The City Is Caught In Another Lie About the Point Loma Palm Trees : The FAA Did Not Mandate Their Cutting Down

by on April 28, 2022 · 12 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

In a previous OB Rag piece about the Newport palms, “The City of San Diego and its Forester Misrepresented ‘Immediate Safety Hazard’ in Effort to Remove Point Loma Palm Trees,” the subheading was “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.”

That subheading was there because it had been proven that the forester’s and city official’s claims that the FAA was calling the shots was exposed as a lie. The piece even included a cartoon graphic showing a man running with his rear end on fire.

They lied again but it is not so funny anymore because five trees are gone forever.  The action was based on the same lie the forester and the city tried before, including the FAA in this.  Suspicious that the city was lying again, the 44 pages of documents, published here in The Rag, were reviewed.

Among the documents were five “Notice of Preliminary Findings,” addressed to Garret Hollarn, Sr. Airport Planner / GIS Coordinator at San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. At the bottom of each Notice was a phone number, a name, and an email address.

The FAA was contacted. When informed of how the city was characterizing the FAA in these removals using the FAA’s documents, they were not pleased. They asked for additional information to look into this. That information was provided today.

The 44 pages

Much of what was in the documents was very repetitive. The first document was one of the most curious, a table containing survey information. One glaring problem with this document was that it did not show who created it. The table heading was just “Survey Information.” In the table, 15 trees are listed. Five are shaded, the five they killed Monday morning.

The important point about this table is that one column lists aerial survey information and another lists land survey information. The previous information the public got was the aerial information, although there was never any mention of how the survey was done.

Based on the aerial survey information, only two of the 15 trees were above their TERPS ground radar line. One was .03 feet over the TERPS line- about a third of an inch – and another was 1.4 feet, about 17 inches over the TERPS line. But, the city took out five trees. When the new land survey information is reviewed, it is clear why. Based on the land survey, the five trees were way too tall by an amazing margin.

The removed trees were numbered 1,2, 5, 6, and 7. Here are the results of the differences in the two surveys:

  • Tree #1 went from.71 feet under the TERPS line to 1.71 feet over. A survey difference of 2.41 feet.
  • Tree#2 went from .03 feet over the TERPS line to 3.17 feet over. A difference in surveys of 3.14 feet.
  • Tree #5 went from 2.16 feet under the TERPS line to 1.91 over. A difference in surveys of 4.07 feet.
  • Tree #6 went from 1.4 feet over the TERPS line to 5.09 feet over. A difference in surveys of 3.69 feet.
  • Tree #7 went from 1.16 feet under the TERPS line to 1.34 over. A difference in surveys of 2.50 feet.

What is the public supposed to believe at this point? The documents used the land survey information but did not explain why it was considered more accurate than the aerial survey. It did provide much more justification for their actions, making it immediately suspect.  If aerial survey information is this faulty, why would the airport ever use it?

A quick reading about aerial surveying makes it clear that it is very accurate. Perhaps some differences might be expected but differences of several feet, as much as four feet in one case, just do not make sense. Something is very wrong with the survey information. Finding out who did the survey might help.

The map that followed the table shows the location of the trees cut down Monday morning. This was followed by pictures of the trees.  The first of five “Notice of Preliminary Findings,” one for each tree, appears after the pictures.

The first paragraph of the “Notice of Preliminary Findings” states:

“Initial findings of this study indicate that the structure as described exceeds obstruction standards and/or would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities. Pending resolution of the issues described below, the structure is presumed to be a hazard to air navigation.”

The word “Preliminary” in the title and “initial” in this paragraph are clear indications that these findings are not “final” in any way at all. During the conversation with the FAA today, The FAA was adamant that these documents do not represent FAA Determinations. The documents are what they say “Preliminary Findings.”

What jumps off the page is the third paragraph:

“To pursue a favorable determination at the originally submitted height, further study would be necessary. Further study entails distribution to the public for comment, and may extend the study period up to 120 days. The outcome cannot be predicted prior to public circularization.”

What this means is that the FAA will consider exceptions to the rules if one is requested.  This is something that was pointed out last October in defense of the trees.

The next paragraph stated:

“If you would like the FAA to conduct further study, you must make the request within 60 days from the date of issuance of this letter.”

All five “Notices of Preliminary Findings” contained this same information. The date of all five Notices was February 28, 2022. The 60 days are up this Friday, April 27. No one ever shared these documents with the public until this Monday.

The city dishonestly withheld these documents from the public, only releasing them at the very last hour leaving virtually no time to request the further studies. Further studies would allow for public comment and the city did not want that.

The next language was in all capital letters.



What the city did was create a “resolution” by killing the trees and denying the public the opportunity to request the FAA to pursue further study of these specific trees to see if they warranted an exception.

The bottom line is that the FAA has again affirmed that they did not require any trees to be removed. The FAA said their documents do not say to remove the trees. The FAA is not happy with the city and the airport for misrepresenting their part in all of this.

If another city crew shows up to cut down any more trees, they should face arrest for destroying public property on false grounds. The city forester and the city officials who were involved in this lie should be fired.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie April 28, 2022 at 9:31 am

Experienced pilots assert Ocean Beach palm trees are not a danger to aviation safety – reports KUSI


Greg April 28, 2022 at 11:22 am

Just curious, does the city legally need to provide a legal reason to cut these down or could they wake up one day and just cut them all down if they felt like it since they are on public property with the city being responsible for their maintenance?


Geoff Page April 28, 2022 at 12:08 pm

No, there is a tree removal process for trees in the public right of way that involves public input. Only if the trees present a clear safety hazard can they do this and skip that process. This is why they do what they do.


kh April 28, 2022 at 9:48 pm

I’ve never been witness to public notice for any city tree removal, torrey pine or otherwise, whether at a planning board meeting or in front of my own house.

The only notice I’ve ever seen is the white X of death painted on the tree trunk a few days before.


Frank Gormlie April 29, 2022 at 9:15 am

It’s incredible, but Mayor Gloria has the city celebrating April 29 as Arbor Day and had the audacity to say this in their news release:

” A healthy, growing urban forest provides many long-term environmental, social and economic benefits and is a component of the City’s climate action goals. The addition of trees in a community improves the aesthetic environment, provides positive mental health impacts and cools the air. Trees also help to offset the “heat island” effect in neighborhoods with a high concentration of buildings, roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure coupled with minimal trees and natural landscapes. Urban neighborhoods with mature trees can be up to 11 degrees cooler in the summer than neighborhoods without trees. ”

Anybody else see a total disconnect? Or maybe, the city doesn’t believe palm trees are real trees.


laplayaheritage April 29, 2022 at 5:00 pm

FAA Part 77 Section 77.17 Obstruction Standards states an object is automatically considered an obstruction to air navigation in the interim of a FAA Obstruction Evaluation (OE), if within 3 miles, the object is 200 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) of the Airport. San Diego International Airport (SDIA) which is at an elevation of @ 20 feet MSL. So 200 feet above the airport = 220 MSL.

Therefore, for initial Obstruction Standards only without additional analysis required, any object within 3 miles of SDIA above 220 Mean Sea Level (MSL) are FAA obstruction hazards including all the nearby homes.

Looking west, a high point on the hill at Newport Avenue and Venice Street in Point Loma is 239 MSL. Therefore, using the same theory for the palm trees, every home and object in the neighborhood is an Obstruction to Navigation.

Looking east the 220 MSL elevation is located at Laurel Street and First Avenue. The entrance to Balboa Park and Cabrillo Bridge are 256 MSL.
Therefore, using the same logic, all structures east of First Avenue, and all buildings on the west side of Balboa Park should be demolished. Otherwise they are theoretical hazards to navigation.


“Subpart C – Standards for Determining Obstructions to Air Navigation or Navigational Aids or Facilities
§ 77.17 Obstruction standards.

An existing object, including a mobile object, is, and a future object would be an obstruction to air navigation if it is of greater height than any of the following heights or surfaces:

(1) A height of 499 feet AGL at the site of the object.

(2) A height that is 200 feet AGL, or above the established airport elevation, whichever is higher, within 3 nautical miles of the established reference point of an airport, excluding heliports, with its longest runway more than 3,200 feet in actual length, and that height increases in the proportion of 100 feet for each additional nautical mile from the airport up to a maximum of 499 feet.”


Vern April 29, 2022 at 5:47 pm

Aren’t there, then, at least 42 buildings at well above 200′ AGL in the DTSD area (well within 2 miles of the small, single runway SAN)?


Vern April 29, 2022 at 5:50 pm

(there were homes in PL before the small municipal airport was constructed, and long before the first commercial flights out of SAN in 1960).


laplayaheritage May 2, 2022 at 9:03 am

Great work getting the public records.

Agree that Preliminary Findings in the Interim Study are not FAA Final Determination. Which would come a lot later in the public process. After notices, collection of evidence, public hearing, etc. The status of the FAA Obstruction Evaluations (EO) for the palm trees already cut down is “Interim.”

SanDiego County Regional Airport Authority (SDCRAA) SDIA Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUCP) is linked below.

See Page 79. Exhibit 4-1 Airspace Protection Boundary and Terrain Penetration of FAR 77 Surfaces

I believe this map shows the 220 MSL elevation where in the Interim, while an FAA Obstruction Evaluation (EO) investigations are being conducted, any project in the red striped area would be considered an Obstruction to Air Traffic by default. Only after Notices, evidence, actual aeronautic studies, public hearings, etc. can an EO be considered a FAA Final Determination.

Which hardly ever happens. Except for the 2007 Sunroad disaster, that requires this simple EO steps be taken. Instead the Airport and Mayor Gloria cut the FAA EO process short, and used the default Interim status based on ALUCP maps. The maps only show where additional evidence is needed, before a Final Determination can be made.

The areas in the Airport Safety Zone including all of Hillcrest, 28th Street to the east. Also included is the hillside on the west side of Rosecrans. And two small areas east of Nimitz. Adjacent the palm trees.

This does not mean nothing can be built. It only means that additional information is required before an FAA Final Determination is made.

See Page 17 for Exhibit 1-1 Airport Influence Area. Including the Federal default for Obstruction Evaluation (OE) for projects within 3 mile from the airport runway, Safety Zones, and Noise Contours.

The palm trees are in the Safety Zones, and the top of the palm trees are higher than 220 feet MSL.


Geoff Page May 2, 2022 at 10:43 am

Thanks again for the information. The five letters from the FAA talk about the maximum height allowed at the five tree locations. Each letter has this paragraph:

“If the structure were reduced in height so as not to exceed 22 feet above ground level (220 feet above mean sea level), it would not create a substantial adverse effect and a favorable determination could subsequently be issued.”

The elevation went from 22 to 26 to 9 to 5 to zero in the five letters. This made no sense to me so I asked the FAA about it. A combination of me not getting it and the person not explaining it well did not lead to an understanding. But, clearly, at those maximum heights, the houses would be too tall.


Geoff Page May 2, 2022 at 10:35 am

Thanks for the additional clarification, La Playa.


kh May 2, 2022 at 11:09 am

Well if you’re talking Part 77 surfaces, the ground itself exceeds that in many places. It doesn’t mean you have to bulldoze, just means that certain considerations have to be taken into account. The entirety of PL High School exceeds the Part 77 elevation.


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