Solana Beach School District to remove Torrey pine trees

Solana Beach trees
Seven large Torrey pine trees will be removed along the Solana Beach School District office frontage.
(Karen Billing)

Due to safety concerns, seven large Torrey pine trees will come down along the Solana Beach School District office frontage on North Rios Road in Solana Beach.

“This is an item that we didn’t want to bring forward,” said Solana Beach School District Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger at the board’s June 15 meeting. “We don’t want to remove any trees, particularly Torrey pines trees…but it’s a risk we couldn’t continue to afford.”

The trees’ risk to young students, staff members and the community has only increased over the last few years.

Brentlinger said during the rainy and windy weather events in the beginning months of the year, residents reached out to the district with concerns about the trees. One neighbor said during more significant storms, they would remove children from their bedrooms due to the fear of branches or trees falling. Another resident said they watched trees sway precariously and staff members also expressed concerns about the safety of the 18-month-old to five-and-a-half-month-old children at the childcare center on site.

Community outreach began in March on the potential tree removals. The school board approved the removals on June 15 and, the night before, the district shared their plans with Solana Beach City Council.

John Leland, the district’s assistant superintendent of administrative operations, said that with natural growth Torrey pines trees typically grow to be 40 to 50 feet tall with a symmetrical canopy and root systems that extend 225 feet.

The seven trees in front of the district office have been artificially irrigated with a sprinkler system and have reached a towering 70 to 80 feet tall.

SDG&E’s regular pruning to keep the branches off the power lines has created uneven crowns, damaging the trees’ natural form and structure. The trees’ branches stretch over the district’s office spaces and classrooms.

Due to the spray irrigation, the trees have also been prevented from developing the extensive root system needed for stability. The district has already seen several felled limbs and trees—last June a large branch fell across the sidewalk and parking lot.

“There is no direction the trees could safely fall,” said Leland, noting that if they failed, the trees would either fall across the road and toward the neighboring homes, taking out high voltage lines or fall toward the school district.

At the board’s meeting, SBSD President Debra Schade supported the action to remove the trees with a “heavy heart.”

“I”m not supportive of ever taking a Torrey pine down,” Schade said. “But these are not natural Torrey pines and present a tremendous amount of risk to our community.”

With the board’s approval, the district’s first step in the removal process will be an avian study to make sure no nesting birds will be impacted. The district expects to remove the trees by the end of June.

As removing the trees will create a large volume of unique wood, community organizations will take the trees to mill into lumber that can be repurposed.

The district also plans to replant trees to replace those lost. Leland said they are working on a collaborative tree renewal partnership project with SDG&E and the city, to replace the pines with more utility-friendly trees. The types of replacement trees have not yet been selected but they plan to work together and look for areas to plant new trees, possibly closer to Cedros Avenue.

In his remarks, Solana Beach City Deputy Mayor David Zito said he appreciated that the district recognizes the significance of the trees and that they took the time to think it through and do it the right way.

“We’re all sorry to lose these trees,” Zito said.