Woman Scales Doomed Torrey Pine Tree in Protest in Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach residents say the large tree on Saratoga Avenue is set to be torn down, much to their dismay

In an act of protest, a woman scaled a very tall Torrey Pine Thursday in San Diego’s Ocean Beach neighborhood – a tree set to be torn down, much to the outrage of local residents.

The woman, Ocean Beach resident Crystal Rose Speros, began her sit-in at the tree around 11 a.m., making her way into a groove in the middle of the Torrey Pine in the 4600 block of Saratoga Avenue.

"It seemed like the only option. It’s a defenseless tree and it needs protection," Speros told NBC 7. "It's older than I am so it's part of this community. It's an old soul that can't defend itself, so it's an endangered tree."

According to Ocean Beach residents, the tree was going to be chopped down Thursday. 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 of San Diego said the Torrey Pine is a danger to the area. However, residents said they have not heard specific details of why it is dangerous and why, exactly, it needs to be torn down.

A crew with Atlas Tree Trimming Service, the company hired to cut the tree, arrived at Saratoga Avenue Thursday to start the process. However, the crew was unable to start trimming due to the woman in the tree.

Speros said she didn't plan to scale the tree, but felt it was her only choice.

"I didn't plan this of course, but it felt necessary, so that's why I'm here," she added. 

NBC 7 reached out to the City of San Diego for details on the trimming and why the tree may be considered dangerous.

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.

"These trees are basically an OB legacy," Ambert told NBC 7. "They've been around longer than I have, and most of the people standing around here. They're 95 years old, they're 75 feet tall, they're an endangered species. They basically represent the community's desire to be different than the rest of the county. Given the fact that there are only 2,000 left, I think there's reason to protect them."

Ambert said the community has fought to protect those trees and maintain them in a safe way.

“The fact that the city is steam rolling through this process with zero transparency and insufficient public notice is shameful and unacceptable,” he told NBC 7.

Mark Leimbach/NBC 7 San Diego
This woman staged a sit-in at a large Torrey Pine in Ocean Beach Thursday, which is set to be torn down.

Ambert said the City’s reasoning behind tearing down the Torrey Pine was "the balance of the tree and signs of root upheaval indicate the risk of possible and potentially catastrophic failure."

Still, he doesn't think this is reason enough to tear down the tree.

"While I recognize the need for public safety and the rights of the property owners who have their plumbing or electrical lines affected, I still think that there has to be some kind of public discourse about how this process occurs, and some kind of transparency to demonstrate the need for its removal," he said Thursday. 

Ambert said he asked the City to see the arborist's report on the tree, or have a second arborist offer another opinion, but did not receive a response.

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.

Bills Harris, Supervising Public Information Officer for the City of San Diego told NBC 7 that the City is working with the contractor to schedule another day to remove the tree. Harris says community members are welcome to attend a meeting of the Community Forest Advisory Board to learn more about tree maintenance. 

"I don't see the thing keeling over or cracking, I don't see any imminent danger here so if they were to demonstrate there were some imminent danger here, or if they were to issue a report that kind of talked about that, we would be more open to understanding the need for removal but without that, it seems very rash," Ambert added.

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.

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