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Arborist suggests replacing three La Jolla Rec Center trees

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Pine Valley arborist Michael Shoenfeld points out issues with a nearby palm tree to the La Jolla Recreation Advisory Group, during its May 22 meeting.
Ashley Mackin-Solomon

Last month, the City of San Diego told the La Jolla Recreation Advisory Group (LJRAG) that if they wanted to remove and/or replace trees from the Rec Center grounds, they would need to find a certified arborist to suggest such action.

Well, they found one.

Pine Valley arborist Michael Shoenfeld was invited to inspect each of the trees on the grounds, identify issues and report back to the LJRAG, which he did during the board’s May 22 meeting at the Rec Center. He was joined by landscape architect Todd Frye.

Shoenfeld examined each tree on the Draper- and Prospect-facing front yard, and identified three trees he recommends removing: the Norfolk Island Pine the board has been looking to replace; the Stone Pine that has been leaning toward the Rec Center building since it was planted in 2015; and a Canary Island Palm next to Draper Avenue, which has a hole in it that he said is weakening it.

Shoenfeld drafted a report and submitted it to the LJRAG, and walked the board across the grounds, pointing out the issues and elaborating on his report. Upon putting a small amount of weight against the leaning Stone Pine, he noted it moved under his touch. “I shouldn’t be able to do this,” he said, adding that it might topple but, “I don’t know when.”

He suggested the tree’s current condition could have been caused by a combination of improper planting and improper pruning and said in his report: “Taking into account the current condition/location, it is my opinion that this tree would not be a preferable long-term candidate.”

Frye opined: “It was a good choice and was a good thing in the beginning. But it will never straighten.”

Further, when discussing a palm tree next to Draper Avenue, he showed the board a hole in the upper trunk of the tree.

“I’m guessing there is 6,000 pounds of weight above that hole, so the tree clearly has a sign of decay,” Shoenfeld said. “If you picture a coffee mug, it is strong and you couldn’t break it in your hand, but if you crack a hole in it, you could break it. The whole top could fall. That’s really dangerous. “Given the age of this particular tree, the improper pruning techniques and the liability associated with the potential targets, it’s my opinion that this tree should be removed.”

Lastly, his concern with the Norfolk Island Pine is the four leaders that have sprung from the top. A tree’s leader is the vertical stem at the top of the trunk, but after this tree’s leader broke, multiple leaders have grown in its place.

“The most common risk of tree breakage is the presence of one or more co-dominant stems,” the report states. “The potential for damage in the target area of this tree presents a high-risk situation if breakage were to occur. It is my opinion that this tree will only continue to increase in potential liability over time. Given the location of this tree and the potential liabilities present, removal and replacement with a tree that has a central leader system may be a more practical solution.”

He later told the board: “This tree is very close to a bench where people gather. If this was an area without people, I would be less worried, but this is a high traffic area.”

The LJRAG has been looking to replace the tree with one that is more manageable and easier to decorate as the community holiday tree.

Shoenfeld’s findings will be submitted to the City for consideration. The City previously had an arborist from the Department of Park & Recreation come out and review the trees. During the board’s walk-about, San Diego Park & Recreation area manager Rosalia Castruita quietly said the City arborist found the trees to be acceptable.

Summer Activity Week

Rec Center director Jesse DeLille announced new summer programming, including an “Activity Week,” Aug. 19-23 with ice cream socials, movie days, field games, water play and a trip to the La Jolla tide pools. Youth sports programming includes basketball camps in June; flag football in July; gymnastics, soccer and “camp playball” in August.

La Jolla Recreation Advisory Group next meets 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 16 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. reviveljrc.org