Ocean Beach, San Diego’s famous seaside community, is a laid-back affair, in most cases.
Unless, of course, you come for their palm trees. Then things get contentious.
The streets at the north end of Point Loma were laid out in 1887, according to the Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association, but the community didn’t really take off until their teens, when the famous seaside amusement park Wonderland has opened its doors.
In the 1920s – the NINETEEN 20s – someone decided to plant palm trees (fan palms, according to a lawsuit filed in October by a few locals) on and near Newport Avenue, between Santa Barbara Streets and Guizot.
About ninety years later John and Tracy Van de Walker in 2008 bought their home, just up the hill and a short walk from the beach, as the brochures say, and in 2021 those same trees always bloom, peaking at 60-70 feet. in the air, seeming almost comically thin in their reach at such heights.
In early October, the Van de Walkers received a somewhat impersonal note from San Diego Airport Planning Officer Ralph Redman saying the trees were doomed and would be removed “in the next few weeks.”
To be clear, the trees near the Van de Walkers House are four blocks and about 150 feet above sea level above the heart of OB on Newport Avenue, just west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. The trees there are safe. At least not yet: “Mexican fan palm trees live an average of 100 years, plus or minus a few years depending on the environment in which they grew up, ”according to GardenTabs.com
The letter to the Van de Walkers, which was addressed to the “Owner”. informed them that a “recent independent investigation on behalf of the San Diego County Regional Airports Authority (the” Authority “) shows [sic] a palm tree (see attached map) located in the public right-of-way adjacent to 4404 Newport Ave. that intrudes into the protected airspace surrounding San Diego International Airport.
To the untrained eye, the treetops, located hundreds of feet below the flying fortresses taking off (and, occasionally, landing) from the runway of what was once known as Lindbergh Field does not appear present a danger to planes landing at the airport, which is nearly three miles to the east.
The city has targeted these particular examples of Bismarckia noblis, however, after the airport surveyed in 2020, something is done every 5-10 years.
“[O]The constructions violate Section 21659 (a) of the California Public Utilities Code, “the letter from the city reads, with an FAQ provided by the airport stating,” The newly identified obstructions are approaching this safety margin, which needs to be mitigated.
For their part, the Van de Walkers hired lawyer Marc Applbaum of the Midway law firm and, on October 28, filed a “motion and complaint for warrant, injunction and damages.” A week earlier, the Applebaum office had sent a cease and desist letter to San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, city forester Brian Widemer, the airport / Redman, the FAA and the City of San Diego lawyer Mara Eliot.
In the letter, Applbaum wrote that “… my clients will suffer various damages including, but not limited to, decrease and loss in property value, reduced market value, engineers’ fees, d ‘appraisers and other experts to analyze the damage to the subject property and the property. costs to mitigate damage. The letter said the Van de Walkers house was “currently valued at $ 1.765 million by the San Diego County Appraiser.”
The problem with palm trees in the OB, according to the FAA, is that the sensitive aeronautical navigation instruments needed to fly in fog or darkness would be affected by the trees. The Van de Walker team, however, filed a statement of expert testimony from Michael Curran, who is also a lawyer, commercial pilot and aviation / legal expert who has served in this capacity on several occasions, and who , in his statement, said the palm trees “are clearly not a rational threat to the aviation safety of planes on the flight path / in inclement weather to the San Diego airport.”
The city, however, differs from this assessment.
“At the request of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and San Diego International Airport, the city of San Diego plans to remove about 20 palm trees from two locations in Ocean Beach and Bankers Hill,” a statement read. , in part, sent to NBC 7 Friday by Anthony Santacroce, a senior public information officer for the city of San Diego. “The trees are located on town property. According to the FAA, in inclement weather these trees can interfere with the designated flight path and potentially result in aircraft hijacking upon arrival at the airport.
Applbaum told NBC 7 on Friday that the trees were not in the flight path.
“We don’t think so, based on our analysis and statements from seasoned pilots familiar with SD airport flight paths,” Applbaum wrote.
Even if the trees were in the flight path, Applebaum said, they would have to rise some 200 feet into the San Diego skies, a height that would certainly give the Point Loma neighborhood something else to do with it. pause in addition to the noise produced by the jets. flying over frequently.
So what is the distance between the two parties in this dispute? Quite far, it seems. At this point, they don’t even seem to agree on the palms.
“Based on information and beliefs, the palms to be quarried at Point Loma appear to be fan palms native to the state of California that require protection from the California Coastal Commission,” claim the plaintiffs.
“We understand the community’s concern about losing these tall palm trees, which are not native to our region,” replied Anthony Santacroce, City of San Diego public information officer, in a statement sent to NBC 7 Friday.
On November 1, the Van de Walkers obtained an injunction when U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashan granted an ex parte motion for a temporary restraining order.
“The Court LIMITS and ENDS the defendants BRIAN K. WIDENER and the SAN DIEGO COUNTY REGIONAL AIRPORT AUTHORITY as set out in this Order. The Court ORDERS the plaintiffs to serve this order on the defendants, ”said a court document.
But the thing about a TRO is that the T stands for temporary, as the Van de Walkers learned on October 9, when the federal judge in the case, Bashant, left the TRO, ruling that the Van De Walkers did not have standing in court. since they were not, in fact, the owner of the property on which the trees stand. Because they grow in the green ribbon between the sidewalk and the street, the argument follows, the “owner” of the trees is, in fact, the city of San Diego.
Applbaum told NBC 7 that as taxpayers, the Van de Walkers are in fact “owners.”
“We will be returning to court soon, whether in federal or state court, as our clients are landowners and taxpayers and have a vested interest in the survival of the community’s majestic and iconic indigenous palm trees.” , Applbaum said. NBC 7, later adding, “We believe all taxpayers have an ownership interest in trees that are community assets.”
The city said on Friday that at this point no team was scheduled to cut down the trees and furthermore that it would conduct further investigations before doing so anyway.
“There is currently no date for the removal of the palms and we are engaging with the FAA and the San Diego Airport so that we can receive clear instructions on why the removal is necessary and the expected impacts on theft and public safety if the trees are not removed, “Santacroce said in the statement sent to NBC 7.
The Van de Walkers get some support from the neighbors in their fight with the town hall.
“I live in the neighborhood here, and I’m an engineer and I’m completely in disbelief that these beautiful palm trees affect air traffic,” said Richard Johnson on Saturday. “And I think it would be, uh, a shame, like, to have this, our neighborhood, to have these trees taken from our neighborhood.” I do not understand. It doesn’t make sense to me.
In case the trees fall, city officials said, they plan to work with homeowners to “plant new leafy trees that will add to our urban canopy.” In addition to providing shade and lowering temperatures, the native trees support the city’s climate action goals of removing air pollution, reducing stormwater runoff and creating a San Diego more durable and resilient.
Sure, but will the new trees vibrate with OB? You will have to ask an obecian.