City of San Diego and its forester twisted ‘immediate safety risk’ in bid to remove Point Loma palms

Liar, liar, pants on fire

By Geoff Page

Whenever you plan to take an action that you know is wrong, it helps to have confederates around so that when the feces hit the fan, they don’t blow all over you. In this case, there would have been three confederates, the FAA, the airport, and the city.

The action, which someone clearly knew was wrong, was the attempt to cut down historic tall palm trees in the 4300 and 4400 blocks of Newport Avenue. At fault in this case was the city’s hitherto unsubstantiated claim that the trees were an immediate safety hazard.

When authorities deem something to present an immediate safety hazard, this allows them to proceed at will to protect the public, waiving all normal requirements in the interest of time. It’s very logical. But, this mechanism is often abused. It all comes down to what is deemed an immediate safety hazard and who can make that judgment.

At this point, the city has not provided an explanation, so a public records request has been filed. It should be interesting.

The Three Confederates seems to have been a work of city fiction.

In one NBC 7 story dated November 16, 2021 was as follows:

“At the request of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and San Diego International Airport, the City of San Diego plans to remove approximately 20 palm trees from two locations in Ocean Beach and Bankers Hill,” a statement read, in part. sent to NBC 7 Friday by Anthony Santacroce, a senior public information official for the city of San Diego.

Of KPBS article titled “Owners fight to save century-old palm trees in OB, Point Loma area”, dated November 19, 2021:

“There is currently no date for the removal of the palm trees and we are engaging with the FAA and San Diego Airport so that we can receive clear instructions on why the removal is necessary and the impacts expected on flights and public safety if trees are not removed. .”

Judging by the wording “At the request of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)” and “we engage with the FAA”, one would think that the FAA was one of the Confederate Three. The response the FAA eventually spat out was startling.

Mandy Havlik, a member of the Peninsula Community Planning Council, started an email chain at the office of San Diego Congressman Scott Peters from late November last year and it ended the first week of March when the FAA responded in a single 390-word paragraph. Buried inside was the following wording, the last sentence tells the story:

“An obstruction assessment (OE) filing with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the necessary trigger for the agency to issue an advisory decision, whether an object would be considered an obstruction, and to apply corrective action. mitigation to protect existing airspace. There is no record of an EO case filed with the FAA for palm trees by the airport authority or the city. The FAA is not a party to the actions proposed by the city.

An email was sent to Anthony Santacroce asking if there was a discrepancy between what the city was saying and what the FAA had said. The response was brief: “I have no comment on the things currently in dispute.” Hopefully this will be asked during this litigation.

So now there are only two partners in crime, the airport and the city. Losing the FAA is huge, it provided the lie of federal legitimacy for the city’s action. Now, these are just the two entities and the airport is unlikely to fall on a sword for the city.

The only one of the two to benefit from the immediate felling of these trees was the city. The airport may correctly point out that its own document to the public contained a chart showing that the trees would cross the imaginary line several years from now. Not a word about “immediate” in their stuff.

What we’re left with is the city, specifically City Forester Brian Widener, who tried to abuse the immediate danger mechanism to get rid of more palm trees.

The Municipal Code defines “imminent danger to the safety of life” as “any condition that creates a present, extreme and immediate danger to life, property, health or public safety”.

Since all the trees are still standing five months later, this definition obviously wouldn’t apply because the town forester attempted to apply it.

The f of the cityforest site is titled “Trees”. There can be found information from the Community Forest Advisory Council. It is described as follows:

“The city’s award-winning Community Forest Advisory Council is responsible for advising the mayor on all policy issues relating to urban forestry. There are 14 council members appointed by the mayor and the city council.

Funny thing, the municipal code they refer to states that the council is supposed to be made up of 15 people.

When you click on the link for the current 14 board members, it shows that 12 members are marked as expired and two members are marked as vacant. Of the 12 expired members:

  • 7 mandates expired on January 1, 2021.
  • 2 mandates were marked as vacant on January 1, 2020
  • One term was vacant as of December 31, 2019
  • One mandate was vacant on January 1, 2014
  • One mandate was vacant on January 1, 2011.

The description does not specify when the council won these awards.

Widener has been here since November 2017. According to public information on LinkedIn, he has a degree in forestry from Northern Arizona University which took him 11 years to earn. There is nothing on the site that shows what he did for five years after graduating. This shows that Widener worked in New York for seven years before coming to San Diego.

Why would San Diego go all the way to New York to hire this person? California has over 40 million people. And what would someone with that background know about West Coast flora?

Widener displayed a New York attitude when he came to the site of the palm trees on the day of the protest and refused to answer questions, saying only the trees were falling. It could only be described as arrogance.

Now that we know Widener lied about the immediate safety hazard, how can we continue to pay his salary with our taxes? Public servants who do not understand that they are there to serve the public, not to dictate to the public, do not understand their job.


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Susan W. Lloyd