Homeowners fight to save century-old palm trees in OB, Point Loma area
The Airport Authority says the trees are, or will soon be, a hazard to aviation and must come down.
It is a quintessentially Southern California scene. The colonnade of palm trees lining Newport Avenue from the ocean up to the top of the street have been there since being planted in the early part of the last century. Now, the future of some of them is in doubt.
“We first received a letter that was dated Oct. 8. We didn’t receive the letter until Oct. 14," said homeowner Tracy Van De Walker.
The letter to Van De Walker and her husband, John, came from the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. It said that two palm trees, one in front of their house and one across the street would have to be removed because they pose or would soon pose a threat to planes when they land from the west. But she soon learned it wasn’t just those two trees.
"Some other neighbors received these notices also with a map with trees in front of their house also," she said.
The city did manage to cut off the top of one of the trees at the top of Newport Avenue. Theoretically they would’ve just kept right on going but then, neighbors got involved. And Van De Walker sprang into action. She started following city crews around, standing under trees she thought they were about to cut.
“They had to stop because they can’t top off the tree with me standing right underneath it," she said with a laugh.
A few weeks ago, Van De Walker got a lawyer and sued the city. She said cutting down the trees would diminish property values. But the judge tossed it out, saying people would be compensated for any trees cut down.
At the same time, she tried to get answers; from the Airport Authority and from the city. She said that has been a frustrating experience.
“We asked for the calculations they’re using for this … And we were just getting the run-around back and forth with no one having any information for us.”
KPBS tried to get answers, too. The FAA told us to contact the Airport Authority. We did, and we also reached out to the city. Both issued statements.
The one from the airport said in part: "The City of San Diego-owned palm trees located in the public right-of-way adjacent to the neighboring homes exceeds or will soon exceed acceptable elevations under federal standards, intruding into the airspace that surrounds the airport."
A portion of the statement from the city read: "There is currently no date for removal of the palms and we are engaging with the FAA and the San Diego Airport so that we may receive clear direction on why removal is necessary and the expected impacts to flights and public safety if the trees are not removed."
Tracy Van De Walker said she and her neighbors just want answers. She said if it can be shown to her satisfaction that the trees really are an aviation hazard, she won’t stand in the way of their removal.
But for now at least, the iconic vista that is Newport Avenue will stay the way it’s looked for decades.