Palm Trees Lose in Court; Point Loma Residents Vow to Block City Crews

by on November 10, 2021 · 20 comments

in Ocean Beach

The iconic palm trees of Point Loma did not have a sympathetic judge in Federal Court yesterday. On the narrow issue of “property rights,” the judge ruled that the residents who have targeted palms in their right-of-way do not have have the property rights to deny the city and FAA the ability to chop down the trees.

According to KUSI and Marc Applbaum, the attorney hired by a Point Loma couple, no paperwork was required or issued by the city or airport in court to show why the palm trees needed to be chopped down for an “emergency.” Apparently, Judge Cynthia A. Bashant did not require any documentation to prove the “emergency” – so the residents still do not know what the reasons are for the hurried state of affairs.

The hearing was less than ten minutes long, reportedly. The judge lifted the injunction against the city on moving forward with the chain saws.

Yet, some residents, at least, are vowing to maintain their vigilance and block city crews from cutting down any more of the trees.

There may be some leeway, however, as the judge told Applbaum there may be some basis for an appeal if he found other grounds besides a property right one.

OB and Point Loma residents need to back up some and look at the situation more historically. History can help us with a perspective.

For example, what property rights did the citizens of OB use in blocking the construction of the harmful jetty the city and the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to erect at North Beach in 1970? None.

What property rights were at issue when the good folks of Ocean Beach blocked the city from building apartments on city-owned land that became Collier Park? None.

What property rights were the basis for the community of OB’s rejection of the original Precise Plan that would have destroyed the community’s waterfront and created a “Miami Beach?” None.

What property rights were exercised when the city relented and decided not to remove OB’s iconic firepits? None.

What were the property rights when a small band of residents blocked the opening of an X-rated movie theater on Newport Avenue? None.

What property rights were utilized when residents on Long Branch Avenue stopped the city from cutting down a large Torrey Pine in the right-of-way? None.

What were the property rights of the community when OBceans stopped the city from closing down the OB Library last decade? None.

Time and time again, the city has tried to exert a power over the community that had no consensus within the community.

Perhaps, it is one of those times again where the citizens must exercise its power over an autocratic, bureaucratic, non-transparent city agency.



{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie November 10, 2021 at 9:59 am

Meanwhile, 106 people to date have donated to the GoFundMe page for the palm trees and have raised nearly $7800.


Paul Webb November 10, 2021 at 1:44 pm

At the risk of getting flamed, now that the judge has ruled perhaps we can shift the narrative to something constructive – namely making sure that the City follows through with replacement trees. In particular, I feel strongly that we as a city and region need to place a much greater emphasis on finding and planting trees that are both drought tolerant and which will provide shade sufficient to mitigate some of the effects of global warming. In a rapidly warming climate, leafy trees are an important component in keeping our urban areas cooler.

I know emotions are running high on the tree removal issue, but maybe we can have something positive come out of this.


kh November 10, 2021 at 3:02 pm

The judge did not rule that the trees can or can’t come down. She only ruled that the attorneys property rights argument was not sufficient to prevent removal.

I could’ve told him that much and saved him the trouble.


Lia November 11, 2021 at 10:15 am

Sad to see them go BUT they are not native, they don’t really help in any way outside of beauty, and now that the battle has been lost let’s plan some native trees which will actually help and move on ?


Geoff Page November 11, 2021 at 11:36 am

This variety is native to Baja so I don’t think an imaginary border between two countries makes these non-native trees. They do help by adding to the aesthetics of the peninsula. So flip that over, what harm do they do? None.


Frank Gormlie November 11, 2021 at 11:41 am

Only one species of palm tree, the Washingtonia filifera, the California fan palm, is native to California. If you’ve ever been out to our desert, they’re in many of the canyons.


Paul Webb November 11, 2021 at 11:52 am

Botanically, San Diego is a very interesting place. Because we are located on the transition from the subtropical to the temperate climate zones, there are a variety of species of plants that literally grow no where else naturally – think Torrey Pines. Because of this there are plants that grow no further north than our region, while others grow no further south. Many of the plants that have become rare or threatened (or even endangered) in San Diego are much more common in Baja.

Retired Botanist is probably gnashing his teeth at my “I know enough to be dangerous” understanding of local botany.

That said, Frank is right. The only native palm is the Washingtonia. That doesn’t mean that other palms will not grow or thrive, but they aren’t native.

I read in this morning’s UT about a report released yesterday outlining the number of “heat emergency” regions across the world increasing. It’s not bad here (yet), but we really need to be thinking about how we can mitigate the heating effects of global climate change, including, but not limited to, increasing the shade canopy in our region. The palms, sadly, do little to provide shade.


Geoff Page November 11, 2021 at 1:18 pm

According to what I read on Wikipedia the Washingtonia robusta native range is bordered by the Sierra de Las Asamblea on the north. Using Google Earth Pro, this is only about 230 miles from the California border.

Knowing many have a low opinion of Wikipedia, I checked for more. I found this statement that also mentions how close this is and their measurement was less at 350 kilometers or 217.5 miles:

“.. In Southern California, Washingtonia robusta is removed at significant costs (removal with helicopter; Anderson & Castellanos, 2014;DiTomaso & Kyser, 2013), despite no strong evidence for negative biodiversity effects or additional economic costs (National Park Service & U.S. Department of the Interior, 2015). The economic investment into eradicating W. robusta is even more surprising as it is native only 350 km further south, and the closely related Washingtonia filifera occurs only 80 km to the east (Minnich, Franco-Vizcaíno, & Salazar-Ceseña, 2011)”
2011 “Distribution and Regional Ecology of CalifornianPalm Oases Interpreted from Google Earth Images”

Richard A. MinnichUniversity of California, Riverside
Ernesto Franco-VizcaínoCalifornia State University Monterey Bay, Seaside
Mario Salazar-CeseñaCICESE, Ensenada, Mexico

And, when you look at old maps of Mexico, before we took a lot of it, California included the Baja Peninsula. The border wasn’t established until the mid 1800s. So, Washingtonia robustas actually are native to California.


Vern November 11, 2021 at 2:06 pm

Slightly off subject, but weren’t there supposed to be something like 51 Torrey Pines planted at the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park?

Seems like there’s mention of it on the SD City Website:

And a smattering of mention in the SCNP Master Plan (2005):

Kind wonder when this will happen. Maybe in the future?


retired botanist November 13, 2021 at 8:32 am

Whooo boy, haven’t had a chance to visit the Rag for about a month. And now I read yet another tree crisis (altho palms aren’t technically trees, but whatever) has beset beloved OB. And before starting my mini rant: Paul, retired botanist is NOT gnashing her teeth, haha- anybody who even bothers to ponder San Diego flora is a win in my book! :)
So how much of this script has been written before? Emergency actions? City-owned, but not community- owned, hunh? Replacement trees, sometime in the next millennium? “Native”- oh, like the City’s non-native Jacaranda trees? And let’s not bother re-walking the travesty of entities like the Airport Advisory Committee… Police enforcement? Lack of response from the City and Council members? The need for lawyers? OB’s Master Plan? (which, if I recall, has a specific section on maintaining the palm row view shed?) And let’s not forget the parrots, for whom the palms are necessary habitat? Is the City conducting bird surveys before chopping?
Previous articles, and the local KUSI guy, have rightly emphasized “define emergency” as a big factor. If the FAA really wants to be thorough in its protection of planes and people, then frankly the entire peninsula needs to be razed immediately. Somehow, planes flying at 1500ft above homes chronically dropping jet fuel is just ho-hum SOP, but 6-inch annual growth of a palm tree that has been standing there for > 60 years is an alarming emergency requiring immediate, permanent action?! If it weren’t so outrageous, it would be laughable!
And might as well ask (every year), any sign of the Torrey pines at Sunset Cliffs? No, I thought not. And how about those “mitigated” trees along Saratoga- any still alive? Cooling the sidewalks yet?
I wish I had something more constructive to offer, or 11th hour suggestions. Declaring the palms Heritage trees (again they aren’t really trees- maybe someone could tell the FAA that?) is not an option. Bird surveys at least, whether its parrot season or not, should be mandatory. And as ever, reviewing all paper work, checking compliance w/ ordinances like the requirement for adequate notice of parking restrictions, etc, are all probably just tacks in the road to the inevitable, but I say throw everything you’ve got at them because this is just unacceptable rinse and repeat!
And last, re the palms, its true they don’t provide leafy shade, and its not really worth debating whether they are defined as native or not- other than Torrey pines and some Dudleya plants, nothing is native, and as Geoff said- where’s the line? But what is unarguable is the temporal loss of the function and service that even palms provide, whether its avian habitat, wind protection, aesthetics. How long is a seedling going to take to offset that? Hoping for a good outcome, but sadly not holding my breath.


Frank Gormlie November 10, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Okay everybody, and especially all the tree-huggers, time to “flame” ol’ Paul Webb. JK, dude. We enjoy your comments and point of view (mostly), so keep on keepin’ on.


Theresa Pineda November 10, 2021 at 5:30 pm

I tried to go to the meeting but was blocked by a Fed who questioned why I was there. I informed them that I was going to a meeting regarding the OB Palms and was told that the meeting would not be I. A Federal Building. . .?


Geoff Page November 10, 2021 at 6:57 pm

Theresa, this was not a meeting, it was an official court hearing. Had yout told them that, you could have attended as the proceedings were in an open court. You didn’t miss much.


kh November 11, 2021 at 2:18 pm

My historical research indicates there are no tree native to the peninsula, only shrubs and weeds.

In the interest of maintaining native landscapes, I recommend we cut down all the trees on the point.


kh November 11, 2021 at 2:19 pm
Frank Gormlie November 11, 2021 at 6:16 pm

I know you’re being facetious, but you’re right – there weren’t any trees on what’s now called the Peninsula. During the OB Community Plan update process, I argued against those who only wanted “native” plants and trees. Humans have brought in so many new trees and plants, and for most of them, that’s great. I’m sure insects, birds and small animals appreciate them, not to mention the O2 and shade they provide. Non-natives by the non-natives. You know that when the Spanish first arrived, it was a “wet” year and Point Loma appeared to them as an island.


BGDavis November 11, 2021 at 4:01 pm

“Iconic” palm trees…whatever. “Iconic” means anything that’s been around for a couple of decades. The mania for tall, scrawny palm trees seems to have taken over SoCal. If you’re into fake image, they’re great. If you want shade and real grace and beauty, forget it. In the past eucalyptus trees were far more common, as were several types of pine trees. But the tourist industry decided that scrawny palm trees (not the much more robust and interesting date palms) looked better on postcards, so here we are. We’re better off to go back to something that looks better and provides more benefits.


kh November 11, 2021 at 7:16 pm

Well, the residents who live on that block like their scrawny fake postcard trees. The city only pretends to care about beneficial trees. If not for the outcry they would’ve already chopped these down and left barren patches of dirt behind. .


Kelly Knight November 15, 2021 at 1:14 pm

This is another example of the City (or in this case FAA) running amok, ruining a good thing. I drive by these trees daily and they are not much taller than the houses or the telephone poles. So stupid. There is no way they are in the flight path, and if they are then we have much bigger problems like when a jumbo jet hits a house


Frank Gormlie December 2, 2021 at 11:06 am

Ocean Beach palm trees on Newport are safe for now says the San Diego Community News Group–?instance=news


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