Matt Madruga and the Long Branch Torrey Pine

by on September 4, 2018 · 11 comments

in Ocean Beach

Matt Madruga next to the Torrey Pine he has helped save. The white circle on the bark indicates the location of one of the pins. Photo by Frank Gormlie

Originally posted Sept. 4, 2018

Matt Madruga has lived on the 4600 block of Long Branch Avenue in Ocean Beach for 16 years – he still lives in the house his grandparents bought back in the mid-1950s.

So, Matt – who runs a small diving and yacht services company – knows about the large Torrey Pine that towers over the eastern end of his block. It stands in the right-of-way next to the narrow street near his property line with his nextdoor neighbor. In fact, one can see a portion of its trunk through a crack in Matt’s concrete patio.

This is the same Torrey that was saved by the community 7 years ago from the city wanting to chop it down and is the same Torrey that was almost cut down this past July, and it’s the subject of an upcoming Urban Forestry Commission meeting.

Matt has been watching the tree for 25 to 30 years now, he told the OB Rag recently. He knows how it lives, he knows what lives in it, he knows how it blows in the wind, how it turns for the sun – and he’s seen it thicken over the years. He’s watched peregrine hawks use it for nesting – and only it. “I know more about that Torrey Pine,” he said, “than anyone else.”

Matt is also keenly aware of a complaint about the tree lodged with the city by a neighbor 8 to 9 years ago, a complaint that alleged the Torrey was leaning and about to fall on the neighbor’s house across Long Branch from the tree. Matt met the new owner, who told Matt he was a county engineer. The neighbor had just bought the property – and unaware apparently how Torrey Pines can grow – filed his complaint with the city.

Trouble is, says Matt, this complaint is still on the books – and it’s the only one he claims – and the city keeps using this old complaint as a basis for trying to cut the Torrey down. The complaining neighbor moved away a few years ago – and rents the house out.

Not only is the complaint still with the city – the old one, it hasn’t been renewed, Matt says, the city has data that shows the tree is not moving and is not falling.

Matt recalls very clearly when a city crew appeared on the block in late June and laid down a slurry layer. He was out there and spoke with a city engineer who had come out to oversee the slurry crew. He told Matt what a “beauty” the Torrey was, but it was too bad but the city had plans to chop it down. Once hearing this, Matt convinced the city engineer to call his supervisor.

The Torrey Pine on Long Branch – after the trimmings of June 2018. Photo by Frank Gormlie

The city engineer told Matt the tree has 2 maybe 3 pins that provide a laser intersect to measure movement. And there has been no movement, no falling. This data shows if anything the main trunk thickening. So – here on one hand, the city plans to cut a Torrey down because it’s suspected of leaning while on the other hand the city has data that shows it is not moving.

Then about a week later, on July 5, another crew appeared on the block. This crew was to take the tree down. And once again, Matt appeared on the scene and spoke to the on-site supervisor, a city forester named Brian Widener. Widener told Matt they were there to chop it down, but after a 30 minute conversation, Matt convinced Brian to call his boss.

Matt recalls the bucket carrying the crew member to begin his buzz saw halted at 10:10 a.m. Thirty minutes later, after the forestry guy spoke to his boss, the crew started up again – but only took off 3 large, lateral limbs.

So, quite probably, if Matt hadn’t been there – the crew would have brought the tree completely down.

This particular Torrey was designated a Heritage Tree back in November 2016, one of 8 so designated in OB (here’s a map of OB Heritage Trees). What does it mean for a tree to have this status?

Issues such as tree health, public safety, and overall function and value of each tree are given more extensive consideration.  Also, alternatives such as sidewalk re-contouring, metal grating, corrective pruning and any other feasible alternatives to removal must be considered first.

Matt told the OB Rag the city looks at a tree such as this one as a liability; if the sidewalk is raised a half inch, the tree has to go. He believes the city crew that came out on July 5 was a sneak attack on the Torrey – the city didn’t want anyone to know.

“The city wants to chop the tree down just because there’s one old complaint from 8 to 9 years ago,” Matt complained.

There’s other residents on the street that also love the old Torrey Pine – and they, like Matt, will resist any effort the city makes to try to remove it.

But – we have to say – thank you Matt Madruga. If OB had more like him, the village would indeed be in safe hands.





{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie September 4, 2018 at 2:24 pm

Hopefully Virginia Wilson can use some of this at the next Urban Forestry Commission meeting – when is it Virginia?


Frank Gormlie September 10, 2018 at 10:47 am

There’s a rumor the Urban Forestry meeting on this Torrey has been postponed, and we await confirmation.


retired botanist September 5, 2018 at 8:17 am

I second thanks to Matt, and the OB Rag for publishing the back story on the history of this heritage tree and how the City has consistently dealt with it in such a non-communicative, non-transparent fashion. As I said in an earlier post per the new forester Widener, I guess we have to keep re-educating these revolving foresters on what this species is all about, and just how protected it is. I don’t care how many neighbors complain…if its a heritage tree, and even more so if its a heritage Torrey pine, they’d better just check their complaints at the door, because these trees are PROTECTED by LAW, not just by a band of local residents.
It is jaw-dropping to me that after ALL that occurred in 2016, after all the dialog about Torrey pines, after all the discourse with the City, with the CFAB Board, with various residents, with the OB Planning Board, with the news coverage, and even with a PBS show, that apparently we STILL have to watchdog every single tree from the blades of the City’s chain saws!!
I expect the September CFAB meeting is approaching fast, and I’m relieved that Virginia will be further armed with this excellent re-cap of the circumstances surrounding the Long Branch Torrey pine.
Again, many thanks, Matt, for your continued vigilance over this particular jewel of San Diego’s tree canopy.


thequeenisalizard September 5, 2018 at 9:54 am

Great up-date Frank. Matt rules the tree with love. Not one neighbor wants this beautiful tree to go!


Vern September 5, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Torrey Pines (and all trees) should be protected and maintained in OB/PL

Cutting down trees when a another new “high-rise” rooftop deck is “buying” a permit at DSD is a poor way to treat the OB/PL landscape.


Ol OB Hippie September 7, 2018 at 1:27 pm

I’ll join the canopy of applause for Matt. It tis unbelievable the way the big city operates. What do we have elected officials for ? have to keep an eye on these people.


chocolate_buddah September 10, 2018 at 12:36 am

The now deceased new author Stuart Wilde in his book “Affirmations” recommends that every individual adopt a tree. In his treatise he also recommends that you go out about two or three o’ clock in the morning to hug it, love it! I took the time for a month to hug it, when there was no one around I cried for it to say I was sorry the way we humans treat our environment.
I think it is a giant maple, a beautiful tree.

I also did this to a dying cherry about five years ago when I’d run by it t by it and gave it love, sat and stretched sending loving thoughts to the tree saying I was sorry our environment was killing it. It miraculously grew back and blossomed out with white flowers. It made me happy. Six month or so the city chopped down the tree. I cried for a week. Love your bushes, flowers, trees and dying bees (carefully move them into the shade). I still pass my maple tree from time to time and send it loving thoughts, vibrations. Whatever.


chocolate_buddah September 10, 2018 at 1:05 am

This is a good website that explains the Indians ceremonial rite of making
trees grow much straighter upright. It’s as simple as a bag of Red Man tobacco.

Ceremonial Use of Tobacco

Good luck.


virginiamae November 16, 2018 at 9:13 pm

UPDATE: Community Forest Advisory Board chair declines to call special meeting about Torrey Pine removal. City will not wait until December 12 to receive the Board’s recommendation, and is very likely to CUT THIS TREE DOWN! The expert opinion is that with corrective pruning and periodic inspection, this tree’s risk rating may be reduced from Moderate to Low. (Low is the best rating on the scale).

If you value this tree, and want it to have the care it is entitled to as a designated Heritage Tree, PLEASE speak up now! Let the City know: City Forester, City Council Member, City Mayor. Post on social media. Wake the neighbors. Do whatever you see fit.

Then, come what may, you will have tried to make a difference.


Bob November 16, 2018 at 9:27 pm

Isn’t it peregrine falcon not peregrine hawk?


retired botanist November 17, 2018 at 10:51 am

This is a very disheartening turn of events and I feel the City is responding like a complete bully on the matter. What’s the hurry here?! The tree is not going to fall down in the next month, although the City tried to use the “bad weather argument” as a reason to railroad the urgency of the Saratoga tree felling in 2016…the weather was gorgeous the entire week when that felling occurred… a totally specious argument.
Last evening I sent a letter to the City’s forester, Mr. Widener, and I would encourage everyone to at least send an email expressing displeasure over the way this is being handled. It only takes 5 minutes- flood his email with comments.
I would also encourage everyone to be on sharp lookout for even the tiniest infraction of the way the City moves forward this…from adequate notice of no parking, should it come to that, to proof (on site) of the specific permit required to fell a heritage tree, proof (as in meeting minutes) that alternatives to felling were adequately addressed and considered, and so on.
As OB will remember, there were MANY violations in the removal of the Saratoga Ave trees, inadequate parking notice being one, and lack of a permit onsite being another, not to mention the complete disregard of the existing ordinances designed to protect Torrey pines. Mark my words, the City will try and make this happen “in the middle of the night” or on a Tuesday mid-morning, or other such time as they think people aren’t paying attention. If I recall, the Saratoga Ave trees were not on the heritage list at the time, which was too bad, but the Long Branch Torrey pine has a long history of community watchdogging. I also recall there was a RIDICULOUS amount of police presence when the Saratoga tree came down…it was never made clear who ordered that, so these are a few points to keep in mind. Sign-holders at busy intersections, hopefully BEFORE anything occurs, can also be effective in galvanizing the community to push back. The mysterious disappearance of many, many cords of wood, are still unaccounted for.
And then there’s the whole question of mitigation! Uh,WHERE are the replacement trees meant to offset the loss of the Saratoga trees? We are now two years on. The City initially said it would replace those 3 trees at a (woefully inadequate) 2:1 ratio, in spite of the industry standard of 30:1 for a tree with girth exceeding 6 feet. OB is still waiting on that matter…
Thanks so much, Virginia, (and Matt and others) for your continued efforts and for keeping OB updated on the status of this beloved tree. As you say, awareness and personal effort can make a difference, and we can only hope this story isn’t over yet. It is time to ‘bang the pots and pans’ and make some serious noise!


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