The True Saga of the Missing Trees of Midway

by on September 27, 2023 · 11 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

While driving through the Sports Arena area in late February of this year, this writer noticed that a large stand of very big trees that once graced the east side of the Dixieline lumber building were gone. It has taken until now to drag the story of what happened out of the city and its property manager.

This stand of trees was removed because the Midway homeless were camping out under them. The tree canopy was extensive providing shade and probably protection from the rain. The misguided solution to the homeless camp was to kill this big stand of trees that were benefiting us all, without asking any of us.

Why would anyone need to ask the public? The trees were on public property. They belonged to all San Diegans. As such, these public tree removals should have gone through a process that involves community review.

Council Policy 900-19 – Public Tree Protection states:

B. Criteria for Tree Protection Designation

1. All public trees within the City of San Diego that are classified as trees (defined as having a single trunk or can be trained into distinctive multi-trunks versus branches) and that have a caliper of at least 8” measured at 4 feet above the ground surface, shall be considered as potentially qualifying under this tree protection policy. . The size of the tree caliper does not guarantee its qualification under this policy, though it does require that the tree be evaluated for consideration once nominated. These consideration criteria will require that all trees of this size be added to the tree removal review process as currently performed by Street Division. This requirement applies to all areas within the City of San Diego, including redevelopment areas and public parklands.

2. As required in other sections of this policy, all tree removal permit requests will be sent to Community Planning Groups, the Community Forest Advisory Board as well as to the Council members. Reviewing individuals will have the normal 30-day period to request an extension of time on the removal if they feel that the tree may qualify according to one of the four categories listed above. The City Manager’s designee, considering any input received from community group members, the Community Forest Advisory Board, and Council members, will make a determination on extension requests and if the tree qualifies. If the tree qualifies, the City of San Diego Urban Forester or Park Arborist will designate the tree as protected.

None of this took place.


The trees that were removed can be seen in the following pictures. On the east side of the property, 13 trees were removed. They were:

  • Eight ficus trees
  • Three pine trees
  • One carrotwood tree
  • One evergreen pear tree

On the west side of the parking lot, a ninth, very large ficus tree was removed that had nothing to do with the homeless situation.

The decision to remove all of these trees was made to by one person, who heads the property management for this site, with the city’s real estate department’s agreement.

In the San Diego 2022 Climate Action Plan, the word “trees” appears 87 times. To sum it up, the city says we need to increase the tree canopy while it cuts down a big stand of tree canopy.

Inquiries to the City

The first email to the city, after seeing what happened, was on 2-27-23. It took two weeks to get this response on March 17:

We are still trying to determine what happened. Not common for our Urban Forestry team to not know about removals so we are asking around.”

The city asked for pictures, which were easily provided on March 17 from Google Maps.

Two weeks went by and after prompts were sent on March 27 and April 5. The city finally responded with this on April 5:

These were not City trees in the right of way and were not removed by the City. The property is under an agreement for the operations of the retail strip center. The property is operated and maintained under this agreement and the operator has the ability to make improvements, repairs and alterations as necessary for the continued safe operations of the property.

The operator (not the City) removed the trees. I have also confirmed that City tree removal permits were not required in this situation as they are not located in the right of-way. It is my understanding that two of the trees in question remain and have confirmed that they will not be removed at this time.

The major flaw in the city’s response was immediately pointed out, that, as previously stated, all of this is public property. Because the trees were on a city owned shopping center lot and not in the street right-of-way, made them no less public trees. Additionally, the city pays the management company with public money as well.

When the question of why the trees were removed and who paid for it was posed next, the city responded with, “Geoff, I believe we have responded to your inquiry. Thanks.”

That was the end of the city’s voluntary cooperation. Once the city clammed up, it was necessary to move on to a Public Records Request.

Management Agreement

Part of the Public Records Request was for a copy of the city’s agreement with Intersection, the company managing this Sports Arena property. The city responded with an agreement between the city and an entity named the Heritage Group, Inc., not Intersection. There were more than a few problems with what they produced.

First, the agreement is with a company named the Heritage Group, Inc. but the company managing the property is Intersection. When questioned, the city said that the Heritage Group, Inc. just changed its name to Intersection. The city never issued a new agreement with the new name. This agreement is invalid for that reason alone.

Second, this agreement went into effect on June 30, 2015, and was to run for one year until June 29, 2016. The agreement had a provision for extending the contract for a maximum of five years in one-year increments, which could have extended it until 2021. This agreement is also invalid because it has expired. No yearly extension documents were produced.

Third, this was a sole source contract; the city has never opened it to the bidding process. The contract explanation why, from 2015, was a joke. The box checked under the contract heading, “This sole source procurement is necessary because:,” was “Goods only available from only one source.” Property management services for a cheesy, run-down, small strip mall are only available from one company in all of San Diego?

There was a telling handwritten comment from the purchasing department in 2015:

This sole source is in the best interest of the city to ensure the city’s revenue from the leases and the lease’s property management is in place while the city goes out for solicitation for these services.

That statement made sense. For one year. The only problem is that the last part of the sentence never happened, it never went out for solicitation, ever.


Several calls and messages left for Intersection went unanswered until one day a man answered the phone. As it developed, he was brand new on the job. During the call he confirmed that the city directed the tree removal, and he said he had a document in his hand saying so. He was understandably reluctant to provide a copy.

The PRR effort did recover it. The record request produced an email chain starting January 3, 2023. The first email was from a Senior Real Estate Manager at Intersection, Nicole Schuck. It contained pictures of the trees, estimates for the removals, and this message to the city’s real estate department:

Just to let you know that we’ve been really struggling lately with removing homeless and trespassers from the property. They have been setting up encampments where the trees are in the front of the property, and after careful consideration, I think it’s time to remove the trees to prevent them from hanging out in that area. Attached below is a screenshot of the proposed area.

The email went to Roswitha Sanchez, Supervising Property Agent, Asset Management, Real Estate Assets at City of San Diego. Her response was that she had to “run this by management first.”

Two days later, on January 5, the city responded, “Please go ahead with the tree removal. In case permits, etc. are required please follow the correct process.” Only two days later.

In a March 22 email, Sanchez sent this ridiculous message:

We have received push back from some concerned citizens about the tree removals. Are there any left? If so, lets keep them. Also, did you get any permits, or were none required?

The pushback was very probably inquiries by this writer. The city had no idea if any trees were left? No idea if permits were obtained or needed? The city reversed its decision because of public questions that should have been aired before the trees were down? You cannot make this stuff up, sadly.

The property manager responded that no permits were required, that two trees remain, and that they would not remove any more.

On June 27, Schuck, sent the city an email to discuss this writer. She advised the city of this writer’s inquiries about why the trees were removed. She added this:

His name sounded familiar and after some digging he claims he is a journalist that does reach out to the local media against some policies by the city.

Schuck included a link to the video on YouTube that filmed this writer’s discussion of the OB Pier some time ago and a link to a UT article that showed this writer standing under a Torrey Pine on Saratoga trying to save it. It was not clear what these links were intended for.

A copy of this writer’s City of San Diego press pass was provided Schuck, to settle the journalist question.

Schuck then suggested a course of action for dealing with this pest.

I think the best course of action is for Mark or I to reach out to him via phone to discuss his concerns to keep it informal. I have no issues letting him know that Intersection recommended the tree removal, and all tree removals were done within local and state guidelines. I can explain that the trees were creating a safety hazard to the property.

This conversation did take place. Schuck said the trees were a safety hazard. She said the trees were damaged by the homeless and an arborist report confirmed they were in bad shape. So far, this arborist report has not been coughed up by the city. And, it is hard to believe that the homeless severely damaged 13 trees.

The records request came back saying there was no arborist report. This writer responded that Schuck said there was a report. The city responded by sending a document titled arborist report. What they sent was another copy of the invoice to remove the trees that they had already sent but retitled it. The arborist report is still missing in action.

Schuck also said the trees caused a trip hazard. This was laughable. The trees were in a dirt area off the parking lot where no one would have any reason to be walking. The parking lot pavement was only affected in one small spot.

This was not done because of public safety from tripping or falling trees. It was done as a Draconian move to get rid of the homeless instead of something like, oh, say a fence.


We, the San Diego taxpayers, paid $18,780 to have these trees cut down and the trees stumps ground down. Added to that is “a 15% overhead and service fee to supervise and manage the contractor” as seen in the invalid contract. That would amount to $2,817 bringing the total tab to $21,597.

If the point was to remove the tree canopy, why did the city pay to grind down the stumps?

This money was spent on a property that will be developed in the future Midway Rising project, when the developer would have paid to remove the trees, if necessary.

The sad story is that one person, who is not a city employee, made the decision to murder these trees and the city agreed within two days without involving the public at all.

This city is broken in too many ways.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie September 27, 2023 at 4:04 pm

And to think “San Diego has been awarded $10 million from the federal government for planting trees in communities throughout the city as part of an ongoing effort to grow its urban forest…”


retired botanist September 27, 2023 at 5:14 pm

OMG. One word. CRIMINAL. Thanks, Geoff for such diligent and thorough investigation! Its doubly heartbreaking that 1, the City has regressed 10 years in its proposal to look after and care for large, old trees that provide function and service, in particular, to the City’s hardscape urban areas and 2, that ANYONE, let alone a municipality, would think that tree removal was a viable solution to the homeless crisis!!
Christ, its just stunningly horrible from so many PsOV! I so wish someone had the time and resources to blow this up and file a lawsuit. Seriously. Its egregious beyond acceptability. And then, finally, to play the “threat to life and limb” card based on someone (presumably a homeless person that the City could give a sh** about) maybe tripping over a tree root??? So disgusting! Thx again for pulling back this dirty, dirty curtain of the City’s actions! :-(


Geoff Page September 28, 2023 at 11:48 am

I love how you say what you really think, retired, and I agree completely. I’ve often said this city’s worst nightmare would be me retiring with a billion dollars. Trying to do what I can just retired.


SB September 27, 2023 at 8:06 pm

Does Heritage own Zephyr, which is the investor in Midway Rising, which might have had to address the removal of these trees for their development in an environmental document had they not been removed at the public’s expense? Is that why they changed the company name on the contract?


Geoff Page September 28, 2023 at 11:50 am

I don’t about that. Heritage was the name of the current manager, it was just changed. I don’t know anything about Heritage other than that. But, as much as I am usually suspicious of certain actions, I don’t think was anything nefarious about this. This was just plain stupidity.


chris schultz September 28, 2023 at 6:33 am

Well when you pour 11 billion gallons of water into the ocean, what’s a few trees with this city? I laughed yesterday when Todd was on camera, talking about the state unexpectedly forking out 1.25M for a fireboat and his response was that was another million the city could funnel to the homeless.


FrankF September 28, 2023 at 8:05 am

Ficus benjaminas. Wouldn’t want one at my house, they tear the daylights out of plumbing and sidewalks. They drop uneatable fruit all over the place and they’re expensive to maintain, too.

It would be nice if the property owner replaced them with street trees that are more location appropriate and sidewalk friendly.

Just my two cents. I love trees, but some trees are better than others.


Geoff Page September 28, 2023 at 11:54 am

Yes, nine of the removed trees were ficus and yes, ficus roots are famous for causing problems. But, all of the trees and all of the buildings, including the parking lot, will be gone when the Midway development happens. The one by the building standing alone did buckle some curb and pavement, that will also be gone eventually. No. if the roots were a problem, they would have said so.


Deb Porter September 28, 2023 at 11:54 am

The city forester does nothing to protect trees in SD.. so sad…..


sealintheSelkirks September 28, 2023 at 1:58 pm

When I was young the term ‘forester’ meant someone who cared deeply for the forest, someone who didn’t destroy it. You know, like the concepts of Walden’s Pond or Aldo Leopold, stuff like that. So you must have meant the City Logger, yes?

Though I must admit that the term ‘forester’ has been slid into the language like how ‘climate change’ replaced Global Warming to deflect from the reality of what they actually do.

Pave over everything. Build build build! That’ll solve the problem, right? If there’s only ornamental trees, sort of like ‘purse accessory dogs’ people get, that surely isn’t going to help with shade and cooling and air quality. How did our species, which is totally dependent for its very existence on the health of natural ecosystems, come to hate everything but concrete and asphalt? Talk about divorced from reality…

Hey retired: with all the damage being done by this current crop of neoliberal conservatives running San Diego would it be okay to knock the building down they work in to fix the problem of them doing so much damage to the citizens of this city?

Oh wait, just like the homeless they detest, they’d just move to another location and continue their greed & political power-inspired behavior. Unlike trees that can’t do that, greed and hubris goes on forever…

Geoff, you once called me an Idealist but, bud, you sure fit the bill with your jousting with the greedy stupids and pointing out their…shall we say, inconsistencies. Ahahahahaha!



Gabriele Schubert October 13, 2023 at 2:28 pm

Thank You, Geoff, for your thorough and public-minded analysis of the City’s rubber-stamp approval of tree removal. These great old trees would have added their great “grace” (as you put it) to the Midway Rising project; and to climate action in our region. To think they might have also been removed because homeless people sheltered there, is inhumane “cutting off your nose to spite your face”!
CUTTING TREES in the Tecolote wash and just below the Fiesta entrance lot, is exactly what the City IS DOING NOW TO DENY SHELTER TO THE HOMELESS. I would like to share photos of an amazing manzanita stand just cut down for no other reason, and tell you how awful this is for the public who like to lie on the beach with trees (not cars on the Fiesta road) as a backdrop; and for the homeless who appreciate the shade and shelter, though don’t stay!
To cut these small hardy trees down, when they took so long to grow, only for this mean purpose, deserves more of the deep analysis you did above.


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