Point Loma Residents Show Up and Force City to Postpone Palm Tree Chopping for Today – No Promises Made for Tomorrow

by on October 21, 2021 · 6 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The actions of a collection of community residents early Thursday morning resulted in a temporary stay of execution for the historic palm trees on upper Newport Ave.  The city had told a resident on Wednesday they would be back this morning at 7:30 a.m. to cut down the trees and they would be bringing the police. So, the locals rallied and showed up to voice very vocal opposition to the city steamrolling the community.

They did indeed bring the police. Community Relations Officer David Surwilo was there, “to keep the peace,” he said.  But, he also said trees were coming down today so they were not just there to keep the peace, they were there to assist the city crews.

Eventually, there were at least three police vehicles and five or six uniformed officers.  Seemed like overkill when looking at the crowd of mostly retirees who were able to be out there. It really is disheartening to see the police used against the citizens who are protesting what our own civil servants are doing wrong.

The crowd at 7:30 grew to about 30 people eventually as more people noticed what was happening. Additionally, a number of drivers stopped by and asked what was happening and voiced support as well.

City crew truck on left. All photos by Geoff Page.

Surwilo started things off by peaking to the crowd and no one was happy with what he had to say.  Then, Brian Widener, the city forester who is at the heart of this underhanded effort to cut down trees before anyone has any say, spoke. To say he was not well received is an understatement.

This writer asked Widener a simple question, “What is the immediate safety risk that these trees posed?” He refused to answer and just kept referring to the airport’s information.  Widener did not exhibit one bit of reasonableness and refused to postpone the work.  None of the information provided so far has shown that this is any sort of emergency but that’s his story and he was sticking to it.

The crowd was gathered at the corner of Newport and Santa Barbara but the city crews moved to set up at the corner of Santa Monica and Santa Barbara.  Despite Surwilo’s protestation that the crowd needed to stay where they were because the work would start there, the crowd moved to Santa Monica. This was when the three police vehicles showed up.

Everything came to a standstill.  The city’s crews were standing by.  The police and the forester and others talked across the street.  A ridiculous amount of taxpayer dollars were being wasted all because the residents simply wanted a postponement that the city was being intransigent about.  Frankly, the bill for all of this should be delivered to Widener as his decision caused all of this.

Eventually, Surwilo came over and gathered the crowd and the media to announce the city had decided to postpone cutting the trees, for today. The city refused to say when they might resume work. What made no sense and caused additional suspicion was that Surwilo said the No Parking signs would remain.  When asked point blank why the signs would remain if no work was taking place, Surwilo had no response.

The No Parking signs are a major issue too. In this writer’s experience, after many years of construction work in city streets, No Parking signs have to be posted 72 hours in advance. Surwilo said no, it was 48 hours. Confirmation of that is being sought. But, what is true is the signs need to have certain information on them such as the date and time of the work.

The signs that were there were placed yesterday afternoon so they did not even satisfy the 48-hour requirement. None of the required information was on the signs. Two signs in front of 4404 Newport had little stickers on them. On the front was “Thurs.” and on the back was “Fri.” No dates at all.

There is a reason why the city violated the No Parking regulations. The reason is that the signs alert people to what is happening in advance and they did not want that because of what eventually happened. They showed up Tuesday morning and cut the top off a tree at Newport and Venice without No Parking signs.  Were it not for a vigilant resident, Tracy Van DeWalker, the city might have killed more trees before anyone knew about it.

There is ample information to refute the city’s and the airport’s contention that these trees pose a future threat to the airport’s operation. All the community wanted was a little more time that took a sledge hammer presence today to obtain. There is no immediate safety risk, none of this would have been necessary had our civil servants behaved reasonably.

This is not just about trees, it is also about our government being responsive to the citizens instead of acting as if they do not need to listen to us.  We pay their salaries, folks, and in this writer’s experience in private industry, this kind of attitude got a person shown to the door with a banker’s box of personal mementos, immediately. Frankly, Widener needs a box, he has done a miserable job of listening to the public.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page October 21, 2021 at 2:17 pm

Here is the political response from District 2 after being asked to step in and help get a postponement on removing these trees:

Our office has been having discussions with the appropriate agencies involved related to this issue. We are always saddened by removal of trees, but we have a City’s Forester who is committed to increasing the City’s urban tree canopy, maintaining the benefits of trees, and minimizing the risk of trees in an urban environment. He evaluated the proposed removals and made concessions related to which trees had to be removed.

As you are aware the purpose of trimming or removing the identified trees is to ensure the safety of the community and the flying public as planes approach the San Diego International 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. Furthermore, the San Diego Airport Authority is responsible for operations at SAN and is required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and California Public Utilities Code Section 21659(a) 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.

We understand the impact that this has on the community, but unfortunately it is something that must be done to protect the traveling public and community. We will continue to work with the community and involving agencies to ensure the community is aware of any future work that will be conducted.

How’s that for helpful folks?


Frank Gormlie October 21, 2021 at 2:54 pm

Holy mole! I don’t believe any rep from Jen Campbell’s office was out there this morning, so it’s difficult to see how she and her office “understand the impact that this has on the community…” This just happened this week. And as to ensuring “the community is aware of any future work that will be conducted”, I hope her people will be out knocking on doors in the neighborhood the next time Brian the arborist is out and about with the city crew. (I know, you’re probably asking ‘what have you been smokin’?’)


Vern October 21, 2021 at 2:58 pm

Thank you for your efforts, Geoff! And to all the residents/citizens who turned out!

FYI, while we did get a response from Brian Widener, we never received a response from Campbell, Gloria or the city attorney after our inquiry from 10.18.21.


Frank Gormlie October 21, 2021 at 3:04 pm

Where are all the city people clamoring for an urban canopy? Hey, Geoff, the top photo appears to show our friend, David Surwilo, explaining with his hands and arms how the planes come in and almost clip those towering Palms. Can you confirm that?


Geoff Page October 21, 2021 at 5:26 pm

I don’t recall David Surwilo trying to get into anything technical about planes so I don’t think that was what he was gesturing about. But then, I wasn’t listening, just taking pictures so who knows, maybe he does know something about aeronautics!


Rock October 21, 2021 at 10:48 pm

All these trees obstruct the views from 4386 Newport Ave. Who’s the owner/developer and how many dinners did they buy Widener?


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