Kensington’s Historic Over-110 Year Old Trees Have Been Under Threat From the City

by on March 28, 2023 · 4 comments

in Environment, History, San Diego

Tree advocates in Kensington studied this 1913 photo and were able to identify some still living trees that were original to Kensington Park.

By Maggie McCann / SOHO / March-April 2023 Newsletter

After ill-conceived actions by the City of San Diego, Kensington’s parkways still retain 30 of the original California pepper trees planted when the subdivision was mapped in 1910.

When neighbors first proposed that the City designate the trees under Council Policy 900-19’s Conserve-a-Tree program as heritage trees, 37 trees were alive and doing fine. The City has since suspended the program, claiming that having trees designated as historic would cause them California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) problems. As if that’s a bad thing.

In addition to the pepper trees, Kensington still has nine original trees in the park surrounding the Kensington-Normal Heights Library on Adams Avenue. These trees were also planted in 1910 by the developers of Kensington Park.

People entering Kensington see a very large hoop pine on the right in Library Park.

In 1962, some of the original trees were removed to make way for a larger library building, but the San Diego architect, Richard Lareau, left cutouts in the roofline to accommodate two of the Canary Island pines.

Architect Richard Lareau designed the early 1960s library with cutouts in the eaves to accommodate two historic Canary Island pines.

Besides the pines, the surviving park trees from 1910 include Canary Island palms, deodar cedar, Catalina Island cherry, and a very tall hoop pine on the corner, which is lit every December for the holiday season. All of these trees were designated as heritage trees in 2009 by the City’s Community Forest Advisory Board.

Kensington celebrates its huge hoop pine by lighting it up every December.

The palette of trees the developers chose reflects the choices made by New York-based landscape architect Samuel Parsons Jr., who was recruited by George Marston and selected to design San Diego’s City Park (now Balboa Park) by the City’s Board of Trustees.

Parsons, with his partner, George D. Cooke, worked out plans beginning around 1902 for the improvement of City Park, and was again called on in 1910 by the Panama-California Exposition Company to advise on the landscape for the site of the upcoming 1915 exposition.

Mr. Parsons was described as “an earnest advocate of the propagation of the pepper tree.” He expressed his idea of appropriate trees:

“A few of these which seem to me to be both beautiful and hardy are two or three species of eucalyptus and pepper trees, three or four acacias, casuarinas, sumachs, Canary pines, muricata pines, Arizona cypress, Guadalupe cypress, and cedrus deodara.”

As the same group behind the 1915 exposition was also involved in Kensington Park’s development, it’s no wonder that much of Parsons’ palette was used in Kensington. It’s a testament to his knowledge of trees that Kensington retains the charm and benefit of his tree wisdom.

Painful to look at and live with, this large stump is all that remains of a grand Kensington tree that lived for more than a century. All photos courtesy Maggie McCann

SOHO Editor’s note: The City of San Diego is not the only municipality where citizens are contesting vast tree removals for reasons of natural beauty, heritage, and environmental benefits, such as cooling shade and the absorption of greenhouse gases. The Nature Conservancy lists six compelling reasons to retain and plant more trees, which you can read online at 6 Ways Trees Benefit All of Us.

And a Los Angeles judge recently ruled in favor of Angelenos for Trees, who sued the City over plans to chop down as many as 13,000 trees to repair sidewalks. The citizens group argued that sidewalks can be fixed while preserving shade and greenery. The Superior Court judge agreed, calling the City’s program “fundamentally flawed.” You can read more about this at Judge halts LA plan to destroy trees for sidewalk repairs.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist March 28, 2023 at 4:09 pm

Nope, I’m not gonna rant! (She said and then ignored herself!) But I feel a lot of empathy for the Kensington folks- it’s a beautiful district with some lovely, heritage trees. Oh wait! That’s right- there’s no such thing as a heritage tree anymore in San Diego. The City has systematically raped all the tree programs. There is no CFAB, there is no Nominate a Tree Program, there is no tree stewardship program, there is just a large, gaping black hole maw where there used to be a conduit for citizen feedback. In fact, hey City! How’s your 35% tree canopy by 2035 program going? Have you shit-canned that, too?
On almost ANY other matter (except maybe Seaworld), you can find me wailing and gnashing my teeth over how grossly litigious our country has become. It’s absurd. Everything turns into a feckin’ lawsuit! Your health insurance, your phone bill, your vote, your POTUS! All hopelessly snarled up in the legal highway of America! Come to America and sooner or later you’ll be embroiled in a law suit. Might be a class action you’ve never even heard of, but you’re in it!
But if anything screamed and pleaded for a lawsuit, its trees! What? You can’t hear them? That’s right b/c they can’t talk. All they can do is stand there and get chopped down. So here I am, now on the other side of the coin: Sue the motherfu**ers!! Someone, please! Because NOTHING deserves a lawsuit more than trees. Negligence, bad faith, ordinance violation, dereliction of duty, abuse of municipal/City council power! With a bit of googling, I’ll bet I can come up w/ another dozen!
Zero respect for the City of San Diego! No, make that -30. And this rant felt good! :-)


Geoff Page March 29, 2023 at 12:15 pm

Where can I find out more about your statement “The City has since suspended the program, claiming that having trees designated as historic would cause them California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) problems?”


retired botanist March 29, 2023 at 5:13 pm

Geoff- i think I extracted that from a previous Rag article in 2022: Reader Rant: Kensington Pepper Trees Fall Victim to a City That ‘Removes More Trees In a Year Than It Plants’. Tbh, I did not drill down further, but feel confident the statement was made, either by Widener or someone else at City.
I usually feel a bit guilty after rereading one of my tree rants for, as you kindly said, my “passion”. But, except for the swearing, the one above still feels good! :-)


FrankF March 30, 2023 at 8:42 am

It’s not just the city cutting down trees. My homeowner’s insurance company sent me a letter in January with an aerial photo of my house telling me that if I didn’t cut down the two trees that overhand my house, my insurance would be canceled. These are two 100+ year old OB trees.

I shopped my insurance policy to other agencies but they said that insurance companies are not in the mood to negotiate this sort of thing any longer, they’ve suffered too many losses from trees falling and fires.

So my two trees will come down next week and then I get to see if the insurance company will renew my policy. Yes, they want photos off the trees cut down.


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