OB Planning Chair on the Removal of the OB Saratoga Torrey Pine

by on August 22, 2016 · 8 comments

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

OB Torrey cut stark trunkOB Saratoga Tree: A Torrey Pine removed today builds a stronger community tomorrow

By John Ambert

Good Morning Folks,

If you have not heard yet: Today, the City of San Diego proceeded to remove the 85+ y/o Heritage Torrey Pine tree on the 4600 block of Saratoga Avenue, affectionately named “Esperanza” ( translated to “hope” in Spanish) by the OB Community.

The City went forward with the removal of this tree regardless of the requests for a community forum, or for a formal review of the 3rd party Arborist assessment paid for by neighbors and community members. While I recognize and value the concern for public safety, I am disappointed there could not have been a more transparent and community engaged process.

During this project, Ocean Beach community members exposed a number of issues which should be addressed for all future work. Some of the issues include the conflict of interest of using Atlas Tree Trimming Service to both assess the health of the tree and perform the removal work, the lack of independent 3rd party reporting, the conflicting information in the different assessments provided by the city, the lack of transparency in providing physical documents for the assessments when requested, and the lack of a community engagement. These issues were clearly defined in a meeting between myself and City Leadership on 8/11. I hoped that City Leadership would have been more proactive in addressing these concerns raised, but given the the outcome of today’s events, I am not 100% confident.

This exercise has also taught us that community action and oversight is very much needed to ensure the City is working with the community, and is following the same rules and guidelines of the Municipal Code imposed on the general population. This type of independent watchdog reporting is critical to ensure a fair and transparent process. Without local activism and community leadership like what was demonstrated in this situation, the “business as usual” mentality prevails, and the community misses out on ensuring an equitable outcome for all stakeholders.

I am greatly disappointed by the decision to remove this majestic Torrey Pine, but I am inspired by all of the people that came out to be a part of the process. Your devotion to this community is clear, and your efforts have created a momentum that will make our community stronger.

Some of the actions we can take take immediately include nominating a District 2 representative for the Community Forest Advisory Board (CFAB), getting the Torrey Pine on the State Endangered Species list, interfacing with the city for a timeline and implementation plan to re-plant trees on the 4600 Block of Saratoga, and funding the planting and maintenance of new Torrey Pines trees in Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

In addition, the momentum generated from this project does not have to be limited to the Tree Canopy in Ocean Beach and Point Loma. From the protection of the 30ft Coastal Height Limit, to Short Term Vacation Rentals, to Capital Improvement Projects like the OB Lifeguard Tower / Police Outpost and the OB Library, our community can capitalize on the efforts put forward here to ensure our local and state leadership recognizes and values our input and participation in building a stronger community.

I encourage every one of you to seize the momentum generated here and carry the torch forward. There is still much more to do.

I am currently coordinating ways to reuse the wood from Esperanza, in the OB & PL Community. If any of you have contacts with local artists, saw mills, or funding mechanisms that would be willing to assist with this process, please reach out to me directly.

Thank you for your continued commitment to this community.


John Ambert

Ocean Beach Community Planning Board, Chair
San Diego Living Building Challenge Collaborative, Facilitator

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Petey August 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm

John – What is your email address?
Thanks – am interested in helping, with cash and maybe time.


Ian August 23, 2016 at 2:38 pm

It’s great that you want to force the city to better transparency and dialog. Those are noble thoughts and requests. I, and most reasonable people, are with you on that.

I think the city did a great job, and I don’t think they should wait to remove a tree, that their expert deems a hazard, for a community forum, or town hall meetings.

For the people who actually live under the trees this was a great move by the city.


Robin Rivet August 23, 2016 at 4:56 pm

I am the City of San Diego Community Forest Advisory Board Arborist – appointed by the mayor’s office, and I’m curious to know why this tree’s issues did not come before us. We are tasked to be an independent citizen board both advising and representing the public interest, as well as government policies and practices. With climate change action planning in place, it is vital that every large, mature tree have a thorough and objective evaluation – before any removal. Since I did not personally observe this tree, I cannot speak to an opinion either way, but I am annoyed our board was not notified. I did look at Google maps, I am surprised this specimen was singled out. Can someone fill me in?


Ian August 24, 2016 at 1:05 pm

The extreme wind event happened on Feb. 1st. The first two trees were removed on Feb. 9th and 10th, because the city (and their arborist?) said they were dangerous. They cut some branches off of this tree (which they said was partially hollowed out and hanged over homes), in an attempt to save it, and they monitored it, but deemed that it was still unsafe, so they removed it this Monday.


retired botanist August 23, 2016 at 7:20 pm

Seriously, thank you for commenting, Robin. That speaks volumes. I’d start with Mr. Barrick, the City’s Urban Forest Manager, who also attends the CFAB meetings, and who reviews the reports produced by Atlas. Maybe you can get more information than the community has been able to acquire. Thanks for coming forward. Maybe you can find out which tree is next?


Robin Rivet August 24, 2016 at 10:34 am

John, I would love to delve deeper offline. Can you contact me?
Two things to note. Jeremy Barrick is an excellent resource, but he is relatively new to San Diego, and must pick his battles thoughtfully. He is wise about tree values, and I doubt made this decision without hearing diverse opinions. For better or worse, once a public safety issue arises, trees stand little hope. If cars were viewed in the same light as being similarly risky to humans, surely we would have banned roads by now. Another thing to consider in the future, is that every city district is supposed to be represented on CFAB by a rep. Not sure who the OB person is offhand, but moving forward, please contact that person first, and/or the board arborist. Or simply send anyone to our public meetings, and even ask to be agendized. If your district has no rep, it’s because no one from the community has volunteered, so make sure that this commission appointment is always filled. Respectfully, Robin


Forgotten_leaf August 24, 2016 at 2:18 am

English new age author, Stuart Wilde (deceased May 2013), once said this about trees.

“A tree is a sentient being it has a soul. It evolves spiritually. It is in touch with all
the other trees nearby and each tree is connected to all the other trees in world;
and could feel what is going…” (three minute video below).

The Love of Trees Stuart Wilde

Be warned, although Wilde’s message is of good intention it also was made,
during the nadir of his life. So the part where he talks about fractals is
somewhat sad, because the idea could be easily supplanted with a silent thank you
to the trees while you’re walking outdoors or stopped at a traffic light.
Give thanks to the tree for their shade, comfort and protection.

On August 27, 2016 I think it would be prudent for those of you that live in the
Ocean Beach area to view the celestial conjunction of Jupiter and Venus and
focus a prayer and thanks to the trees of the world.



Judy Collier August 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm

I am very concerned about the remaining Torrey Pines on the 4600 block of Saratoga Ave. Does the city intend to remove them? Will the city follow the same procedures they did in removing Esperanza?


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