Carmel Valley residents resist SDG&E’s plans to cut down 75 trees

Several Carmel Valley community members continue to rally against SDG&E’s plans to remove 75 trees in Carmel Mission Park. At the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board’s Jan. 25 meeting, the room was filled with residents who “cannot in good conscience let a single solitary tree get clear cut.”

“The trees in Carmel Mission Park are a community treasure, deeply loved and adored by members of the city,” said resident Tara Mackey. “They are healthy, mature and many of them are endangered trees, which add value to the surrounding homes and are enjoyed by the thousands of people who walk, drive and live by the park every day.”

In August 2017, SDG&E shared plans to remove 75 trees from the park to prevent the 60-to-80 foot trees from falling into one of the three transmission lines that run through the park. At the time, the plan was to remove 25 trees a year over the next three years and SDG&E was seeking guidance from the board on whether they should remove the trees by big sections or remove selective trees from each section.

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 and most are pine trees although five are eucalyptus.

Once Mackey and fellow park neighbor Alan Nawoj became aware of the plan, they started a grassroots effort to educate their neighbors and raise awareness. Mackey started a petition in opposition that has been signed by 1,832 people.

The removals were discussed at the Carmel Valley Maintenance Assessment District meeting in December although SDG&E was not in attendance. While it was on the agenda Jan. 25 for the board to make a decision on the removals, according to Chair Frisco White, SDG&E has not completed its review and requested a continuance to its Feb. 22 meeting.

“At SDG&E, we take providing safe and reliable power to our customers very seriously,” said Allison Torres, SDG&E communications manager in an email. “We continue to work on a vegetation management plan related to Carmel Mission Park, specifically in areas near our existing transmission lines, to determine if a safety hazard and reliability issue exists. We will provide more information after our analysis.”

As many residents in opposition were present, Mackey spoke during public comment although the board was not allowed to discuss the topic.

“If SDG&E didn’t have enough information to attend the December and January meetings, how did they have enough information in the summer to warrant the plan to cut down 75 trees?” Mackey asked.

Mackey said the community has consulted and paid for an outside registered master arborist to make an assessment of the park’s trees, presenting the findings to the board. For the assessment, the community selected Bradley Brown of Tree Life Consulting who was hired by and has defended SDG&E in the past.

Bradley’s assessment offered alternative options and solutions.

“The recommendations put forth by SDG&E seem to be a blanketed approach without considering preservation,” wrote Bradley in his assessment.

He reported that if tree failure is improbable then the risk is low and risk can be eliminated by removing the tree or reducing the height with pruning. Based on his observations, failure seemed improbable in many of the trees slated for removal.

He noted species such as the Torrey pines in the park have low failure rates and it seemed many of the trees presented low risk.

“Risk requires a target and a tree part. If the target is a power line, then a mitigation option would try to reduce height before considering tree removal,” Bradley wrote. “Tree removal is the last option. Tree preservation is the spirit of arboriculture. Mitigation options to reduce risk for a given time period should always be considered first to realize the benefits the trees provide.”

Many of the trees marked for removal are not as tall as the cable lines, which stand many feet below the SDG&E power lines. At that height Mackey said it would not be possible for them to fall onto the power lines in any way—“so why are they scheduled for removal?”

Mackey said the likelihood of these trees experiencing tree failure is the same as them getting struck by lightning or hit by a meteor.

“It sets a bad precedent to start cutting trees based on ‘future possibilities’ as most trees in San Diego are located by transmission lines,” Mackey said.

Per the last plans presented, SDG&E stated it does not plan to stump grind after the tree removals due to erosion concerns on the slope. For every tree removed, they have committed to replacing it with two tree replacements that would grow to 30 to 40 feet at most. However, Mackey said according to Bradley, that it is difficult for replacement trees to flourish when there is no stump grinding.

Mackey said the residents are requesting that SDG&E perform a Tree Risk Assessment Qualification report and work together with the community to come up with the “best, most conservative” options to preserve the park.

“When we’re talking about 75 trees becoming 75 stumps, we’re talking about a different park, a different neighborhood, different property values, a different environment and a different place for our kids to grow up,” Mackey said. “There is a better way.”