The destiny of a 73-foot, 90-year-old Torrey Pine tree is debated in a Ocean Beach neighborhood. Photo by Chris Stone
The destiny of a 73-foot, 90-year-old Torrey Pine tree is debated in a Ocean Beach neighborhood. Photo by Chris Stone

The city of San Diego has suspended its plans to remove Friday the 73-foot-tall tree in Ocean Beach at the center of a contentious test of wills between municipal government and community activists.

City officials had said the nearly century-old Torrey pine at 4652 Saratoga Ave. was in danger of falling, but opponents contended the city hadn’t adequately explained why the tree had to be taken out. Last week, an Ocean Beach woman climbed the tree and stayed there to prevent a removal attempt.

The city will now monitor the tree and begin discussing its condition, safety concerns and replacement options with area residents. However, the possibility still exists that the tree will ultimately be removed.

“Should the ongoing monitoring reveal further deteriorating conditions or danger to nearby homes and residents, the city will move forward with its removal,” city officials said in a statement.

Jeremy Barrick, a board-certified master arborist and the city’s urban forester program manager, inspected the tree with other experts and decided it needed to be removed. Two nearby Torrey pines were uprooted by storms over the most recent winter, according to city officials.

“Public safety is of the utmost importance, and while our goal is to maximize the environmental benefits of trees, we must balance the risk of trees with the preservation of trees,” Barrick said.

A resident who lives on Saratoga Avenue agrees.

The tree “has multiple issues stemming from lifting roots to the inability of the roots to take base because of the cement, cut roots in the street, and I believe a 6,000-pound branch was taken off a few months ago due to termite damage,” said the resident, who declined to give his name because of the emotional debate.

“Nobody in their right mind, no citizen of OB would want to destroy a beautiful and majestic tree unjustly. This issue is clearly and solely about the preservation of human life” of residents who live on the street, he said.

“If we can find a common ground and rebuild together and replant together, that is the best use of our abilities as a community. This shouldn’t be a divisive issue,” the Saratoga Avenue resident added.

Arborist Barrick also said, “We have monitored and reviewed this tree for several months and consensus among multiple arborists is that this tree must be removed to entirely eliminate the risk of catastrophic failure.In order to extend the benefits of this tree, we will be working with a local artist to re-purpose the wood and work with the community in planting replacement trees.”

City officials said a portion of the trunk would be given to an artist, while some branches would be left behind for use by neighbors, per their request. As part of its plan to address the impacts of climate change, the city is completing an assessment of its tree inventory and is set to embark on a tree planting program to increase the canopy in San Diego neighborhoods.

— City News Service and Chris Stone contributed to this report.