11/10/19: Who Will Speak for the Trees?

“Trees exhale for us so that we can inhale them to stay alive. Can we ever forget that? Let us love trees with every breath we take until we perish.” 
― Munia Khan

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.”
– Chinese proverb

Trees cool the climate, look beautiful, grow food, shelter birds and animals, shade us from beating heat, and buffer our eyes and ears. 

A healthy tree canopy is an essential public benefit – plain and simple. The City of Encinitas spends a lot money, time and energy on maintaining and expanding our urban forest. 

That’s why I’ve been deeply unhappy watching the wholesale removal of historic trees in the Caltrans right-of-way as the I-5 freeway is widened through Encinitas with new carpool lanes in each direction. 

I felt had to do something about it.

In a series of meetings this week, I asked Caltrans to do more to protect our old growth trees, both in our city and throughout the freeway corridor as this project moves north.

And they listened. Caltrans’ tree removal through Encinitas has now been halted until an agreed-upon action plan can be developed. They’ve agreed to walk the corridor with our city arborist to determine if the removal of trees in so-called “buffer areas” can be avoided.

For example, if a tree is at the top of a slope, a small inexpensive block wall may be all that’s needed to retain the soil and preserve the tree. A two-foot trench in key places could determine if the tree roots would even be impacted by nearby freeway construction. 

These trees on Interstate 5 near Encinitas Community Park are threatened by Caltrans removal. But the program has been paused pending the creation of a protection plan.

Caltrans has the authority to remove trees and vegetation in its right-of-way, subject to applicable permits. But being a good partner with other agencies like the City of Encinitas, and serving the public in a responsible and responsive way, means keeping residents’ preservation concerns top-of-mind during major projects like this.

There were between 36 and 47 trees, many of them historic eucalyptus and Torrey Pines, scheduled to be removed adjacent to Encinitas Community Park between Birmingham Drive and Santa Fe Drive. Several trees have already been removed in this section. A large number were ripped out without any advance notice or communication with the city or nearby residents, subjecting park visitors and residents to a substantially degraded environment.  

Caltrans plans to plant 74 Torrey Pines in the area where up to 47 trees were planned for removal adjacent to the park. The city’s parks department has now planted a row of trees on our side of the right-of-way, which is under our exclusive control, so that that situation won’t happen again. 

Torrey Pines are an endangered tree in the wild, growing only two places in California — the narrow strip of coastal northern San Diego County where we live, and in two groves on Santa Rosa island off the coast of Santa Barbara. 

It’s heartbreaking to see so many of these trees on the wrong side of a yellow construction tape line. 

I was similarly disappointed when the Cardiff School District felled 70-year-old Torrey Pines at the Cardiff School to make way for what appears to be a flat construction site. 

I have no illusions about the ultimate life cycle of trees. Like all living things, they will inevitably die. But every agency and every person involved needs to internalize and create a culture of protecting trees. It’s always easier to plan construction projects by starting with an empty flat surface than to work around something growing and protected. If we truly care about trees, we must make accommodations.

Unlike the Torrey Pines, the willowy eucalyptus aren’t being replanted when they’re removed, because they aren’t native. I love the eucalyptus, remnants of old California that were imported from Australia for use in building the railroad.

I know the difficulty of deciding on tree removal. In our historic Highway 101 corridor through Leucadia, we have some majestic old eucalyptus, diseased and rotted internally, that need to be removed. This is always a wrenching decision, especially when the tree looks healthy from the outside.

To make sure that we are making the right decisions, we have several arborists on staff in our parks department, and our public works department has an arborist dedicated exclusively to evaluating street trees. We also have a tree committee made up of citizens, called the “Urban Forest Advisory Committee” that evaluates major tree decisions. 

The city has planted 355 trees this year and will plant another 600 in the next two months. In an upcoming city council meeting we’ll be hearing an update on the State of the Urban Forest. 

Here’s the recent staff report regarding the City Council’s acceptance of a grant to plant 600 trees, worth almost $400,000. The city agrees to water and maintain them.  

If you’d like to raise any concerns to Caltrans about trees or other issues related to the freeway construction project, you can contact Build NCC at BuildNCC@KeepSanDiegoMoving.com or call 844-622-0050.

There are many things that are going right in this massive construction program, and I’m grateful for the hard work of the BuildNCC staff. I’m hopeful that the management and preservation of existing trees will join that category very soon. 

Encinitas Advocate newspaper trashes the plastic

In case you missed the news, the Encinitas Advocate is now being delivered directly to your mailbox instead of thrown into your yard encased in a plastic bag each week!

Encinitas residents and Rise Above Plastics committee members of Surfrider Foundation, Derek Wiback and Mark O’Conner, recently advocated for this change with the San Diego Union-Tribune, the owner of the Advocate.

With this one simple change, the use of 1.1 million plastic bags a year in Encinitas as been eliminated – a stellar example of what it means to be a great neighbor. Thank you, San Diego Union-Tribune!We hope to see the same happen for the newspapers delivered across all of North County.

Nada es mejor en Encinitas!

And speaking of green initiatives, Samantha Simone has opened The Nada Shop, in downtown Encinitas, dedicated to the Zero Waste lifestyle. You can refill shampoo and soap bottles, get “un-paper towels” and reusable cloth coffee filters, plus no-plastic deodorants and lotion sticks. It’s a very cool shop and I’m so proud it’s in our city.

Here’s a plastic-free Encinitas Advocate article about it.

Pioneering Olivenhain ranch now a state landmark

(Photo by Kyle Thomas Photography)

The late-1800s-era Bumann Ranch in Olivenhain has now achieved state historic status. It’s a city treasure and I encourage all those interested to take a tour when they are offered. You are truly transported to a different time when you visit the ranch, which is still loved and lived in by descendants of the original pioneer family. Here’s Barbara Henry’s San Diego Union-Tribune article.

The truth about that ‘lawsuit’ 

As I’ve mentioned before, the idea of Encinitas suing its own residents might sound provocative on the surface, but the reality is that the city has to get guidance from the court in order to comply with state housing law.

Voice of San Diego and NBC 7 recently aired this fair and informative three-minute television story about the housing suit. If you’d like to understand more about the controversy, check it out.

Bridge over nature’s water

(Photos by Scott Chatfield.)

And what a thrill to see these two new walking bridges emerge from the San Elijo lagoon! (The second bridge can barely be seen in the upper-right corner of the bottom photo.) People will soon be able to walk north and south between Solana Beach and Cardiff without having to go onto Highway 101.

These pedestrian bridges have received less media attention than other parts of the lagoon restoration project but they’re worth noticing. They will allow the Lagoon Visitor’s Center to be much more connected to the surrounding communities and to the entire trails system in the lagoon, in addition to being a tremendous amenity for the traveling public. 

As I’ve remarked before, the benefits and scale of the improvements taking place in Encinitas are truly amazing. 

In ongoing service,

P.S. I was excited to help our Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (wearing a blue flower dress in the photo below) open her Leucadia campaign office for her re-election to her second term.

Tasha’s holding a Moms for Tasha fundraiser on Sunday, November 17, and I’ll be joining her for a Holiday Fundraiser on Sunday, December 8. Our former Encinitas councilmember Tasha deserves our support! To find out more or to attend, here’s her website.