La Jolla Rec Center’s star pine (former community Christmas Tree) to be replaced

The star pine slated for replacement, fronts the La Jolla Rec Center at 615 Prospect St. Star pines are also known as Norfolk Island Pines or Norfolk Pines.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Change of plans in the tale of two trees.

Instead of replacing the leaning tree on the La Jolla Rec Center grounds, a project is underway to remove the 60-foot star pine on the front lawn and plant a new one in its place.

This decision evolved from a proposal by the La Jolla Sunrise Rotary Club to pay for replacing the leaning tree — planted in 2015 a few feet from the center building — with what could serve as the town’s official holiday tree, since the 60-foot star pine (planted and donated by the Sunrise Rotary in 1984) has become too large and expensive to decorate. (For the last two years, a shorter, temporary tree has been brought to the site and festooned.)

The Rotary would pay for the removal of the existing star pine, break up its roots, prep the soil, replace the tree, stake it according to City standards, and hook up the water to irrigate it.

The La Jolla Recreation Advisory Group (LJRAG) Visioning Committee members, who approved the change in plans, said they recognize this may not be a popular decision.

“We’re concerned that people might be unhappy with us taking out a living tree, but really, the tree was not in great shape and it was recommended we replace it,” said LJRAG member Jill Peters. “Instead of (planting) the tree closer to the building, we wanted to put it out closer to the Cultural Zone so it can greet everyone.”

LJRAG trustee Gail Forbes added: “Part of how this decision evolved is that we can only put trees in certain places (at the Rec Center) because we have development plans … and the star pine tree has become ungainly and unsafe to decorate. It is a wonderful piece of our community that was started 35 years ago, and then it occurred to us there would be some historical continuity to putting the same tree in the same place by the same organization for the same purpose. So focusing on that aspect of the project turned us all around. It may seem illogical — and there is an emotional aspect of this decision — but it enhanced the whole (decision-making) process.”

Trustee Lizzet Fitzcluster concluded: “We thought about this quite a bit. Discussions were extensive and we thought this was the best decision.”

The project is being orchestrated by La Jolla contractor Tom Grunow, who was in attendance. He explained that the star pine tree has experienced some unhealthy growth.

“It has gotten so big and was either pruned improperly or the head snapped off and four leaders (a tree’s main upright stem) grew from it,” he said. “When you cut the main leader off a tree, two smaller ones grow back. This one actually has four, so it’s wider at the base, then grows in and back out again. And those are weaker limbs. So it is now an ungainly-looking Christmas Tree.”

By putting in a new star pine, the Rec Center will have a “more traditional looking tree” than some of the options previously proposed (which included an English yew and Aloe Medusa) and “while it might grow large, you are going to get 20 years of Christmases out of it,” he said.

In terms of expenses, Grunow said he reached out to his contacts and found some willing to participate at lowered fees: “The work went from a $7,500 project to a $3,000 project.”

In the coming weeks, a right-of-entry permit will be applied for to carry out the work.

The leaning tree project will take a backseat in the meantime.

Removal of the ‘leaning’ tree next to the La Jolla Rec Center is also under discussion. Light File

Grunow explained: “We met with Park & Rec and City landscaping department representatives and we (determined) we could not work on the funny-looking leaning tree because if you put another tree there, it would overpower the building. So that will be addressed in the future.”

In other LJRAG news

Stolen money returned: After the sentencing of former Rec Center board president Cindy Greatrex (who plead guilty to stealing $68,272 from LJRAG funds in December 2018), a full restitution check was given to the board in late January and immediately deposited. LJRAG chair Dan McCandless said the use of returned funds will be discussed at LJRAG’s non-profit board meeting, which is not open to the public. A decision will be announced when one is reached.

New basketball courts by June? The LJRAG Visioning Committee, which is heading the multi-year playground renovation project, met with City engineer Paul Jacobs in recent months to discuss resurfacing the basketball courts and bringing the concrete play area into ADA compliance. At the time, Jacobs said City money had been allocated for the work in this fiscal year.

Visioning Committee chair Peters said: “The City is hoping to complete this work by summer because there is a construction moratorium from Memorial Day (May 27) to Labor Day (Sept. 2). We know it will be difficult, but we hope they can meet that deadline.” Before a schedule can be announced, the City and the company that would install the court must coordinate schedules to make sure they are available at the same time, and the proposed dates do not conflict with any Rec Center events.

Farewell Nicole: Former La Jolla Rec Center director Nicole Otjens was in attendance as a guest to bid the board farewell, given she had been relocated to the Nobel Recreation Center. “We appreciate all the hard work Nicole did over the last six-and-a-half years,” said San Diego Parks & Recreation area manager Rosalia Castruita. “As of today, Jesse Delille is the new center director here.” Board members gave Otjens flowers and joking thanked her for “putting up with us” and her “patience.”

Cue Peter Rabbit: The popular Spring Egg Hunt will be April 20 on the Rec Center grounds, with timing and other details announced as the date gets closer.

— La Jolla Recreation Advisory Group next meets 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.

Get the La Jolla Light weekly in your inbox

News, features and sports about La Jolla, every Thursday.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the La Jolla Light.