Tree cover in San Diego. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

By Colleen O’Connor

With great fanfare, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced the planting of 500 new trees in San Diego’s Balboa Park last week.

Meanwhile, pepper trees in Old Town, jacaranda and pine trees in Point Loma, and even more precious trees and plants in the birthplace of California—Presidio Park—are allowed to wither and die, or be cut down, due to “the drought.” And that is just a few of the public park areas dying from neglect for want of a little water.

Even the admirable attempt by the county to create a downtown waterpark falls short—lots of water bursts–but, negligible trees.

So, now that spring has arrived and so much water is gushing from the resultant snow melt, that Lake Tahoe is now losing most of its beach, reservoirs are near full, and two desalinization plants (Carlsbad and Tijuana) are about to feed even more water into the area — not to mention the “toilet to tap” project — we still starve our trees. So much so, that our local palm trees are now diseased with the spread of an invasive weevil.

“We are on the verge of a major crisis for California’s palms,” Mark Hoddle, director of the Center for Invasive Species Research at UC Riverside, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

All unintended consequences of drought overkill.

Add to this mega structures replacing what once was open space. Friars Road is already congested with new condos, apartments, shops, and additional plans for more of the same at the old Copley newspaper headquarters, the redevelopment of Town and Country into a condo-hotel, the mega construction plans for what once was the Mission Valley’s golf course and then, of course, the fight over the near 200 acres of the Qualcomm Stadium site. Then there is the Manchester development along Harbor Drive and the endless high-rise construction downtown.

So, 500 trees, while admirable in a park destined to be burdened with a multi-story parking garage and lots more cement, is hardly adequate to reduce any carbon footprint.

All of which begs the question, “What has happened to all the plants and trees in our city’s few remaining park lands?”

“Trees are priceless to our ecosystem.” And not just for reducing the carbon footprint or for their great, good looks.

The Pacific Southwest division of the U.S. Forest Service conducted a study that calculated the value of trees in California in raw dollar figures:

  • Increased property values: $839 million
  • Energy savings (by offering shade): $101 million
  • Absorbing rain and preventing flooding: $41.5 million
  • Taking pollution out of the air: $18 million
  • Storing harmful carbon emissions: $10 million

Simply put, “…a single tree returns an annual benefit of $5.82 in benefit for every $1 spent.”

Put that in your pension fund! And in your parks, neighborhoods and backyards.

And, don’t forget to water them! Trees save more than just money: They help save the planet.


Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.

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