Plans to remove a decades-old Torrey Pine tree in Ocean Beach, the site of a sit-in protest last week, will be put on hold, at least temporarily.
Despite push-back from OB residents, the 73-foot-tall tree, located on the 4600 block of Saratoga Avenue, was set to be removed Friday at 7 a.m. However, the City of San Diego -- which claims the tree is a safety hazard and needs to be removed -- has temporarily suspended plans to remove it.
“Public safety is of the utmost importance, and while our goal is to maximize the environmental benefits of trees, we must balance the risk of trees with the preservation of trees,” said Jeremy Barrick, a Board-Certified Master Arborist and the City’s Urban Forester Program Manager, in a statement early Thursday.
The City said it will work closely with community members to discuss the tree's condition, safety concerns and replacement tree options.
Barrick said earlier on Thursday that "this tree must be removed to entirely eliminate the risk of catastrophic failure."
When news of the tree's removal came out last week, 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.
Residents have said they have not heard specific details of why it is dangerous and why, exactly, it needs to be torn down.
According to John Ambert, Chair of the Ocean Beach Community Planning Board, the Torrey Pines that line that street are more than 95 years old. Given what he's heard from the city, he doesn't think its enough to tear down the 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 Pine trees were removed earlier in the year, after El Nino storms caused them to uplift.
Now, the City will continue to monitor the tree's health. However, if arborists find further evidence that it poses a danger to residents and homes, the City says it will move forward with the removal.
For now, many OB residents are happy the tree is staying in their neighborhood for a bit longer. Ambert told NBC 7 Friday that the community is glad the City is seeking more information on the tree before tearing it down.
He said the fact that the Torrey Pine trees in the neighborhood are older than most residents make the battle worth fighting to keep them rooted right where they are.
Local Kevyn Letteu said those who live in the neighborhood still have many questions for the City about the tree, including its pruning and maintenance over the years.
"We feel like this is a member of our community," Letteu told NBC 7. "We need to have respect for our elders, and these trees are our elders."
She said OB residents are have hired their own arborist to also inspect the tree.
If it is determined the tree is, in fact, not safe to keep on the street, Letteu said residents will be upset, but they will understand.
She said, ultimately, residents want the City to be transparent in its plans for not just this Torrey Pine tree, but all trees on the street so an incident like this does not happen again.
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.