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San Diego couple drops lawsuit seeking to block removal of Ocean Beach palm trees

Century-old palm trees lining Newport Ave above Ocean Beach are shown on Nov. 19, 2021
Carlos Castillo
Century-old palm trees lining Newport Ave above Ocean Beach are shown on Nov. 19, 2021

A couple has dropped a lawsuit that sought to prevent a group of palm trees in Ocean Beach from being removed, which city officials said posed a potential safety hazard to planes flying in and out of San Diego International Airport.

In 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration and San Diego Airport Authority ordered the trees' removal because their height — some were around 70 feet tall — exceeded the safety limit required by federal law, according to the San Diego City Attorney's Office.

Five of the trees were removed last April. The remaining trees, which were owned by the city and planted in the public right-of-way, have since been removed.


John and Tracy Van De Walker filed a lawsuit in federal court and later another in San Diego Superior Court seeking to block the removal. The couple alleged the city could not cut down the trees without violating the city's municipal code and City Council policy. A request to dismiss the lawsuit was filed by the plaintiffs late in January.

In a news release issued earlier this week, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott said: "Meritless lawsuits like this one harm taxpayers by bogging down our overcrowded courts and forcing city staff and attorneys to respond to a frivolous claim. We will petition the court to order the Van de Walkers to reimburse the city for the costs it incurred defending itself."

The Midway Law Firm, which represents the Van De Walkers, said in a statement that, after a judgment was rendered in favor of the city in a similar lawsuit that sought to preserve a group of pepper trees in the Kensington neighborhood, the Van De Walkers requested that their legal team dismiss their lawsuit.

The couple is "exploring other options, both legal and political," according to the statement, which called the statement by the City Attorney's Office's "an act of hubris that could be the fuel in the filing of a class action lawsuit against the FAA, City of San Diego and its forester, Brian Widener that has zero interest in preserving or protecting the beauty of historic and majestic palm trees in San Diego."