The Needless Death of Point Loma’s Historic Palm Trees at the Hands of the City of San Diego

by on April 26, 2022 · 21 comments

in Ocean Beach

Photo by Geoff Page, April 25, 2022

By Geoff Page

The City of San Diego committed a crime against the Point Loma / OB community on the morning of Monday, April 25, there is no other way to put it. They came out to Newport Ave. and thumbed their noses at the public while hiding behind a phalanx of police officers as they murdered historic palm trees.

What is so infuriating is that the city did this very same thing last October. Only the public outcry the morning they showed up and quick legal action saved the trees in 2021. In both cases, the city attempted to come out and quickly, and stealthily to kill the trees, with barely 24 hours of notice to anyone. On Monday, it was less than 24 hours.

Residents saw a city employee getting paid double time placing No Parking signs on Sunday morning.  Think about that, it was intentional. City crews showed up at 7:00 a.m. There was no way to contact anyone in the city to try and stop the violence because no one was at work yet.

The No Parking signs were not legal because they did not contain a required date. The words “tree trimming” or “tree removal” were not on the signs. In fact the word “trees” did not appear on any of the signs as they usually do when the tree crews are working.

They placed the signs on both sides of the 4300 and 4400 block of Newport. This is unheard of unless a street is scheduled to be paved, it is a major inconvenience for the public. Even more ridiculous was that all of the tree removal work took place within 50 feet of the Santa Barbara and Newport intersection.

There was no reason to place no parking signs for almost all of Newport above Santa Barbara or all of Newport from Guizot up to Santa Barbara. This was a blatant misuse of power.

The 24-hour time frame is something that is only used in the case of a serious safety hazard or emergency. The city did the same thing in October but refused to describe what the immediate safety hazard was then. Apparently, there was none as the trees looked the same in April 2022 as they did in October 2021 six months ago. This was another abuse of power by city employees to avoid community involvement.

This time, they came prepared with eight police officers. In a city that is painfully short of police officers, this bunch was ordered by the city to be on-site and keep the public at bay for more than three hours. The city forester arranged for them to be there because he knew the community would be in an uproar; that was what happened the last time they tried to sneak these removals past the residents.

One would think the city would have learned its lesson after what happened the last time and maybe have given the community notice. But, they just did not care. They had the cops.

When asked who authorized this rogue operation, spokespersons made it clear that it came from the city forester, Brian Widener, and “the politicians.” It was unmistakable that the reference was to the mayor. San Diego’s mayor joined in, thumbing his nose at Point Loma.

The police handed out a letter to those who showed up. Once again, it just makes a person furious. The opening sentence stated, “On March 25, 2022, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority again directed the City of San Diego, under both state and federal law requirements, to remove five palm trees for public safety.”

There are three problems in that sentence. The first one was the wording “again directed.” The airport authority did not direct the city to remove anything in October, there was no “again.”. The second one is that the letter states the city heard about this a whole month ago. Plenty of time to apprise the community of what would be happening. There was no reason to spring this on everyone with virtually no notice.

The third problem with the letter they passed out was that the city said they received something from the airport dated March 25, 2002, but they did not have that letter to pass out Monday morning. Why not?

The city told one of the news stations that the city was told the trees had to be removed by this Friday or they would affect airport operations. This is amazing of course because the trees are not growing so fast that they would be any different in a month.

That letter needs to be released to the public immediately. After studying this issue in detail, this writer is very skeptical the letter says what the city represents.

When the airport sent out its initial information on October 18, 2021, it contained a table. In the table is a column titled Top Elev.1. The superscript reference was at the bottom of the table, it read:

“1 – All elevations are provided in mean sea level (MSL) and include a 10 ft. buffer to capture five years of future growth per FAA guidance. The FAA estimates an annual normalized growth rate of 2.5 feet per year for trees (see FAA Engineering Brief #91 – Management of Vegetation in the Airport Environment).”

This means that the existing tree elevations in the table were 10 feet shorter than what the Top Elev.1 column shows.

Only two of the trees show current heights that supposedly penetrate the TERPS line.  One tree is three tenths of a foot into the TERPS line and one other is 1.4 feet into the line. Just trimming the trees would solve those two problems. Even if these figures are to be trusted, why was it necessary to take down five trees?

In fact, several of the trees that were killed were just trimmed by the city about a month ago.  Why would the city spend that money only to take the trees down so shortly after? Was this a tactic on the part of the forester to set residents minds at ease and catch them off guard when they came to kill the trees?

The forester was a no show. The deputy director of the Transportation department, James Nabong, was there instead, but he did not announce himself or make any statement. This writer overheard someone ask if he was there for Brian.

Knowing the forester’s first name is Brian, Nabong was asked if he was there for the forester and all he would say was he came to represent the Transportation Department, within which is the forestry department. The problem was that Nabong did not tell anyone who he was. He acted like a deer caught in headlights. Widener was too cowardly to face the music.

It was hard to estimate the number of people who showed up surprised and angry. People kept showing up while this was all taking place, people were driving by incredulous at the scene. Several community members were distraught and driven to shouting and tears.

Tracy Van De Walker, the lady who stopped the city’s first attempt in October and who filed the lawsuit with her husband against the city, was beside herself with grief and anger. One of the trees cut down was directly in front of her home.

In October 2021, the Van De Walker’s filed an application to designate the trees as historic or heritage trees. Widener never responded. When faced with a Public Records Request for information on all the historic tree applications Widener has received since he came to work in 2017, he provided only three. He did not include the one the Van De Walkers filed, which was a violation of the Public Records Request Act.

A resident in the Crown Point area communicated with Widener in 2018 about designating Sequoia Street an historic street or the trees as an historic resource. In his reply, Widener discouraged her and told her he had a six-month backlog of these requests. Hard to believe three applications amounted to a six-month backlog. There is much more about this forester that will be the subject of another piece.

Besides Tracy Van De Walker, another resident was so upset that she could not stop yelling at the police and city representatives. She tried everything but to no avail. Community members continued to ask questions and ask for a stay until the city opened up and calls could be made but these requests fell on deaf ears. All they could do was watch.

The SDPD made it clear they would arrest anyone who interfered. At one point, it appeared that Tracy Van De Walker was ready to make that sacrifice but was talked out of it.  The police told her she would be arrested and transported to the Los Colinas jail. How’s that for a police state?

The city has gotten out of the control of the citizens. The Gold Coast bike lane fiasco, the plan for Evergreen, the Peñasquitos bike striping, and two visits to Newport to kill trees held dear by the community, all performed with no notice whatsoever to the residents who pay their salaries.

Isn’t it amazing? The curtain that has been drawn across the city by the very politicians who were elected on the promise to have a more open government? The only way to describe this is a crock of shit.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie April 26, 2022 at 9:57 am

Geoff’s exacting photo says it all: a cameraperson films a crew member dismembering a palm tree while a police officer dutifully stands by – with the iconic pier in the background.


Bradley Bang April 26, 2022 at 10:53 am

The city and port knew that people in OB were concerned about losing these beautiful trees. If the trees really had to go they needed to go through due process to take them down. To circumvent the process for efficiency sake is wrong. Take them to court and sue them. I hate to say it but you need to make them pay for this disrespect of the community. Someone should be losing their job.


Lorna Zukas April 26, 2022 at 11:30 am

Once again the city is prioritizing the airport over residents, voters, and taxpaying citizens. We already deal with excessive noise and pollution from the airport, and now the loss of trees the community wanted to keep. It seems to me the airport is stealing away too much quality of life from residents of San Diego.


Octavian April 26, 2022 at 4:01 pm

Maybe it would be best not to live so close to the airport if you don’t like it. Personally I think it would have made sense to move the airport to Miramar or Otay Mesa but San Diegans voted to keep it where it is back in 1996 so we’re stuck with it where it is!


Inni April 26, 2022 at 2:18 pm

Fuck you tree hugging socialist scum.


Geoff Page April 26, 2022 at 3:19 pm

Was this said in jest?


Frank J April 26, 2022 at 3:34 pm

User name is Inni, as in head stuck up in their derriere.


JM April 26, 2022 at 6:56 pm

Inni, there are no words for your callous stupidity. Do you really think this tree removal is a good thing? Maybe you’re playing the troll game . You got me. I find this story horrendous and I thank OBR for featuring. Time to sue the city. These trees are older than my father. They’ve seen a lot. What a fucking shame.


Frank Gormlie April 26, 2022 at 2:57 pm

Maybe Gloria and the city will apologize as they did in Mira-Mesa. Can you see Todd going door-to-door on upper Newport explaining how sorry he was that the city didn’t “educate” the community beforehand.


Chris April 26, 2022 at 3:32 pm

This link about kiteboarding in Maui obviously has nothing to do with palm trees in OB, but it’s interesting in that it covers kites (for kiteboarding) being flown in the direct flight path.

I know nothing about FAA regulations but maybe there’s a correlation?


Mat Wahlstrom April 26, 2022 at 4:02 pm

Agreed the city is out of control with its increasingly Trumpian behavior.

Council just reconvened from over four hours in closed session to discuss settlements of the 101 Ash St lawsuits, but did not say what if any decision they made, in flagrant violation of the Brown Act.

Folks, things have gotten very ugly.


Jean Hoeger April 26, 2022 at 5:59 pm

This reminds me of the un-necessary removal of the pepper trees in the neighborhood where I grew up, Kensington. Residents paid for an independent arborist, who had no skin in the game, to assess the trees and found them to be fine. SDPD had to keep the public at bay there as well…..because it was soooo obvious they were going to riot and become violent. Our City of SD officials have gotten out of control. Maybe the City should stop using City employed arborist to make the decision, since h/she ultimately reports to the Mayor.


roy mcmakin April 26, 2022 at 7:07 pm

We might want to assume this is a coded message of support to Urbanists, who have taken to stating emphatically that palm trees are not trees (of course they are trees), and therefor of no value, and therefor should be removed. Apparently they are to be replaced with native trees. Of course the Washingtonia Palms that were cut down are one of few native…dare I say it….native trees of So Cal, (though the ones cut down hail from Baja, but of course plants know regions, not international boundaries). The other native tree options are the California Sycamore (but maybe not the Mexican one?), Torrey Pines (but the City seems to like to cut them down too), or the Coast Live Oak (very slow growing). None of which are ideal for the planting strips by roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks. Should we be worried that the City might have its eye on Jacarandas too, as they are from another continent! I have to say I didn’t have a political fight arguing palm trees not being trees on my 2022 bingo card.
Of course instead of a coded message of support to the Urbanists, who tend to be strong supporters of Gloria, maybe it was more akin to an angry parent marching an obstinate child into the barber for forced chop. Take that OB.


Vern April 26, 2022 at 7:22 pm
Geoff Page April 26, 2022 at 8:39 pm

I don’t suppose the BIA has any kind of BIAs?


Jean Hoeger April 26, 2022 at 8:51 pm

And here are our fearless leaders in Sacramento, who want to outlaw all gas cars and get us all using non-existent or inefficient public transportation, working on removing trees at our state capitol to create…….a parking lot!


kh April 27, 2022 at 9:42 am

Well, what choice do they have? Did you expect them to take transit or something?


Jean Hoeger April 27, 2022 at 10:57 am

I expect them to not have a double standard…..ADUs in Ca do not have to include off street parking, while adding more cars and residents


kh April 26, 2022 at 9:11 pm

Let’s not forget the city forester’s unilateral decision to declare all palm trees as invasive species that can no longer be planted in the parkways, which is clearly allowed by the municipal code (the law).

Meanwhile the city’s own architects stick iconic palm trees on all their project renderings.


Frank Gormlie April 27, 2022 at 11:41 am

Do you have a reference or link to Widener’s statement? I’d like to post it.


Paul April 27, 2022 at 8:41 am

It seems like this “arborist” has free reign and isn’t bothered by a forestry board that has no current members. Whoever this guy reports to doesn’t care either. The city’s recent actions and those in charge are real warning shots to the population that something is totally wrong here and must be fixed pretty soon or our city will be a laughing stock and/or insolvent.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: