‘Iconic’ palm trees removal prompts some Ocean Beach residents to protest

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SAN DIEGO — The city’s plan to remove what some residents call “iconic” palm trees in two areas of San Diego has recently stirred up controversy in one seaside community.

About two dozen people protested Thursday on the removal of eight trees in Ocean Beach, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

“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,” stated Anthony Santacroce, Senior Public Information Officer with the City of San Diego.

Santacroce told FOX 5 Friday via email that according to the FAA, during inclement weather conditions, the trees may interfere with the designated flight path and potentially cause arriving planes to be diverted away from the airport.

The Union-Tribune reported the San Diego International Airport conducts a survey every five to 10 years to ensure no obstacles protrude so far into the sky that they could interfere with the sensitive navigation sensors pilots rely on to fly when visibility is low. The buffer zone planes need in order to fly safely in certain circumstances isn’t determined by the airport, but what the Federal Aviation sets.

Airport and city officials said the survey, which took about two years, found that the eight Ocean Beach palms, and about a dozen other palms in the Bankers Hill area, were found to be obstructing that buffer zone, the newspaper states.

Ocean Beach residents John Van De Walker and his wife told FOX 5 they’ve been running around and standing underneath each of the trees on Newport Ave and Santa Monica, preventing city workers from cutting the trees down.

“Now the survey was done in 2020 and the one prior in 2012,” De Walker’s wife said in an email. “How are these trees such a ‘safety risk’ today more than they were two months ago or let’s say eight months ago, or more that they need to be taken out IMMEDIATELY.”

City officials responded saying that they “understand the community’s concern over losing these tall palm trees,” which are not native to the region.

“The City will prioritize working with the adjacent property owners to plant new leaf trees that will add to our urban canopy,” Santacroce said. “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.”

In 2005, a property owner requested that the city remove some palms near Santa Barbara Street and Niagara Avenue, just a block away from the palms that are currently slated for removal in Ocean Beach, the U-T reports. The resident had complained that fallen fronds had damaged her roof and the city sent crews to cut down the trees, managing to remove a few before other community members stood underneath the palms to prevent further chopping. Ultimately, the trees were saved after officials promised to trim them at least annually.

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