward of $100 for the apprehension of anyone vandalizing a Torrey pine tree.

In 1888 the grove of trees on Santa Rosa Island was discovered. That added to a mystery about the trees and the growing momentum for some kind of protection. Plus California formed a State Board of Forestry that same year. However, there was apparently a set-back two years later, when pueblo lands that included the Torrey Pines area were leased for cattle and sheep grazing, and trees were cut and used for firewood.

First Park for Torrey Pines Established

Finally in 1899 the San Diego City Council voted to set aside 364 acres as a public park – this was the very first park of Torrey Pine trees, but unfortunately it did not include specifics to protect the Torrey Pines themselves.

After the turn of the century, the lands surrounding the park were in danger of being commercially sold. Between 1908 and 1911, newspaper woman and philanthropist, Ellen Browning Scripps, acquired two additional pueblo lots and willed them to the people of San Diego. This added to the park the area of North Grove and the estuary.

Botanical studies of the park by San Diego Society of Natural History were conducted in 1916, and their findings of damage caused by people picnicking and camping reignited the public movement for the trees’ preservation.  In 1921, the first custodian of the park was named – Guy Fleming (today there’s a trail named after him). The next year, Scripps had a well-known landscape architect map out a long-term plan for the park. And by 1923, the Lodge was built.  The City Council added more pueblo lands the next year, and the park gradually grew through the years – but not before other threats to the Torrey Pines.

Between 1928 and 1930, the League To Save Torrey Pines fought and won against a proposed cliff road above the beach. The purpose of the road was to eliminate curves and grades in the old road. The opponents felt that the road would not only destroy a section of the park but would also be costly to build. One of the reasons the League was so against this new road was that it called for using landfill in the canyons so that the road could go across them.

Another threat occurred during World War II when the Army leased leased 750 acres of Torrey Pines Mesa from the City  for training purposes including anti-aircraft artillery.

Up to the late Fifties, the Torrey Pines park was under the authority of the San Diego Department of Parks & Recreation. Citizens and government managers did not believe the City had sufficient authority to protect the endangered species within it, so in 1956 a special city election was held which resulted in handing the nearly 1,000 acre park to the State of California, for it to become a state reserve.

About 100 acres were appropriated for the construction of a public golf course. The State Park became official in 1959. In 2007 the nomenclature was changed to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Meanwhile in Ocean Beach …

One of the projects of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the early Thirties of the Great Depression, was planting young Torrey Pine trees from out of one foot high-gallon cans on both sides of Catalina Boulevard, from the old gate to Cabrillo national monument.  The Torrey Pine trees for the project were raised in Ocean Beach by David Cobb, a County employee who had some land on Saratoga Avenue for a nursery. Pine nuts from the Torrey Pines park were gathered and seeds were sprouted and they were transplanted to larger and larger cans, a process that took one to two years.

The original project on top of Point Loma failed due to there not being sufficient protection of the trees’ roots from gophers, squirrels and rabbits, – although a few survivors can be found near the Fire Station on Catalina.

Back in Ocean Beach, the Cobbs ended up with extra trees and they were planted along Saratoga Avenue and a few other blocks as well.


The tree may be coming down as I write this – a sad day in OB.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

OB Cindi July 9, 2014 at 11:41 am

Why why why? Is the tree sick? Or is it just that someone wants to build a McMansion over this beautiful tree’s mowed-down stump? Uggghhh…..


Frank Gormlie July 9, 2014 at 11:58 am

Supposedly the lot is up for sale, and the owner is tired of raking the needles and looking out for the sap. (Where’s my violin?)


OB Cindi July 9, 2014 at 12:59 pm

We lose a beautiful tree that has been allowed to age in our community for many years, to someone who just cares about the almight dollar because the tree makes a “mess” in the yard. *shaking my head* I am so sad about the loss of this pretty tree. So very very sad.


Tyler July 9, 2014 at 1:18 pm


I wish property owners planted them more. I understand the maintenance aspect but damn are they beautiful.


SaneVoice July 9, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Is there something tainting the water supply on that block of West Point Loma Boulevard that makes those residents insist on doing the opposite of the OB way ? And with that lot up for sale, is another Stebbins monstrosity waiting in the wings ?


obd9 July 9, 2014 at 1:59 pm

A sad day indeed. It is my understanding efforts to educate the people involved regarding the historic significance of Torrey Pines fell on deaf ears. Up until this very moment, this healthy and beautiful tree was one of a pair of trees planted in front of a duplex in the 5000 block of West Point Loma Blvd.


Byron Wear July 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Nice story on history of Torrey Pines.
While on the City Council 15 years ago, we worked to save the Torrey Pines in the right of way on Saratoga Street by installing curved sidewalks with metal plates to avoid damaging the roots. Last year volunteers planted Torrey Pines at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, South of the Parking Lot on Ladera Street. Unfortunately the community of Ocean Beach will likely see additional Torrey Pines removed on private property over the next twenty years. But this might be the time to plant more Torrey Pines where they can remain at public parks. For example…on the edges of Robb Field, Cleator Park, Collier Neighborhood Park and south of Ladera Street at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. Planting Torrey Pines is a great way to bring together the community.


tennyson July 9, 2014 at 11:29 pm

In the small LA County town, 3.5 sq miles, I left to move to San Diego (South Pasadena, a separate municipality from it’s larger, Pasadena, neighborhood to the north) it is illegal to remove significant trees from private property even those in back yards. Once a permit to request removal is submitted, a private property owner must have a valid and reasonable -usually health/safety type-rational for tree removal and must pay a large fee, something around $1,200 as I recall, to provide for a replacement tree to be planted elsewhere in the city.
Bureaucratic, government intrusion? You betcha but South Pas saves it’s trees and capricious reasons as not wanting to rake the leaves ? No way would that be sanctioned.


OB Cindi July 10, 2014 at 11:50 am

I HEART South Pasadena….thanks for sharing that info with us Tennyson!


tennyson July 10, 2014 at 9:02 pm

I will try to get a copy of the South Pas “tree law”, send it to my council person for review. So Pas is one of the US official “tree cities” and is lovely but obviously not compelling enough to keep me there.


Geoff Page July 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm

I sure hope there was confirmation this tree was not in the city right-of-way. The caption on the picture says it does not “appear to be” in the right-of-way. The city’s right-of-way varies from street to street. On most residential streets, the right-of-way extends from the curb face back 10 feet. Most people think it is at the back of the sidewalk but that is not the boundary. On what are considered major streets, like West Pt. Loma, the right-of-way can be 15 or 20 feet from face of curb. These streets were set up this way years ago to allow for possible lane expansions and were designed to keep development back just in case. I can’t tell which tree is coming down but the grass area and sidewalk look to be only eight feet meaning the right-of-way could be at least two feet behind sidewalk where the tree seems to be, or more even.

Does anyone have any concrete information that the property line was clear and the tree was actually on private property?


obd9 July 11, 2014 at 12:23 am

I looked for help from Councilman Ed Harris’ office. There actually is a county code regarding protected “historic trees”, which includes some Torrey Pines on private party. Sadly, according to the “Acting Urban Forester”, this particular tree was not one of them and not located on the city right of way. I have asked that approval be sought for the planting of Torrey Pines in Robb Field… will see where that goes. OB should adopt the same codes as Del Mar which protects all healthy Torrey Pines from being destroyed.


Debbie February 8, 2016 at 8:25 pm

Saw on the news tonight, the Torrey Pines on Saratoga are coming down


Frank Gormlie February 8, 2016 at 9:03 pm

I’ve asked Debbie for the station she saw this on … waiting.


Christo February 8, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Pretty detailed thread in the Social Ocean Beach group on Facebook


Denine February 9, 2016 at 12:08 am

Oh no, not another one! We almost lost a second Torrey Pine on West Point Loma Blvd but fortunately the property owner only had to have it trimmed up to prevent it posing a safety hazard. It survived the big winds last week, whew!


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