Jacaranda tree (in New Zealand)
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Dorothy Carroll wants to cover the county with jacaranda trees, including the landscaping of the new 400-room hotel planned for Lane Field South, downtown on the Embarcadero.

Artist's rendering of Lane Field South

Artist's rendering of Lane Field South

“They are perfect for the time of the year when we have May gray and June gloom,” said the 84-year-old chair of the Jacaranda Project for the Village Garden Club of La Jolla. “”I’m not in favor of palm trees. They cost a lot to maintain. A lot of palms are ugly and dangerous, especially on a windy day. I would much rather see a tree that does something, that gives shade.”

Apparently, a lot of downtown residents agree with Carroll. At a February 19 public hearing held by the Port of San Diego to unveil plans for Lane Field South, several downtown residents spoke against the palms planned for planting on all sides of the hotel. One man called them “looming and foreboding.” Another said they looked like telephone poles.

“Those people hate palm trees,” said Gary Smith, a former naval officer who is president of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group. “I don’t particularly like them myself. They remind me of Phoenix or Palm Springs.”

Carroll and the 450 members of the Village Garden Club want port commissioners to dump the planned palms for jacarandas, the official tree of San Diego since the city council dubbed it so in 2002. The garden club has planted 2226 jacaranda trees in San Diego County since 1986, Carroll said.

“Jacaranda trees are drought-tolerant, they do not have an invasive root system so they are good for street plantings as well as grassy areas, they are very low maintenance and they provide a light, welcome shade through the summer months,” she said. “And they are beautiful in bloom two to three months during the spring.”

But all those opposed to palms, including the 450 members of the garden club, will have to mount a big effort to change the minds of the port commission and the California Coastal Commission. According to Smith, the coastal commission agreed to the planting of decorative Medina palms for the south and east sides of the development; the port has say over what gets planted on the north and west sides.

“They could probably argue to the port that the use of jacarandas is a continuation of a theme,” of the trees planted throughout the Embarcadero, Smith said. But changing the mind of the coastal commission could take more than a year, he said. “I don’t have any personal preference, nor would my board.”

Carroll said she and her club are busy sending letters to the project’s builders and port commissioners with the club’s offer to raise civic beautification funds for the site, “in the hope that the commissioners will approve the use of jacarandas rather than palms.”

That offer won a round of applause at the first public hearing. A second public hearing is set for 6 p.m., April 1, at the Port of San Diego, 3165 Pacific Highway. The port commission votes on whether to approve the plans in June.

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