OB Planners Approve Brighton Project, Hold Forum on Torrey Pine, Hear Complaints About Project at Ebers and Greene

by on September 9, 2016 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, History, Media, Ocean Beach, San Diego

obpb-meet-9-7-bd-bestAt the Wednesday, September 7th monthly OB Planning Board meeting, local planners approved a 2 unit project on the 5100 block of Brighton Avenue, held a mini-forum on the Torrey Pine situation, and listened to residents upset with the project under construction at Ebers and Greene.

Ebers and Greene

The pleas of a small group of residents about the project at Ebers and Greene fell on sympathetic ears during the public comment period of the Board’s agenda, Wednesday night. Allison and Mick Rush, along with Greg Cox made a brief presentation about all the site’s problems, and requested that the Board place the issue on the agenda for their next meeting.


Allison Rush and Greg Cox explain problems with the Ebers – Greene project.

The group had written a letter to the Board, outlining 5 problems with the project, which was distributed to everyone in the audience (and published here). John Ambert, chair of the Board, commented that the developer was “pulling a fast one,” but that “the project was in compliance in terms of the plans.”  Other Board members also made comments indicating their earlier attempts to get the city to deal with the site, all unsuccessful.

Ambert asked the group to “go to the city, get as much information as you can, gather it, and we’ll put it on the agenda for next month.” A television crew from CBS8 was on hand and captured and broadcast the complaints of the group.

Rising concerns Wednesday night from Ocean Beach residents over a new building construction in their neighborhood.  Ocean Beach residents in a clamor over the construction of a three-story home being built at the corner of Ebers and Green Streets said once the construction project is completed it will be too tall and block their views.

Critics spoke out Wednesday night at an Ocean Beach Planning Commission meeting saying the developer did not go through the proper channels – including The Coastal Commission. “We want him to go by the rules like we did and everybody else did in the neighborhood,” said Mick Rush.

According to residents of the area, the building may exceed the 30-foot height limit imposed on new construction. Critics also said the construction will take away two off-street parking spaces – already at a premium commodity in the Ocean Beach area.

(Interestingly, and appropriately, the TV reporter, Richard Allyn, linked the OB structure with the now-famous Point Loma 4-story building that caused the Peninsula to get in an uproar over the obvious violation of the 30-foot height limit.)

“Mini-Forum” on Torrey Pines of Saratoga Avenue

In what at least one board member commented was the closest thing to a community forum on the Torrey Pines, the meeting was opened to a presentation by one of the key OB activists that attempted to halt the removal of the Torrey on the 4600 block of Saratoga, and then one by a city representative.


Kris Schlech before the OB Planning Board on Torrey Pines.

After an introduction by Ambert – who himself was deeply involved in the Torrey standoff – a wonderful overview by Kris Schlech was made, who presented a brief history of what happened to the Torrey at 4652 Saratoga, and then gave a detailed accounting of the array of documents about the situation, and more in general, city trees and their maintenance.

Schlech prefaced her remarks by stating that she was motivated by trying “to understand how we lost 3 old Torrey pines in 7 months.” She mentioned a possible conflict of interest by the city contractor who removed the trees, Atlas Tree Service. “Atlas writes the assessments, does the maintenance, and does tree removal,” she said, and added that this was a “cozy” relationship with the city.

The Community Forest Advisory Board was explained by Schlech, a panel set up that is supposed to oversee the maintenance and removal of city trees, made up of 15 to 16 members, with city staff (Street Division, Water and Transportation) and appointed representatives from each of the council districts. However, she pointed out, there is currently no one representing District 2.

In her quest to figure out who’s accountable, Schlech said, she looked into the Draft Urban Forest Management Plan, which provides guidelines on how to handle and maintain municipal trees.  Then there’s City Policy No. 900-19, she said, that provides protections and process for trees. “Tree removal,” she noted, “should come up before the (Planning) Board.”

One of Schlech’s favorites is Municipal Code section 63.07, which specifically protects Torrey Pines on public property within the city. “There are no caveats, no exceptions,” she added, referring to so-called emergency measures the City often uses to get around laws such as this.

She looked into the City Traffic Control Bulletin, which lays out how to get permits to do tree removal, and which require No Parking signs to put up 24 hours before any work. This didn’t happen, she said, on the fateful day of August 22nd, when the tree was chopped down.

Then there’s the OB Community Plan itself, Schlech continued, which in section 7-11, addresses Torrey Pines, and section 9 speaks to the historical preservation elements of the Plan.

Returning to the Community Forest Advisory Board (CFAB), Schlech described how she looked for minutes of their meetings online, and didn’t find any recent months. Yet, she said, the city had them published right after August 22nd.  Their April minutes did reflect their discussion about trees, but no discussion was held about any tree removal.

Then she discovered that the issue of tree removals are not discussed or addressed by this panel by design, as some on it felt the issue was too negative (??? what?). She found this out by a comment on an OB Rag article about the Torrey Pine by Robin Rivet, the mayor’s appointee to CFAB, who stated that she had never heard of the city’s plans to remove the Torrey.

The last document Schlech examined was the Heritage Tree Program, which if a tree is accepted, provides it extra protection. She said, “We need to nominate these Torrey Pines (on Saratoga Ave.) to the program.” Special protection, she continued, means that if there is a problem with the tree and the sidewalk, instead of removing the tree, the sidewalk is redone.

Summarizing, Schlech stated that “there are many questions regarding the conflict, with the city and Atlas being too cozy,” and said that “Atlas has a blanket permit for tree removal.” She listed a number of steps that she – and Friends of Peninsula Trees – believe need to happen.

  • explore CFAB’s administration and updating of codes – “we need to strengthen these policies (in protecting trees), not delete them due to streamlining.”
  • “It’s important for the community to be involved”, with a possible “collaboration” with the Peninsula Community Planning Board.
  • “There are still Torrey Pines in OB,” she said, so we need to identify the others in the community immediately;
  • Once identified, the Torreys need to be nominated to  the Heritage Tree Program “right away” and get the city to expedite the process for them.
  • Mitigation: the city should use classic rules of mitigation: Avoidance, mitigation of impact, provide opportunities for mitigation;
  • Based on the trunk width of the removed Torrey Pines, Schlech stated that the city needs to plant 30 new trees for every one removed.
  • “How about a whole row of Torrey Pines at Sunset Cliffs Park,” she declared.
  • The OB Planning Board needs to be deeply engaged in the issue, deal with the city, with CFAB, and engaged in any updating of policies having to do with trees’ protections.

Schlech sat down to long and sustained applause. A couple people mentioned that she ought to be nominated as the District 2 rep to the CFAB.


Jeremy Barrick, urban forest manager, responds to a question from the Planning Board.

Ambert then introduced the city representative, Jeremy Barrick, the Urban Forest Manager to the planning department. Barrick has been involved with the Torrey at issue, and was present on site on August 22nd when it came down.

Referring to the vacancy on CFAB, Barrick mentioned that he knew of one nominee, but didn’t know of the timeline of any appointment.  And on the role of Atlas, he said city staff have spoken about this internally, and are looking at potentially having another contractor doing the tree assessment, and not the same company that is paid to remove trees.

On the question why the city moved to take the Torrey down on Monday, Aug. 22nd when there was no report that cited an urgent necessity, Barrick didn’t have an answer. He was asked why the city moved to take it down, despite an independent arborist’s report that stated the tree was “low-risk”, and he said that he had reviewed that report but “no new information was brought to the table.” Others pressed Barrick on this issue; Craig Klein of the Board, Kris Schlech herself.

Schlech – whom it should be noted, is a professional biologist – said:

“I’m not satisfied with the reasons why this tree had to come down that day… The city was really unresponsive to us.”

Virginia, another tree activist told Barrick:

“There were no reports that said the tree was high-risk. So we had 1 moderate risk, and 2 low-risks.”

Kris added:

We didn’t get the 24 hour no parking notice.”

Then the whole issue of what happened to the Torrey Pine wood that was saved, as part of the trunk was supposed to go to an artist who was supposed to carve something for the community. Patty Hume pressed Barrick about this, as she had followed up on the wood, as it was reportedly to go to Balboa Park. Hume insisted that the wood never made it, as she had gone to Balboa Park looking for it. Barrick however repeated that it was there.

Hume cited the fact that on the day the tree was cut down, “there was a flatbed truck waiting for that wood,” and then added that there was a furniture maker related to Atlas who received a good part of the wood.

Colleen from the Green Store asked Jeremy: “Who decided to call 12 cops there?” – This went unanswered as other questions did.

Ambert, looking at the clock, moved the meeting along.

5109-11 Brighton Ave.

A presentation was made to the Board by Liz Carmichael, an architect, on the project slated for 5109 and 5111 Brighton Avenue. Two 2-story single family units are planned where 2 old buildings now stand, on 2 lots, 25 by 105 feet, as there is no alley on that block.

The building’s elevation is several feet below the 30-foot limit.

The plans call for a subterranean garage to be built only several feet below the street level (the lots have a slight elevation from the street. And the 2 stories would be above them.

By building the garage underground – or in this case, slightly underground, the builder is able to calculate that stubborn FAR (floor area ratio) without having to use the square footage of the garage – which allows a smaller FAR. So, in this case, with the garages underground, the FAR is below 0.70 – OB’s main number – and with the garages included, the FAR is over 0.8.

Ambert took up the issue and asked Carmichael why was the garage so low if the roofline was below 30 feet high. Her answer was that that made a better “interaction” with the street and pedestrians, etc. Ambert didn’t accept this and made his own point about builders getting around the FAR by installing subterranean garages.

Chris F., the owner, was present in the audience, and he added that the project “has support from neighbors”, and in fact, he’d gotten a couple there to support his project. One of the issues was whether the garages would flood – as the owner had only possessed the units for a one and half – and Craig Klein kept reiterating the flooding history of coastal OB. But the couple brought to the meeting by the owner insisted that they’ve lived on that block for 30 years and that block never floods – as it is on a slight rise.

No one, not the new owner, or the old one, looked into whether the current units – which are old – would qualify for OB’s Historic Cottage Program. They’re quite run down, everyone claimed. Tom Gawronski, veteran Board member, who always speaks his mind, said:

“Somebody made the property bad,” and later added, “I think these cottages are recoverable.”

Chris, the owner, pledged to the Board the new units “won’t be vacation rentals”, that he plans to sell them when completed. He had built 4 units across the street years ago, and claimed to have “built dozens” of units.

Ambert added:

“In my personal opinion, the units don’t align with that block, and are out of scale based on that block.”

Most of the rest of the Board liked the design, with Jane Gawronski calling them “the cottages of the 21st century.”

A couple Board members complained that the units would be out of reach for them, and they’re watching OB change into a community that they can not afford, even though they were born and raised in the community.

There was more discussion, but by the end, the Board voted 7 to 3 in favor of the project. Ambert, Tom G, and Marissa Spata voted against.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist September 9, 2016 at 4:44 pm

Frank, thanks for the nice recap on the Torrey pine issue, and for keeping it on the OBcean radar.
A couple of minor corrections, just in case folks want to do some further reading: The Tree Protection Council Policy is 900-19, and the City arborist mentioned is Robin Rivet. The CFAB minutes that were mentioned stated that reviewing the tree removals was “not currently done and was unreasonable”- their words… hence the City’s interest in “revising” Policy 900-19.
Most of the documents can be found online, assuming one is adept at navigating the City’s website, which is something of a rabbit warren.


Frank Gormlie September 10, 2016 at 9:47 am

Thanks, made corrections.


Micporte September 9, 2016 at 4:50 pm

Good article… Really good article, good analysis, good details, seemingly insignificant planning decisions, like the removal of a tree or the approval of over height limit developments, shows the lack unified planning in our city… I’m thinking that “the city” never really gets a chance to stroll or bike around and enjoy their/our fabulous city… instead they get stuck with tense (or friendly) meetings with developers and lobbyists where a tree that has been watered by our shrinking water sheds for a hundred years is but a negligible spot on their planning remodels… In the Middle East, they cut down all the trees, for development, and then, one day, they never grew back…


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