Media Reports on Point Loma Palm Tree Removal Controversy

by on October 22, 2021 · 7 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

Here are other media reports on the Palm Tree controversy raging in Point Loma this week.

The first is from ABC 10News:

Some Ocean Beach residents gathered to protest the removal of palm trees in their neighborhood Thursday morning. The City of San Diego and Federal Aviation Administration have cited a row of palm trees as a potential threat to airplanes traveling to and from San Diego International Airport.

Several neighbors told ABC 10News that the trees were planted in the 1920s by San Diego pioneer John Spreckels, and they feel the trees add character to Ocean Beach. While the trees hold some historical value, city officials, the FAA, and San Diego Airport leaders believe it is time for them to come down.

“Based on the data of the Airport Authority — we worked with them — they identified almost two dozen trees that are encroaching into the airspace and that’s final at this point,” said Brian Widner, the city forester for the City of San Diego. On Thursday morning, Widner stood on Santa Monica Avenue and spoke to residents as crews arrived to cut down the beloved palm trees.

One resident said of the plan, “They knew very well that nobody has time to get attorneys involved, to get government oversight involved; I think this was being done very quickly to avoid the recourse that you’re referring to.” Several residents said they were not properly notified about the tree removal. They noted that mailed materials they received were postmarked Oct. 8, but they did not receive the letters until late last week.

Since Monday, city crews have gone to the neighborhood in preparation for the trees to be cut down, but several neighbors showed up to block them. One resident, Tracy Van De Walker, said, “They’re going to have to physically remove me. I’ve been doing it for the last two days. I’ve been chasing them off for the last two days.”

There are some residents who are in favor of seeing the trees gone. One of them, John Collom, told ABC 10News, “They are really a nuisance because the city can’t manicure them periodically. They drop residue and residents who are not lazy, come out and clean it up. Many of these residents don’t do anything to clean up the neighborhood.” City crews did not take the trees down on Thursday, but one resident said, “I have a suspicion that they’re going to be back Monday morning.”

ABC 10News reached out to the FAA and City of San Diego about the concerns regarding the trees, but both did not respond as of the publication of this story.

And here’s the San Diego Union-Tribune report from this morning:

For decades, towering palm trees have lined the streets of Ocean Beach. Longtime residents describe the trees as iconic, and say they are part of the fabric of the seaside community. It was this deep appreciation, residents say, that motivated about two dozen people Thursday to protest the removal of eight trees.

The palms in question are along Newport Avenue and Santa Barbara Street and are about 70 feet tall, residents say. It’s their height that’s causing the problem.

Every five to 10 years, San Diego International Airport conducts a survey to ensure no obstacles protrude so far into the sky that they could interfere with the sensitive navigation sensors pilots rely on to fly when visibility is low. How much space planes need to fly safely in these circumstances isn’t determined by the airport, though. It’s a buffer zone the Federal Aviation Administration sets.

 Airport and city officials said the survey, which took about two years, found that the eight Ocean Beach palms, and about a dozen other palms in the Bankers Hill area, were found to be obstructing that buffer zone. “According to the FAA, during inclement weather conditions these trees may interfere with the designated flight path and potentially cause arriving planes to be diverted away from the airport,” San Diego city officials said.

Residents have pushed back against that determination, though, because, technically, some of the trees aren’t too tall — yet. The FAA advises that airports add 10 feet to any tree they measure during their surveys because the surveys are done infrequently, and trees never stop growing. The additional 10 feet assumes each of the trees will grow about 2.5 feet each year, a growth figure that a city arborist said is reasonable. Residents who live near the trees disagree.

Currently, six of the eight palm trees aren’t penetrating the safety zone, although some are less than a foot away, according to figures provided by the airport.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, which is responsible for airport operations, said in a statement that it is required to “proactively mitigate and prevent future effects on airport operations by ensuring vegetation does not block or impair instrument or visual operations at the airport.”

“The City of San Diego-owned palm trees located in the public right-of-way adjacent to the neighboring homes exceeds or will soon exceed acceptable elevations under federal standards, intruding into the airspace that surrounds the airport,” the statement read.

Tracy Van De Walker, who has lived in Ocean Beach for 25 years, was one of the organizers of Thursday’s protest. She said she and her husband were first notified that the palm trees would be removed in a letter that was postmarked Oct. 12, but that they didn’t open until Oct. 14.

The letter, sent by a San Diego International Airport planning manager, explained that the trees obstructed the protected airspace that surrounds the airport, but provided few additional details. Van De Walker said she and other community members had many questions about the decision to remove the trees, but struggled to get additional information from the city or the airport.

“The whole process has seemed really dishonest to us,” Van De Walker said Thursday.

On Tuesday, city crews arrived and started chopping the trees down. At least one palm was removed, but before another tree could be cut, Van De Walker placed herself at the base of the palm, preventing crews from felling it. Van De Walker followed crews around and foiled several attempts to cut the trees before they gave up, she said. Crews tried again Wednesday, but Van De Walker again placed herself between crews and one of the trees.

She said many community members care deeply for the giant palms. “These tree-lined streets are a part of Ocean Beach. They are iconic. They’re a part of our history. They are part of what make Ocean Beach Ocean Beach.”

This isn’t the first time Ocean Beach residents have fought to save palm trees. In 2005, a property owner requested that the city remove some palms near Santa Barbara Street and Niagara Avenue, just a block away from the palms that are currently slated for removal. The resident had complained that fallen fronds had damaged her roof.

The city sent crews to cut down the trees and managed to remove a few before other community members noticed the work and stood underneath the palms to prevent further chopping. Ultimately, the trees were saved after officials promised to trim them at least annually.

The city said in a statement on Thursday that it plans to work with nearby property owners to replace the palms with new leaf trees that are native to the region.

“In addition to providing shade and lowering temperatures, native trees support the City’s climate action goals of removing air pollution, reducing storm water runoff, and creating a more sustainable and resilient San Diego,” the statement read.

It is unclear when work to remove the Ocean Beach trees will resume.

KUSI also had a video report and added this to their online text –  which was definitely a good idea (send complaints to Mayor Gloria and Jen Campbell):

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie October 22, 2021 at 10:51 am

KUSI has great coverage by Dan Plante video

Glad Channel 10 had coverage also.

Thank you to the media. No doubt without you the trees would have been chopped down and residents arrested.


Frank Gormlie October 22, 2021 at 11:03 am

And don’t forget to thank that little tiny blog, the OB Rag, for getting the big media involved, and thanks to Tracy and Geoff for making it happen.


Debbie October 22, 2021 at 11:58 am


Thank you to all :-)


Frank Gormlie October 22, 2021 at 11:26 am

Much as I detest KUSI’s general stance, they do have good local news on occasion, and their report was the best one.


kh October 22, 2021 at 12:40 pm

KUSI consistently has the most in-depth coverage of OB issues, regardless of the apparent political leanings of management. The other local networks only seem interested in puff pieces and death.


Frank Gormlie October 22, 2021 at 12:54 pm

At least Dan Plante lives in OB.


Mike Anderson August 11, 2022 at 9:16 pm

Removing trees is a sad process, but if it threatens incoming or outgoing traffic, it’s best to remove them. We can always find a spot to plant new trees. Better to find an arborist who can help you with that process as there’s more planning than what meets the eye to successfully plant and maintain new trees. Thanks for sharing.


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