Despite complaints, Torrey pines trees unlikely to be removed in Carmel Valley area


By Karen Billing

A local resident went before the Torrey Hills Community Planning board in June to complain about Torrey pines trees blocking ocean views in her neighborhood.

The resident said that she and other homeowners in her community purchased homes sold as “premium ocean view homes” and that view never materialized due to the trees — a cluster of Torrey pines trees at the corner of Carmel Mountain Road and Carmel Creek Road.

Torrey Hills Planning Board Chair Kathryn Burton told the resident that the planning board does not have any authority when it comes to the trees.

According to Paul Sirois, assistant deputy director of the open space division and maintenance assessment districts (MADs) of the parks and recreation department, the San Diego Municipal Code provides certain protections for Torrey pines on public land — they can only be removed for public safety and the health of the tree.

“Torrey pines are a native and rare species, therefore the city acting through the MAD would be reluctant to cut one down on private property for view purposes,” Sirois said.

The trees are very rare and native to a very limited area along California’s South coast, Sirois said, with about 7,000 native trees remaining mostly in Torrey Pines State Reserve and some on Santa Rosa Island.

Additionally, Torrey pines have been designated by San Diego City Council as the City’s Native Tree “in recognition of the value our community holds for the beauty and splendor and the role they play in the quality of life of San Diegans.”

The issue of trees blocking ocean views in the Torrey Hills community is not a new one — a resident came before the planning board in 2009 to complain about trees at the same corner. The next year, four trees started to suffer and maintenance crews suspected vandalism.

According to test results by ECA (Expert Chemical Analysis) in 2010, a soil sample tested positive for trichlorophenoxyacetic acid, a herbicide that is used to kill woody plants. The trunk and soil at the base of each tree had been drenched in it, according to an e-mail from Carlos Cordova, grounds maintenance manager of the Torrey Hills MAD.

“It’s unfortunate that people take this into their own hands and poison the trees,” Burton said, noting no link was ever made between the poisoning and the homeowner who brought the issue before the board in 2009.

The MAD removed the four dead trees on the corner in March of 2011. The estimated tree value was $15,000 to $20,000 each and as the MAD is obligated to replace what was lost, the same species of Torrey pines was replanted.

According to Sirois, in order to remove a Torrey pine, there would have to be review and approval by the Community Forest Advisory Board and possibly review from the Development Services Department and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) if the tree was deemed of community significance.

The city also never tops any type of tree because doing so leads to unhealthy growth patterns, Sirois said.

Sirois said that the parks and recreation department usually receives very few requests to remove the trees.