Point Loma House Crushed by Pine Tree Was a Vacation Rental

by on January 21, 2019 · 25 comments

in Civil Rights

VRBO ad for house crushed by pine tree.

The 2-story house in Point Loma that was crushed by a falling pine tree and in which two people were killed, was a short-term vacation rental.

The house at 4404 Santa Monica Avenue is listed on VRBO – a major vacation rental host site – for an average of $193 a night. And tragically, you can see the huge tree that collapsed in the background on the main photo.

The identities of the 2 killed have not been released. They were in an upstairs bedroom when the massive tree fell. There’s an unconfirmed report that they were in town for a funeral. A 3rd person was downstairs and was reportedly uninjured.

The tree was tall, perhaps 75 to 90 feet in height, and very wide. It may be a Torrey Pine. With high winds and a very saturated soil, the tree perhaps was toppled by a combination of those factors.

Fox5 reported residents in Point Loma Heights neighborhood expressed concerns about the huge pine tree before it crashed.

The Torrey pine measuring nearly 90 feet tall crushed the upper floor of a two-story house in the 4400 block of Santa Monica Avenue around 6 a.m. killing the two people inside, police confirmed.

“A week earlier, my husband had said the tree — if it ever falls — it’s going to be an issue,” said resident Jamie Campbell. Fox5

(Hat tip to Linda Taggert)

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam January 21, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Such a tragedy. Perhaps its time to take down some of the other non-native torrey pines, such as those on Saratoga. Those trees’ roots have grown over the curb, almost onto the street. Its only a matter of time before they become completely unstable as well.


Geoff Page January 21, 2019 at 6:26 pm

There is no such thing as a non-native Torrey Pine. Do a little reading and you will see that these trees have an incredible root system. It fans out in a relatively shallow pattern for a good distance and it has a deep taproot. If the shallow root system is damaged, the tree will have a problem. I suspect this is what happened in Pacific Beach. The street immediately adjacent to the Torrey that fell had a big new concrete patch with new curb and gutter. My guess is the roots into the street were damaged or removed. On the other side was an apartment building. In this case, the tree is in a yard on a lot with two houses. One has to wonder if the root system was damaged by all of that.


Frank Gormlie January 21, 2019 at 6:51 pm

Thank you Geoff! Sam, repeat after me: “Torrey Pines are native. Torrey Pines are native. Torrey Pines are native.”


Sam January 21, 2019 at 7:17 pm

They may be native to the area, but according to an article in the OB Rag dated August 8, 2016, these trees were planted by a county employee named David Cobb, charged with nursing the young trees that would later be planted along the highway as a WPA beautification project, NOT to be planted in a residential neighborhood where they would one day surely pose a threat to the community. It seems the trees were planted after the WPA beautification project was scrapped, so I can only infer that Mr. Cobb then took it upon himself to go around and plant these trees all willy nilly, most likely without permits.

I say the city should re-examine the health of these trees considering the tragedy of this weekends events.


I love trees too, but only when they are safe to those around them!


Frank Gormlie January 22, 2019 at 11:18 am

Sam, agree with you last statement about how the city should examine the health of large trees, especially after giant rains; but many of these trees are on private property. Disagree with the rest.


Kari moen January 24, 2019 at 5:42 pm

So how long ago did the cement and curb go in?


Geoff Page January 25, 2019 at 12:59 pm

I don’t know when the concrete patch and the curb went in but I do know it was before the tree fell because I went over right after the accident to see if I could confirm it was a Torrey pine, which it was.


retired botanist January 21, 2019 at 8:33 pm

This was indeed a very sad and unusual event and my condolences include all of the adjacent community, but its important to keep the facts in mind. The City has a quite vigilant program for the care and maintenance of its large street trees on public property. This tree was not on public property.
Torrey pines, specifically native to San Diego, have a distinctive growth pattern with a typically wide-spreading canopy and, as Geoff said, a very deep tap root supported by extensive lateral roots. Any large tree, Torrey or otherwise, that is not pruned properly to maintain an appropriate height and width for its girth, can become too tall and top heavy, a situation exacerbated if the lateral limbs are continually cut without reducing the crown, the root system is hemmed in or obstructed by too small an enclosure, the tree is growing on a steep slope, and/or if unusual storm events lead to water-logging in the crown. It would appear all of these factors may have played a part in this instance.
To clarify the status of the Torrey pines in OB, several of those that occur on public property have been identified as Heritage trees and the City monitors them regularly. My understanding is that the City does not have jurisdiction over trees that are situated on private land, unless the aspect of the tree was to encroach public space and create a hazard.
Mr. Cobb did a a great service to OB by planting those beautiful trees (no permit required then) way back when, so let’s not bash him for his efforts, nor start the chain saws gunning for every Torrey pine. This was a terrible freak accident likely caused by a “perfect storm” of circumstances. If you look at this tree aerially on Google Earth, you will also note that it is the only tree of that height along that corridor. For contrast, note the other Torrey pine that is on the northeast corner of Santa Monica and Santa Barbara St- 1/2 as high and twice as wide.


Geoff Page January 22, 2019 at 12:22 pm

To add to what retired botanists wrote. Torrey pines on private, developed property, are not protected. I learned this way back in 1985 when I tried to save a tree that was going to be cut down to build condos. If the property has not been previously developed, then the tree may be protected. This tree was clearly on private property.


Ian January 23, 2019 at 6:03 pm

For what it’s worth, the trees on Saratoga haven’t been trimmed or maintained, by the city, in the last 4 years.

The dangerous ones, that you protested being removed, were removed. But the ones that remain were left alone, and haven’t been touched since (nor were they the two years prior).

They do seem to be in good health, and if they fall, they will most likely fall into, and across the street, because of the angle that they lean.

I believe that the city, or SDG&E have them on schedule for trimming, since they are starting to encroach on the power lines.


Geoff Page January 24, 2019 at 2:06 pm


There was nothing wrong with the trees that the city removed on Saratoga, had that been the case, why didn’t they explain that before they took action? Why did they sneak in there with no advance notice to remove them? No, they only “explained” after and they had no evidence to show the trees were dangerous. The explanations were ridiculous. The city wanted them gone because they were uplifting the pavement. Killing those two huge trees was a crime pure and simple. The only reason any are left there now is because of the community outcry and the formation of an organization that now monitors the trees.


Ian January 24, 2019 at 2:48 pm

I am not here to argue the health of the trees. I am not an expert. I believed the city’s experts, and think they did the right thing, given the risk and their liability.

I am just here to counter the above posters contention that the remaining trees are vigilantly cared for and maintained. They are not.


Geoff Page January 25, 2019 at 1:06 pm

If you believe the city without question, you are making a big mistake, Ian. The city’s evidence that the trees were in danger was laughable. They did not perform a serious assessment of those trees that had just weathered 50-60 miles per hour of winds and stood tall. That was much more wind than what toppled the tree on Santa Monica.


retired botanist January 25, 2019 at 4:18 pm

Well, Ian, let’s just hope that those trees ARE appropriately monitored and recorded, as I would like/hope to believe they are, now they are included in the Heritage Tree Program and have further protected status from the vagaries of non-expert perspectives. It would be a dangerous legal day for the City to make another mistake in that regard. Wind, given as the reason the Saratoga trees were felled, as Geoff says, was a totally specious factor. And that particular City Forester has moved on. Now we have a new Forester, a more robust (attentive?) City CFAB, and a far more vigilant community eye on the preservation of these precious specimens of a nearly extinct species. Let’s hope we can enjoy these Saratoga Torreys for another decade! I for one, look forward to collecting the fallen needles for my basket making, as I have done since 1988! These are incredibly special trees, enjoy them instead of worrying about them! :)


retired botanist January 24, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Thank you, Geoff. I posted earlier in today’s column (re the Long Branch tree kerfuffle) clarification on Ian’s comment. Initially, I wasn’t going to respond, not wanting to “beat a dead tree” as it were, but it annoys me when assumptions are made, on either side of the topic. I repost the comment here:
“…First, the dangerous nature of the removed trees was, and still is, debatable. Second, these large trees don’t necessarily have to be trimmed every year, and third, unless Ian is in close contact w/ the City’s admin record of tree visits and assessments, he has no idea whether O&M visits have been made over the past 2 years. A visit does not always include trimming!”
With all the good work that has been done to protect and maintain these PUBLIC PROPERTY trees since the Saratoga fellings, and with the dialog that has been established with the City’s CFAB group, comments like Ian’s are unfortunately counter productive.


Geoff Page January 24, 2019 at 3:10 pm

retired botanist, yes your comment sent me looking for Ian’s immediately so I could say something. The “explanation” I got from the city was ludicrous. I had intended to write it all up but I was so saddened by losing those trees, I lost heart. I think I’ll go back into it and do that. Thanks for your contributions to the discussion.


Ian January 24, 2019 at 3:14 pm

As I stated in the other post, you may want to improve your language, if you want to avoid such confusion.

The trees are not vigilantly mantained. Maybe they are vigilantly monitored or inspected. But “vigilantly maintained”, they are not.

I provided facts, and my opinion: that they seem to be in good health.

There is no other person with a closer relationship to these trees than me.

The notion that my factual comments are counter productive is laughable. Sharpen your pencil, please.


thequeenisalizard January 22, 2019 at 10:35 am

That was a horrible tragedy, but why does the headline imply vacation rentals had something to do with it. And before everyone starts screaming, I am completely against and oppose vacation rentals.


Frank Gormlie January 22, 2019 at 11:52 am

I want whatever you’re smoking.


thequeenisalizard January 23, 2019 at 9:45 am

Ya, reading it again, what was supposed to be sarcasm just doesn’t very work without voice inflection. It would be interesting to know if that property was legally permitted to operate as a Vacation Rental. Do you know?


kh January 23, 2019 at 1:41 pm

There is no such thing as a legal vacation rental unless you’re in a commercial zone or RM5-12 zone. Not that it’s relevant.


Rufus January 22, 2019 at 6:43 pm

It looks like that tree was on the neighbor’s property and was not maintained. I hope the neighbor has good insurance!

I have a massive silver dollar eucalyptus planted in 1913 within striking distance of my bedroom. Although it’s painful to my wallet, I have a certified arborist and his crew trim it every two years, That’s better than being squished by the tree one stormy night!!


Vern January 23, 2019 at 6:54 am

Those eucalyptus trees need a really good root system with well-draining soil.


kh January 23, 2019 at 1:44 pm

The tree canopy looked maintained in my uneducated opinion (there are clearly areas that had been trimmed to thin it out).

But the roots look tiny. Maybe they are rotted… or the neighbor cut or damaged them when he built the garage or driveway too close to it, that could be to blame. Either way it looks like it has been a ticking time bomb for awhile.


Geoff Page January 29, 2019 at 10:44 am

I took a look at the root ball and it was clearly obvious that several large roots had been severed some time ago. There were clear, flat cuts of major shallow roots on the west side of the tree. Judging by the look of the cuts, they were done some time ago. Cutting those shallow roots destroyed the tree’s ability to hold itself on the west side against wind coming from that direction.


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