A 73-year-old Torrey Pine in Ocean Beach was removed Monday morning, several weeks after a public protest delayed the move.
The decades-old tree was the site of a sit-in protest earlier this month. The tree has been deemed unsafe, according to the City of San Diego.
“This is a moderate threat and we don’t know when this tree will fail,” said Jeremy Barrick, City of San Diego Planning Department Urban Forestry Planning Department.
City officials met with members of the community last week, Barrick said. He acknowledged that there was a community forum planned for August 24 but the action had to be taken because of the increased risk.
“In this case, this is a public safety issue. We need to move forward with this before it comes down,” Barrick said.
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."
Virginia Wilson lives two streets from the Torrey Pine and was not aware the tree was going to be removed Monday.
“I feel betrayed by the city because they have not produced any evidence that this tree is a risk to anyone, an imminent danger,” Wilson said.
She said a report from an independent arborist shows the tree was low-risk.
“It does not need to come down today,” she said.
Bill Posey lives a few blocks away from the Torrey Pine and has lived in Ocean Beach for 40 years.
He also mentioned the report from an arborist hired by residents.
“The community paid $750 for an independent arborist who said the tree is low-risk,” Posey said.
“And the City just comes in and cuts it down,” he added.
When news of the tree's removal was initially made public, residents were angered.
In an act of protest, Ocean Beach resident Crystal Rose Speros scaled the tree and sat in a groove for most of the day. About a half-dozen residents on the ground joined Speros in protest, claiming the city was not transparent in its plans for the doomed tree.
The City told NBC 7 that four different arborists have looked at the Torrey Pine and determined the tree is hazardous. NBC 7 was able to obtain these reports.
The tree is rooted adjacent to where two other similar large Torrey Pines were removed earlier in the year, after El Nino storms caused them to uplift.
According to this Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve website, 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.
In 1850, the tree was official discovered and named the Torrey Pine by Dr. Charles Christopher Parry – a doctor with an interest in botany – when he was in San Diego as a botanist for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey. Parry named the tree after his mentor, Dr. John Torrey, of New York, one of the leading botanists of his time.