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The trees had to go

Saratoga Avenue Torrey pines "proposed an imminent threat"

Phillip Gordon hugs his Torrey pine goodbye
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."

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Phillip Gordon hugs his Torrey pine goodbye
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."

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Comments
5

What happened in PB was a horrible tragedy, but are they going to cut down every large tree in the city because it might fall down someday?

Feb. 11, 2016

No, but let's get rid of the the large eucalyptus trees.

Feb. 11, 2016

I have to say that this is a disappointing piece of journalism. The event that happened on February 9 was that a citizen had to step under the tree that was being cut to stop what was happening. This managed to stall the killing for about 5 hours in hopes that some of the many powers at the city would step in as they were all being contacted. Sadly, no one stepped forward. The city's alleged "arborist" declared the trees an imminent danger and refused to postpone the killing until the matter could be reviewed further. Imminent danger? The weather was perfect since the January 31 storm and the long range forecast showed our first storm of any kind will not happen until the second week of March.

These were historic trees and every effort should have been made to save them. One look at the downed trunks showed the trees were perfectly healthy. Every news story I've seen just bought the City's explanation without question. The real story is that the city has wanted these trees gone for years and they are picking them off one by one. This action was illegal and completely underhanded, designed to kill the trees before anyone could do anything. My guess is they took this tack because we managed to save the last one they wanted down on Long Branch by proving they were wrong.

Feb. 16, 2016

Were the trees declared "historic" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation? Of course not. Did the City Council declare them "historic" or the State of California? Nope. Old and historic are not synonymous.

Feb. 16, 2016

Historic or not, trees, like all other life, must eventually fall. Official "designation" does not keep them from falling.

The relevant question is whether or not trees should be removed before or after they fall.

San Diego's trees are getting older, as we all are. Most of them have been neglected. Many of them are potentially dangerous. The Torrey Pine "saved" on Long Branch has been gradually tipping over. Many of its big supporting lateral roots have been cut off. The rest are pulling down the adjacent properties' retaining walls and buckling the sidewalk. Some sidewalk buckling is caused by the increase in root girth as the tree does its thing. But in this case, the buckling is also caused by the gradual uprooting of the remaining lateral support roots (Clue: the buckling is opposite the direction of lean).

Streets are not good places to plant trees that get too big.

Root-pruning should be outlawed. That's what happened on Nimitz before that huge Torrey pine fell, killing a woman (if justice is done, we will pay many millions through our taxes for our irresponsible management and our refusal to allow its removal). We will either manage our urban forests properly or have to pay higher and higher taxes to "compensate" victims and their families as our trees get bigger and older.

Aug. 15, 2016

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