By Doug Porter
A running controversy over the fate of the ‘Esperanza’ Torrey Pine in Ocean Beach ended early Monday morning as the tree was removed by private contractors.
The city of San Diego believed the 80-foot tall tree was in danger of falling over. Local residents funded an arborist who said it represented a low risk after an initial attempt to remove the tree was blocked by protests, including a sit-in.
Area residents set up a daily watch. A fundraising campaign raised over $1000 and Friends of Peninsula Trees was born. The city was asked to participate in a community forum to discuss the matter. Their response was to cut the tree down.
Torrey Pine trees are the rarest native pines in the United States and were first seen in San Diego’s Sorrento Valley area as early as 1769.
From Frank Gormlie at the OB Rag:
Monday morning, bright and early, came the City’s response.
Out before 6:30 this morning – Monday – yellow police tape had been spread out, a dozen police officers stood their positions and Atlas Tree Service showed up and began cutting down the Torrey named Esperanza – Hope. By 9:30 a.m. all the branches were down – including at least one with a birds’ nest – and all that remained was the huge trunk.
Twenty residents were present – along with a half dozen TV cameras and reporters. And some City staff were on hand, as well.
Some residents were very angry; some cried – most were upset. A few curious neighbors came by to see what’s up. And some of them became emotional…
…Late last week – on Thursday, August 18, John Ambert, chair of the OB Planning Board, sent city representatives a letter with attached arborist’s reports, requesting a dialogue with the city in the form of a community forum. Ambert had met with these same reps a week earlier.
No one in the city returned Ambert’s communication. He confirmed that this morning.
Although nobody at the site of the tree removal could say who’d authorized the action, public relations person Katie Keach was present to represent the city, as was Jeremy Barrick – from the City of San Diego Planning Department Urban Forestry Planning Department.
Barrick told NBC7 News that the removal of the tree was a public safety issue.
However, several nearby residents dispute any real risk from the tree.
The tree on Saratoga was named “Esperanza” by the community according to Ocean Beach Planning Board Chair John Ambert.
Ambert said he met with city officials on Aug. 11 to discuss what residents considered a conflict of interest in having the same company assess the health of the tree and removing it. He was also upset about what he called a lack of community engagement.
In a written statement Ambert said the tree’s removal has taught him, “…community action and oversight is very much needed to ensure the City is working with the community, and is following the same rules and guidelines of the Municipal Code imposed on the general population.”
The City of San Diego pushed back after the initial attempt at removal failed with a pr campaign of its own.
From the OB Rag:
Since early August the city has been saying the tree was unstable, failing and needed to be removed. But not one report from the City or Atlas stated that the tree was in imminent danger of failing or falling. Arborist Brown stated in his report that the tree was healthy and would not collapse or fail for at least a year.
Even since the city began its campaign, it has relied on an attitude of fear about Torreys among the public. Everyone believes a woman was killed in PB by a Torrey, but in fact it was an Oak tree. The trees have been demonized – but history has shown that Torreys are some of the most stable trees around. They don’t fall.
Another issue had also bubbled up among some residents out there this morning. And that was the matter of what was going to happen with the wood. The City had made noises that it would donate the wood to an artist of the community’s choosing in order to carve some kind of tribute. There were fears that the artist was out of the loop, and that Atlas would simply take all the wood and sell it, and reap more benefits from their work.
Others didn’t care about the issue and some even said they would refuse the wood out of respect for Esperanza.
It wasn’t only the Torrey that was chopped down this morning. It was also community relations between OB and the city that were chopped down as well. A lot of damage was done today. And some newbie activists learned an important lesson through tears and anguish this Monday a.m.
On an issue like this – where the city is acting in a very non-transparent, manipulative way, community members cannot work with the city – they/ we have to take a strong position and stick with it, and not be lulled into complacency or despair. This is grassroots politics 101. The city clearly cannot be trusted – which is what happened this morning.
The city broke its trust with Ocean Beach.
Area residents are planning on expressing their views to city representatives at the Ocean Beach Town Council meeting set for Wednesday (Aug 24, 7pm) at the Masonic Temple. Expect a lot of passion.
UPDATE: It has come to our attention that the city is correct about the tree falling on a person in PB being a Torrey Pine. An OB Rag commenter says, however, the tree’s instability was likely caused by inattentive street repairs.
On This Day: 1838 – The first class graduated from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, MA. It was one of the first colleges for women 1912- The U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations was formed by Congress, during a period of great labor and social unrest. After three years, and hearing witnesses ranging from Wobblies to capitalists, it issued an 11-volume report frequently critical of capitalism. The New York Herald characterized the Commission’s president, Frank P. Walsh, as “a Mother Jones in trousers” 1996 – President Clinton imposed limits on peddling cigarettes to children. (Yes, it took that long)
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