Residents fighting removal of 74 trees from Carmel Mission Park

Opposition has grown as more Carmel Valley residents have become aware of SDG&E’s plan to remove 74 trees from Carmel Mission Park. Over the last few weeks, 1,256 people have signed a petition on change.org to “Protect endangered Torrey Pines and stop the power company from destroying San Diego.”

According to SDG&E’s vegetation management department, the removals are necessary to prevent the 60-to 80-foot trees from falling and knocking into one of three transmission lines that run though the park, the largest being 230 kilovolt.

“At SDG&E, we take providing safe and reliable power to our customers very seriously. That sometimes includes the removal of trees to ensure the safety of the communities we serve,” said Allison Torres, SDG&E communications manager in response to inquiries about the state of the plan currently. “At this time, SDG&E is still analyzing a vegetation management plan related to Carmel Mission Park, specifically in areas near our existing transmission lines that are posing a safety hazard and reliability issue. SDG&E will provide more information after its analysis.”

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board will discuss the tree removals at its Jan. 25 meeting, held at 7 p.m. at the Carmel Valley Library.

Carmel Valley residents Tara Mackey and Alan Nawoj, formerly strangers to one another, have joined forces to help spread awareness about SDG&E’s plans that they feel not many of their neighbors know about.

“These trees cannot speak for themselves and someone must speak for them. We will not stand by and watch a power company change the landscape of our neighborhood and destroy the namesake of our town,” Mackey said of the Torrey Pine, a species that only grows in San Diego. “We live in this neighborhood and we know these beautiful, endangered trees pose no risk to us.They have been here for decades without any problem to the residents. Most citizens live here because of the trees, not in spite of them. This is in SDG&E’s best interest alone and takes no public interest into consideration.”

Carmel Mission Park is located on Carmel Country Road and is split in half by Carmel Center Road. Most of the tree removals are located north of Carmel Center Road, on the east side of the park, although 12 are located south of Carmel Center. Most are pine trees and five are eucalyptus.

In August, Greg Peck from SDG&E shared the plan for the removals with the Carmel Valley planning board. Peck said that 50 percent of SDG&E’s power outages in the last two years have been caused by downed trees and if a tree knocked over a line in Carmel Mission Park, it would result in a major power outage for the entire West Coast. He said there is a history of felled trees in the park — he said a pine tree uprooted in January 2016 and fell into another tree, which contacted the 69 kilovolt line and over the last five years, two pine trees have fallen onto residential homes.

Peck was looking for feedback on which process they should take in removing 25 trees a year over the next three years — whether the board preferred to remove the trees in chunks or remove selected trees from each section. Peck said that SDG&E went door to door and spoke with several customers about the removals and only one was opposed. The board opted not to take action at that meeting and requested SDG&E complete more community outreach with a formal noticing.

Trees have been tagged by SDG&E and signs were placed at the park.

At the Carmel Valley Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) meeting on Dec. 5, Mackey said they learned that SDG&E only spoke to properties that directly abut the park, about five homes.

“Several hundred homes in the immediate vicinity would be directly impacted by this significant change to the landscape,” said Nawoj.

Nawoj only learned about the plans to remove the trees in late November. He noticed that 10 to 15 trees were chopped down on homeowner association-owned property up the greenbelt from the park on Graydon Road and he started looking for more information, finding the Carmel Valley News article on the plans for Carmel Mission.

As the tree removals are slated for city property, Nawoj said he believed there was an opportunity to stop SDG&E and started his own grassroots effort, meeting Mackey in the process.

“As we started going door to door in the immediate vicinity of Carmel Mission Park, we heard the same response from virtually everyone: They were not aware of these plans and they were opposed to these plans,” Nawoj said.

When signing the peititon, Sudi Rasekh wrote: “We the Carmel Valley neighbors are tired of witnessing trees disappearing for conveniences… If the removal of the trees continues as it has been, our neighborhood will be surrounded mostly by concrete and will lose its natural healthy functionality.”

Nawoj believes that there are alternatives to the “sledgehammer to a nail” approach of simply clear-cutting the trees. He said alternatives could include “anchoring” trees together, installing a high “guardrail” that would prevent a tree from falling into a power line and continued evaluation after pruning and selected topping of trees.

Nawoj also suggested SDG&E conduct a risk-assessment of each individual tree — he said if there is a dead or unhealthy tree than it should “absolutely” be cut down but not the healthy Torrey Pines that took 60 to 70 years to grow.

Cutting down 74 mature trees will not only dramatically change the landscape but it will negatively impact home values, Nawoj said. He cited the handbook “Shading Our Cities: Resource Guide For Urban And Community Forests” to point out that one U.S. Forest Service estimate suggests that mature trees boost home market values at rates of 7 to 20 percent.

“Considering most homes are valued at over $1 million in this area, we are talking about a collective reduction in property values that could total upwards of $100 million,” Nawoj said. “Personally, one of the main reasons we moved here was because of the giant, mature trees. It was a big factor for choosing this area.”

Mackey said she has left dozens of voicemails and emailed SDG&E multpile times, nearly every day, with no response. SDG&E did not have a representation at the Dec. 5 MAD meeting and Mackey said she has been left with many questions.

In August, Peck said the plan would be to leave the stumps for erosion control but replace every tree removed with two 15-gallon replacements. However, Mackey heard that there is not a plan for 15-gallon replacement trees. While the original plan said 74 trees, another version she received has 75 — the lack of information only causes speculation and distrust, Mackey said.

“They say they want feedback and they aren’t responsive.That’s disingenuous,” Mackey said. “With SDG&E's logic, one could argue that every tree on every block in America should be cut down, since most suburban trees are located by power lines. With this excuse, it sets a bad precedent for all of San Diego. We have to win this battle.”

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