Torrey pines cut down at Solana Beach school site

Some call for protection for rare species of tree

Buzzing chain saws awoke Solana Beach resident Torgen Johnson one recent morning.

He said he quickly realized it was coming from the nearby Child Development Center Preschool. Workers were in the midst of chopping down two towering, perhaps century-old Torrey pine trees that overlooked the playground.

“The outrage came when I found out these big beautiful trees were being chain-sawed to the ground,” said Johnson, a landscape architect. “It was a bad decision.”

Days earlier, a 14-foot limb had fallen from the tree directly onto the grounds where children play each school day.

“Blessedly not when there were children on the playground,” said School Superintendent Leslie Fausset, adding that the tree’s roots were also damaging nearby sidewalks and buildings. “We looked at every alternative to preserve the tree and for safety reasons we simply could not risk keeping it where it was.”

The district had the trees inspected by two arborists, who concluded the best course of action was to cut them down since there was a danger of more limbs falling.

“We’re tree lovers, not haters,” Fausset said, adding that despite this, the school must follow a moral and ethical responsibility to protect children first.

Johnson, who has a 2-year-old daughter who may attend CDC, said it is very important to keep the youngsters safe, but also that this problem could have been avoided if the trees were more properly cared for.

“Every tree in Solana Beach is susceptible to having limbs fall off of them. If you maintain the tree and see there are large dead limbs, you have a tree service come in,” he said. “At the very least, the community should have been involved in deciding what happens to these trees.”

In Del Mar, citizens need permission from the city to eliminate Torrey pines, which are protected because they only grow in this region of the world.

Landowners must apply for removal either with the Del Mar Design Review Board or the planning director. Acceptable reasons for removal include: the tree presents a fire or public safety hazard, is dead or diseased, interferes with public utilities or is crowding other healthy trees.

Even if there had there been a similar law on the books in Solana Beach, a request by the Child Development Center would most likely have been approved. It might have even qualified for an emergency exemption.

Only the neighbors within 100 feet of the property are notified once an owner submits an application, not the entire city. If someone appeals, the matter then goes before the city council.

Johnson said he and some other environmentalists would like a similar ordinance adopted in Solana Beach.

“In the bigger picture we’re all just stewards of these beautiful trees,” he said. “These things will outlive most of us. During this period we’re caring for them we should make them healthy.”

Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner said while she is in favor of protecting Torrey pines on city-owned property, the council will not act until it gets community input: “We’ll wait to hear from the public, and I’m sure we will.”