Initial Report: City Arborist Wants to Cut Down Long Branch Torrey Pine in Next 2 Weeks While Urban Forestry Board Wants a Delay

by on November 15, 2018 · 17 comments

in Ocean Beach

The OB Rag has received an initial report of what came down at yesterday’s meeting of the city’s Urban Forestry Advisory Board regarding the Torrey Pine on Long Branch Ave. in Ocean Beach. We have yet to confirm this, but believe the community needs to know the bad news ASAP. (We will post a follow-up article as soon as we can.)

Yes, it’s bad news.

A paid arborist for the City, Brian Widener, after some kind of “study” of the tree on the 4600 block, issued his report and recommended either remove the tree or do work on and then re-evaluate it.

Yet a witness at the meeting told the OB Rag it sounded like Widener wanted to cut the Torrey down, citing safety concerns. The civilian head of the Board, Anne Fege, told the witness after the meeting she knew the city wanted to cut it after Widener mentioned safety issues about 10 times.  He stressed safety a lot the witness said and also brought up that it is illegal to interfere with the cutting of a tree.

Widener also stated the city is “proactive on the tree” and stated the city will remove it within the next two weeks.

Yet, Widener only had just handed in his report to the Board at the meeting and board members hadn’t had an opportunity to review it. Because of that the CFAB board voted not to make a recommendation to city until they review the arborist’s report.  And they want to vote on it next month.  Our witness iterates the board felt they could not make a decision because he had just gaiven them the report at the meeting.

Widener said the city is doing something in 2 weeks.

The community also does not have a copy of the report, although community representative, Virginia Wilson, is supposed to be sent one.

One of the issues raised at the meeting was the lack of notice to the community. Part of Widener’s recommendation is if the city chose to do work on the Torrey and do an reevaluation, the city would give the community a 30 day notice if it was to be removed. It was mentioned that the tree as an issue would be coming before the OB Planning Board. This was denied by Widener.

So, there we have it. It’s very confusing. On one hand, the board that advises the city on its urban forests wants to delay its decision until next month when it has a chance to even look at the arborist’s report. Meanwhile, the arborist is saying, hey, the city is going to chop it down within the next 2 weeks.

Don’t wait until this is confirmed to be outraged.

Ocean Beach needs to start figuring out its response and neighbors need to be notified now.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist November 15, 2018 at 12:44 pm

Whaaaat?! yeah, sounds like double dutch, as usual.
And while I’m at it, what’s up with the “give notice” part, Mr. Widener? The whole POINT is INVOLVING the community BEFORE the ‘No Parking’ signs go up and the chain saws arrive, not just sending out some directive saying “we’re coming in two weeks to chop down your tree”.
My understanding is that Mr Widener is the City’s Forester, that he replaced Jeremy Barrik sometime around the end of 2016? Regardless of arborist or forester or any other title, it looks like the same MO here that was used in the Saratoga Torrey debacle…that is, one report, issued at the 11th hour, written by the City. Where’s the second opinion?
Thankfully, CFAB did not knee-jerk under the “safety crisis” approach, a much over-used and abused justification, and is taking the time to review and share the report with the community before anyone votes, chops, or signs the death warrant on this tree.
City arborists: Go pick on a Eucalyptus instead- they’re WAY more dangerous!


OB Joe November 15, 2018 at 8:23 pm

Calling all Torrey Pine lovers! This is serious. Locals saved this very same tree about 6 years ago – so,now WTF????


bodysurferbob November 15, 2018 at 8:32 pm

calling richard agee, geoff, kathy, colleen, virginia, nick, rick c, kip, the sisters on saratoga, frank, matt, carole, denine and the other usual suspects.


bodysurferbob November 15, 2018 at 8:33 pm

hey, patty, what happened to my avatar? i used to have one – the boogie board in wave.


Ol OB Hippie November 15, 2018 at 8:34 pm

How does one obtain an avatar in the first place? One who makes comments, like me.


editordude November 15, 2018 at 8:36 pm

Having an avatar as a commenter here on the OB Rag is simple. Just email Patty at the tech desk your image :


leave the tree alone November 15, 2018 at 11:19 pm

i live on this block. what can we do?


virginiamae November 16, 2018 at 11:08 am

URGENT: The arborist’s report was released to the Community Forest Advisory Board at 5:30 pm Wednesday, November 14th. Mr. Widener requested individual input from board members, BY THIS MORNING, to help the city make their “final determination.” We were told that the decision would not be delayed until our next regular meeting on December 12th. As a result, there is a call for a special meeting.

Please submit your input, concerns, comments, opinions ASAP, today would be good, for consideration:

I hope to have an update after 1:00 today.


Tracy November 17, 2018 at 10:46 pm

Sorry. Just read this but I sent an email nonetheless saying the community should have the opportunity to review the report and we should have been notified.

We should also have the opportunity to get a second opinion before they go storming in to chop it down.


Frank Gormlie November 16, 2018 at 10:15 am

Just got off the phone with Matt, who lives right next to the Torrey Pine. He spoke with Brian Widener, the city arborist, and came away with the deep impression Widener lacked sufficient credentials and really didn’t know what he was doing. Matt has been one of the vigilant neighbors on the 4600 block of Long Branch – and knows a thing or 2 about this tree.


virginiamae November 16, 2018 at 6:09 pm

Sorry, nothing to report this afternoon. All I have is a growing list of questions. There probably won’t be any change over the weekend. A petition might be helpful: would anyone care to get one going before Monday?


Tracy November 17, 2018 at 10:36 pm

The OBPB is aware of the tree due to Virginia’s diligent and concerned reporting about the tree.

I don’t think the tree has ever been actually placed on the OBPB agenda but I’ve only been on the board since September. I would suggest contacting the Board chair and asking what the Board can do to help. Our next meeting is December 5.


kh November 17, 2018 at 11:10 pm

Can someone share the report?

Attention city:
If you want to patronize us properly, you have to actually allow our citizen advisory boards to review these items squarely within their preview before you ignore them.

Otherwise quit pretending and just cut it down in the middle of the night.


kh November 17, 2018 at 11:11 pm



retired botanist November 18, 2018 at 3:40 pm

A good request, kh. Maybe the Rag can distill the report here?….again, harking back to 2016, one of the first complaints was that the initial Saratoga tree report was written by the City for the City. Hmm, any bias/conflict of interest towards creating a report that justified the City’s desire, in an attempt to avoid any potential future liability, to use the “threat to public safety” and “urgency” cards to fell that tree right away? Ya think?
And then, once the community reviewed that report, compared it to the conflicting and flawed assessments leading up it, OB asked for an additional, independent assessment. That’s when the #$%# hit the fan.
First, what non City-employed arborist is going to want to buck up against the City, right? Then, there actually was a second (somewhat cursory, given the time constraints) assessment, but that arborist decided at the 11th hour that he didn’t want to commit his opinion of low risk in print until further tests on the tree were made. Understandable. Ok, so let’s give the tree a reprieve so further tests (such as water-loading in the crown) could be made.
Then surprise! The City refused to wait and review the situation (as required for Torrey pines) and within 4 days the tree was felled.
And now? The City has declined to wait until a Dec 12 meeting? Really? Something smells so familiar….


Kathy Blavatt November 18, 2018 at 5:12 am

Keep a watchful eye out over the tree during the holidays. The palms that were being cut down on Santa Barbara Street, years back, were being cut down on a holiday weekend! Nothing suspicious about that?!!
I wounder how much extra pay those guys got for working a weekend and a holiday?
We stopped them by getting the press there, thanks again to Richard Agee, and help from Cynthia Conger.


Laurel November 18, 2018 at 10:06 am

I am right there with you, Kathy.
There’s a reason why these trees are protected .
Obviously somebody with money and power
wants this tree for the holidays.
Instead of cutting down Torrey Pines,
we should be planting more of these trees
all over our community. there is this new phobia
going around it’s “fear of trees”.
Of course we understand when the tree is unhealthy,
and is determined that it will fall!
That is danger, and that it’s a risk we cannot take
within our community.
But some of our trees were planted by Kip and the OB Greens.
Some of these trees are just beginning to provide much needed shade
during the hot, tourist- infested months of July , August, and September.
If we allow our trees to be chopped down without a murmer from our townspeople,
especially trees that are PROTECTED by law, then we will have no
incentive to plant any more, and the tree- haters will win in OB.
We would like the tree- haters to go away.


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