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Ocean Beach residents fight to stop removal of palm trees

Posted at 12:27 PM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 09:05:05-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Some Ocean Beach residents gathered to protest the removal of palm trees in their neighborhood Thursday morning.

The City of San Diego and Federal Aviation Administration have cited a row of palm trees as a potential threat to airplanes traveling to and from San Diego International Airport.

Several neighbors told ABC 10News that the trees were planted in the 1920s by San Diego pioneer John Spreckels, and they feel the trees add character to Ocean Beach.

While the trees hold some historical value, city officials, the FAA, and San Diego Airport leaders believe it is time for them to come down.

“Based on the data of the Airport Authority -- we worked with them -- they identified almost two dozen trees that are encroaching into the airspace and that’s final at this point,” said Brian Widner, the city forester for the City of San Diego.

On Thursday morning, Widner stood on Santa Monica Avenue and spoke to residents as crews arrived to cut down the beloved palm trees.

One resident said of the plan, “They knew very well that nobody has time to get attorneys involved, to get government oversight involved; I think this was being done very quickly to avoid the recourse that you're referring to.”

Several residents said they were not properly notified about the tree removal. They noted that mailed materials they received were postmarked Oct. 8, but they did not receive the letters until late last week.

Since Monday, city crews have gone to the neighborhood in preparation for the trees to be cut down, but several neighbors showed up to block them.

One resident, Tracy Van De Walker, said, “They're going to have to physically remove me. I've been doing it for the last two days. I've been chasing them off for the last two days.”

There are some residents who are in favor of seeing the trees gone. One of them, John Collom, told ABC 10News, “They are really a nuisance because the city can’t manicure them periodically. They drop residue and residents who are not lazy, come out and clean it up. Many of these residents don’t do anything to clean up the neighborhood.”

City crews did not take the trees down on Thursday, but one resident said, “I have a suspicion that they’re going to be back Monday morning.”

A city official provided this statement to ABC 10News:

“At the request of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and San Diego International Airport, the City of San Diego is planning to remove approximately 20 palm trees from two locations in Ocean Beach and Bankers Hill. The trees are located on City property. According to the FAA, during inclement weather conditions these trees may interfere with the designated flight path and potentially cause arriving planes to be diverted away from the airport. We understand the community's concern over losing these tall palm trees, which are not native to our region. The City will prioritize working with the adjacent property owners to plant new leaf trees that will add to our urban canopy. In addition to providing shade and lowering temperatures, native trees support the City's climate action goals of removing air pollution, reducing storm water runoff, and creating a more sustainable and resilient San Diego.”

The FAA did not immediately respond to ABC 10News' request for comment.