OB Planners Review Parks, Sick Torrey Pines and ‘Granny Flats’

by on June 7, 2021 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach

Latest removal of Torrey Pine on Saratoga. Photo by Sean Thompson

By Geoff Page

Parks and sick Torrey pine trees were highlights of the Ocean Beach Planning Board’s regular monthly meeting, Wednesday, June 2. During the city’s presentation about the Torreys, something was learned about the Long Branch Torrey everyone fought to save a few years ago.  It was learned that fight was not even necessary.

Torrey Pines

There was a presentation by City Forester Brian Widener. He first gave an update on the second dead Torrey Pine on Saratoga Ave. Just days before the meeting, the dead tree was removed. Widener explained that the city treated the sick tree with insecticide in July 2020 but by January this year it was dead, a victim of the turpentine beetle.

Widener then devoted most of his time to the leaning Torrey on Long Branch Ave. that the community fought hard to keep years ago when the city wanted to take it down.  The reason they wanted to remove it was because of the lean and the fear it might fall on the houses across the street.  Turns out, that was bullpucky.

Unbeknownst to anyone during the fight to save this tree was that there is a survey nail in the side of the tree. Widener explained that the nail is measured every six months. Here is what Widener then said:

“There hasn’t been a lot of movement in the tree over the last almost 20 years since the nail was put into the tree.”

So, the city was either lying to the community when they said the tree needed to come out because it was leaning or they had no idea someone was measuring the tree for 20 years.

The city is taking great pains to care for this tree now but it was clear Widener was preparing the community for what might happen in the future.  The biggest concerns began with a large limb that cracked and had to be removed in April.

The tree was also treated with insecticide because of the beetles. Widener showed pictures of the beetles and tree limbs that were infested. He said the city is monitoring the tree weekly.  It is understandable why because a leaning dead tree would need immediate removal.

Widener made two other interesting comments.  He said the city streets department had been notified not to repair the uplifted street so that no root damage occurred during construction.  One has to wonder if this precaution had been followed on the two, healthy Torreys on the west end of Saratoga or the Torrey that fell in Pacific Beach, those trees might still be standing.

There were major street repairs immediately adjacent to the two westerly Torreys on the north side of Saratoga.  A very large road patch and curb and gutter replacement could also be seen on the east side of that tree. Torreys put out an array of shallow roots that makes them very stable. Cutting roots on a large tree would be like cutting cables that support large steel towers.

Widener also mentioned some construction that took place nearby that may have damaged some roots.  Behind the sidewalk behind the tree is a new approximately three to four foot retaining wall.  It appears to be a block wall covered with a stucco-like material.  The wall is topped by three feet of wooden fence.  It is over six feet tall and is in violation of the Municipal Code for fences on the street.

A block wall is an inflexible structure, any significant movement will crack the wall.  It would not seem like an ideal place to build an inflexible wall with the tree only a few feet away. Block walls sit on footings, basically concrete-filled trenches of various widths and depths that have steel reinforcement bar in them.  These footings support the wall built above and tie into it with the steel rebar.

Anyone digging a footing trench in this location had to encounter many roots and probably damaged a great many.  Unfortunately, there was no permit for the wall and it probably did not require one, so there was no inspection. The question would be whether or not it is illegal to damage the roots of a protected Torrey pine, even if the roots are on private property.

Beyond the question of legality, would be the questions of common sense and consideration. If the property owner allowed the root cutting, in order to build the wall they specifically wanted, and made no attempt to accommodate the tree’s root system, then common sense was lacking, as was consideration for others.

However, the eyes of an expert are not necessary to see the tree is in serious trouble and the wall can’t be blamed for that. But, it didn’t help.

The issue of safety came up and there was mention of the tree that fell over on Santa Monica and killed two people. The roots on that tree had clearly been compromised by construction of a garage on the adjacent property.  The severed roots were visible as the root ball laid on its side.  The wind blew over a healthy tree that had lost its anchorage.


The City of San Diego’s proposed Parks Master Plan is out and open for public comment.  Go to this website and scroll all the way to the bottom.  The documents and the place to make an on-line comment are at the very bottom. https://www.sandiego.gov/parks-for-all-of-us

The OBPB’s own parks proposal was the major part of the park discussion.  The board created an ad hoc subcommittee in May of 2020 to review the surrounding parks and provide suggestions for amenities and improvements. The result of that work was presented at the April 2021 OB meeting.

The ad hoc subcommittee report was comprehensive and professionally done.  The full OB board listened to the presentation in April and sent the report back to the subcommittee to incorporate some of the suggestions from the meeting and, most importantly, obtain feedback.  This is where things seem to have gone a bit off track.

It was noted that the OB parks report contained parks that were not within the planning board boundaries.  These included Robb Field and Dusty Rhodes parks that are with the Mission Bay Park Committee’s area.  Collier Park was included and it is with the Peninsula Community Planning Board area.

In the April board meeting it was suggested the subcommittee contact the other organizations like the Peninsula Community Planning Board, the Dusty Rhodes and the Robb Field Park Committees and obtain feedback. It was also clear that the subcommittee had not obtained much community input having contacted approximately 20 people at best.  It was not clear if these few contacts covered all seven of the parks in the proposal.

Two months later and the parks proposal was back before the board. The ad hoc subcommittee chair Nicole Ueno explained what had been done since April. They had sought

approval of the OB plan from the PCPB, Mission Bay Park Committee, and the Dusty Rhodes Park Committee.

Where things seem to have gone off track was the difference between approval and feedback. The board’s direction after the April meeting was to obtain feedback on its proposals, not to seek approval of what was already in the report.  This was only a draft; it had not even been approved by the OBPB.  It should only have been presented for feedback to take back to the subcommittee, it was not ready for approval.

It was also clear that community input was not solicited. At one point Ueno commented that she would not know how to do that. Ueno admitted this would be important “at a certain point.”

The PCPB did not approve the proposal because the OBPB had not yet approved it.  The PCPB’s Parks subcommittee did approve it but the subcommittee consisted of three people, one of whom recused herself because she was also on the OB board’s ad hoc parks subcommittee.  This could hardly be deemed community input.

According to Ueno, the Mission Bay Park Committee approved the proposals for its parks explaining that most were already on their unfunded and funded lists. The Dusty Rhodes Park Committee approved it with similar comments.

After much discussion about the lack of community input and that the report contains a number of park recommendations the board has already approved in past years, a motion was made, surprisingly, to approve the proposal with a few changes.

Two board members spoke up about how the direction from the April meeting had not been followed and felt the lack of community input made the proposal incomplete.  The work did not feel like it was done and recommended it go back to the subcommittee.  These two were in the minority and the motion to approve passed.

To an outside observer, it appeared that everyone may have been tired of dealing with this and wanted to get it off the table.  The reality is that the chances of getting most of what is in the proposal any time soon are dim considering the city’s finances, which may have also affected the vote.  What can use some effort is pushing for the funded improvements to get done.

California State Housing Bills

Deanna Spehn, state senator Toni Atkins’s Policy Director, gave a rundown of the various housing bills in Sacramento.  The demise of the single-family neighborhoods – in fact all residential zoning – was starkly apparent in SB 9.  This senate bill will allow an owner to split a single-family lot in two and build a housing unit and an accessory dwelling unit on each half.  A lot that once held a single home would now have four homes on it.

Spehn said SB 9 would have a provision in it that would prohibit short term vacation rentals.  She did not say how this would be enforced of course.  Regardless, this is small consolation.

  • SB 8 and SB 330 are bills intended to “streamline” housing production. Both bills are titled the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 with SB 330 intended to support SB 8.
  • SB 10 allows cities to zone for up to 10 homes in transit rich or jobs rich areas. How transit rich and jobs rich will be determined is yet to be seen.
  • SB 290 improves and clarifies the state’s Density Bonus statute to ensure it achieves its intended outcome of increasing affordable housing production.  This seems to be aimed at student housing needs.
  • SB 477 requires cities to make detailed housing reports to the state.
  • SB 478 removes lot sizes and floor area ratios from consideration when permitting multi-family units in multi-family zoned areas. This will kill even those zoning designations.
  • SB 791 is titled the California Surplus Land Unit and makes it a priority to provide housing on surplus public lands.  This could affect development at the city’s Sports Arena property, for example.

4636 Del Monte Ave. Project

Two things were notable about this project to convert an existing house into a companion unit and build two new structures behind it.  The first thing was learning that the existing one-story home will remain unchanged as two very modern, two-story buildings are placed behind it.  The second notable thing was the architect’s arrogant remarks when a board member asked a question about the first thing.

Board member Tracy Dezenzo asked if any thought had gone into doing something to the main house to have it fit better with the two additions because the way it looked in the presentation was jarring. This was a logical question seeing the renderings.

Dezenzo asked if they had considered at least painting the front house to match the two new additions, the additions being a rust and gray barnwood style and the existing house being light-colored stucco. The responses were swift and illustrative of the egos found in the architectural profession.

Local architect Steven Lombardi said:

“There was no interest in doing that.” “No, I don’t see any point in that.” “I can’t say that I appreciate your comment.” “It was not something we had an interest in.”

“The discussion of how to match the neighborhood is probably not a good conversation to have.”

Then he said the following to justify no money being spent on the existing home:

“I want to keep traditional buildings exactly the way they are and let the new buildings speak for themselves.”

In the pantheon of disingenuous comments developers have made about projects, that one ranks up there. A betting person would do all right to bet that this property will be back one day soon to deal with the front house.

Architects consider themselves artists and there certainly is an element of art to what they do.  But, because what they do is applied to work that performs a practical function, it is only partly art.  Some architects, unfortunately, assume the personality of artists and do not suffer lightly comments about their work from regular people who are not artists and can’t appreciate their art.

Dezenzo’s question was completely appropriate, the response was not. Anyone who looks at the renderings showing all three structures would have the same reaction, that it looks odd.

The listed owners of the property are Thomas and Kristin Carroll.  This project has the earmarks of a developer driven project.  An offer was made six days after the property was listed in April 2020 and it was declared sold a month after it was listed. That it has already been designed for these improvements and nothing is being done to the front house are further indications of the kind of project this is.

This lot is zoned RM-1-1, a designation that allows one dwelling unit per 3,000 square feet.  This project is on a 7,000 square foot lot.  The only reason this project can have the three units is thanks to the new ridiculously loose laws governing accessory dwelling units. By declaring the existing house the companion unit, the developer is free to add two more units.

It’s not only the single-family zoning that is being destroyed by this push to provide additional housing any way possible, it is every residential zone.

4742 – 4763 Niagara Ave.

This project was another addition of a 1,021 accessory dwelling unit to an existing multiple dwelling unit development.  Unfortunately, the board put this item on its consent agenda so it was not presented at the meeting.  Anyone who wanted to see what this project was about would have had to attend the OBPB’s Project Review subcommittee meeting.

The consent agenda is used to save time in public meetings but using it for planning board meetings is very questionable.  It is hard enough to get the public’s attention for a full planning board meeting, much less a subcommittee meeting. To think that a subcommittee meeting alone allows sufficient opportunity for public participation in project review is being overly optimistic.

The planning boards need to provide every opportunity they can for this participation.  The Project Review subcommittee has the job or reviewing the projects and providing recommendations on those projects.  To leave the decision to a subcommittee and not provide a presentation to the full board voting on the projects does not seem to be worth saving a few minutes on a busy agenda.

The board is quick to point out that an item can be removed from the consent agenda simply by a request from the public or the board.  But, the incentive to do so is often lacking when there is a busy agenda ahead.

Other news

  • The board voted to rename a volleyball court at the beach after Ocean Beach volleyball legend George Stepanof who has been called the Father of Beach Volleyball.
  • The board voted to create an ad hoc subcommittee to come up with a list of proposals for the city’s Capital Improvement Process, or CIP.  This occurs every year as the planning boards forward lists of projects to the city for consideration.




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