UC San Diego cutting down 250 ‘unsafe’ trees at Mesa graduate student and family housing

About 250 trees in UC San Diego's Mesa housing development have been marked for removal.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Residents of the on-campus neighborhood object to the ‘drastic’ loss of the eucalyptus trees, citing a decrease in shade and livability.


Citing safety risks, UC San Diego is removing about 250 eucalyptus trees from its South and Central Mesa housing development, a move that has alarmed residents there.

The removal effort was detailed in a July 20 email sent to the residents of Mesa housing — UCSD’s graduate student and family housing on the La Jolla campus east of Interstate 5. The email said the trees were identified as “presenting the most risk” and needed to be cut down.

The removal is to begin this week and last several months.

On June 28, a large eucalyptus tree fell on one of the units in the Mesa neighborhood, according to Leslie Sepuka, UCSD associate communications director.

“Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the university is taking this action because the safety of students, faculty and staff at UC San Diego is always of highest concern,” she said.

UCSD cited the potential danger to people and property if the trees fall, though it did not specify what may cause them to fall.

The commission is still waiting for a coastal development permit application from UCSD more than three years after most public access to the reserve was cut off.

July 25, 2023

The process to identify trees for removal is based on size and fall radius, Sepuka said. “If a tree is tall enough to fall on a building, car or playground, then it will be cut. Since many of the trees are so tall and were planted close to buildings and parking lots, the number that needs to be cut is correspondingly high.”

Trees on a slope leaning away from property will not be removed.

Residents of Mesa housing sent a letter of complaint dated July 20 to the tree removal management team; Mesa’s office of housing, dining and development (HDH); and UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla.

The letter has dozens of residents’ signatures indicating they “feel strongly that the measure is drastic and that the effects on the livability of our neighborhood have been insufficiently considered.”

UCSD says removal of 250 eucalyptus trees is needed for the safety of on-campus residents in South and Central Mesa housing.
UC San Diego says removal of 250 eucalyptus trees is needed to protect the safety of on-campus residents in South and Central Mesa housing.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Noting there were four days between the email to residents and the noticed July 24 start date for the tree removal, the letter states that “extreme and deliberately short notice … does not inspire confidence or trust in HDH and your management of this transition, even if we are aware that these trees are a danger.”

Citing a 2019 study about the benefits of trees, the letter argues that removing the trees will decrease the community’s shade and livability and increase stress and air pollution. It notes that eucalyptus trees in other well-trafficked and residential areas of the campus are not marked for removal and asks that “the university take responsibility and formally offer students affected by these changes the opportunity to meaningfully comment on these plans.”

The university’s notification email stated that according to UCSD’s 2018 Long Range Development Plan, “the entirety of the Central and South Mesa housing residential areas will be removed and redeveloped at some point in the future,” with new trees planted “to mitigate the loss of the unsafe eucalyptus.”

The residents’ complaint letter says the email “suggests that remediation of the effects of this tree removal will occur long after the future demolition and redevelopment of our homes. It does not commit to measures necessary to mitigate the near-term environmental and health and safety impacts of this large-scale deforestation.”

Sepuka said “it’s too early in the planning to have specific details” on the number of trees in the replanting or its timing. ◆