Phillip Gordon hugs his Torrey pine goodbye
On February 5, signs were posted on the 4600 block of Saratoga Avenue to alert residents of upcoming tree trimming.
On February 8, Atlas Tree Service, under contract with the city, severed the large branches of two 75-foot-tall Torrey pines in preparation of cutting them down entirely the next day.
One of these trees is in front of Phillip Gordon's house. It was planted in the 1930s, decades before Gordon's parents bought the house in 1979. Gordon now owns and lives in the home.
"This street is different than other neighborhoods in Ocean Beach because the street is lined with all of these trees," said Gordon. "They have provided shade for my home for decades. It feels like being hugged by the trees."
On February 8 and 9, Gordon was scrambling in hopes that someone would listen to his pleas before it was too late.
"I want the city to leave the stump so it can be made into art," said Gordon. "I have amazing sculptor friends and I was a snow sculptor myself years ago."
As far as the city's plans to grind down the roots, Gordon said, "It doesn't make any sense because the roots are still under my property. The roots are wide and deep; it doesn't impact the root system under my house that can break apart the foundation."
Gordon acknowledges a concern with blustery and wet El Niño weather. He said that eight trees have fallen before on his street; the last one he recalls was in 1988. Gordon also points out that the city has been trying to cut down the trees on his street for years.
On February 9, Bill Harris of the city's Streets Division said everyone involved is sad about having to take out the trees on Saratoga. According to Harris, it was the only option left.
"The trees had just gotten to be so old and so broad and so heavy that they were no longer stable and proposed an imminent threat to the community and specifically to the houses and the roadway….
"We do everything we can prior to cutting down a tree to see what we can do to stabilize it, make it healthier, make it last longer or to adapt what we have around it in order to accommodate its growth. We did everything we could. This is not a matter of accommodation; these trees were in fact unstable….
"There was no physical accommodation that could be made, no pruning plan, no root development plan. These trees had to go."
Regarding the chances of the tree stump staying in front of Gordon's home, Harris said, "No, we can't leave the stump in front of the house; the root base is unstable. It would be unstable at almost any height. And we typically don't do that because it triggers a lot of different questions about liability, maintenance responsibilities, and what happens to it when it finally does give out.”
John Ambert, the chair of the Ocean Beach planning board, said he spent the better half of February 9 trying to get to the bottom of the issue.
"This [tree cutting] was performed on behalf of recommendations by the city arborist to avoid the situation that happened in Pacific Beach where a city-owned tree fell on a car and killed a woman [in January]," said Ambert on February 10. "Sadly, the city arborist ignored my appeal for further review and community engagement….
"I thought the stumps for art was a cool idea and had merit, but my efforts fell on deaf ears," said Ambert. "I hope that with a little more transparency from the city about their intent, we can have some more time to discuss these issues and engage our leadership to consider cool, thoughtful proposals like this one. It is a sad day for Ocean Beach, but hopefully we [and the city] can learn from this and make better, more informed decisions on the next go-around."