La Jolla palm trimming on hold, MCASD to remove sick palm trees

By Pat Sherman

Museum of Contemporary Art to remove sick palm trees

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) on Prospect Street will remove a row of dying palm trees that the museum’s consulting arborist said he believes were poisoned.

Though the arborist did not conduct a lab test, he determined that the trees’ symptoms were consistent with poisoning last August, based upon his site inspection, 35 years in the field and input from museum staff, said MCASD Marketing Manager Rebecca Handelsman, via e-mail.

“One morning last summer, our facilities team discovered white powder around the base of all the trees,” Handelsman said. “The shrubbery died off almost immediately, within a week. After that, the palm fronds started to turn yellow and drop off. A couple months later, we found an oily substance splashed across the base of the trees.”


La Jolla Light

attempted to have a test conducted by the San Diego County Plant Pathology Lab, though the provided material available to test — soil and dead palm fronds — was not sufficient.

Pat Nolan, a supervising plant pathologist with the county, said chemical poisoning is difficult to deduce, and pathogens often can only be detected from live material at the crown of the tree.

Handelsman said the worst of MCASD’s palms would likely be removed sometime this year.

“We don’t have the answer yet as to what will replace them,” she said. “It is our intention to do a postmortem on the trees when they (are removed), to the extent that’s possible.”

Officials at St. James By-the- Sea Church across from MCASD said queen palms removed from its facility last year were dying of pink rot fungus.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever know what really happened other than the fact that 40 beautiful queen palms all died within months of one another,” Handelsman said. “Our arborist thinks this is rare for something like pink rot.”

MCASD did not say whether it had filed a police report.

Palm tree trimming in La Jolla on hold

Following a March 7

La Jolla Light

story that palm tree trimming in and around the Village had resumed, the


has learned that the trimming is now on hold.

Recent palm tree trimming included some trees along Eads Avenue and Torrey Pines Road at the end of January, and more recently palms on West Muirlands Drive (according to La Jolla Town Council trustee Nancy Gardner).

Citywide palm tree trimming had been on hold for years due to budget constraints. However, the safety of the city’s approximately 30,000 neglected palm trees has come into focus again. A jury recently awarded $7.6 million to a Mission Hills man who was paralyzed after a city tree fell on him.

A representative for the office of City Councilmember Sherri Lightner told community groups last fall that the city council had approved a contract to trim palms within San Diego’s public rights-of-way, including about 1,000 in Council District 1 (which includes La Jolla). One of the contractors hired to do the work, West Coast Arborists, told the


theyhad run out of money allocated for the work.

Additional trimming was planned in La Jolla, including palms on Prospect Street, La Jolla Boulevard and elsewhere, pending approval of another citywide tree-trimming contract. However, Lightner’s office said March 27 that the staff-approved, five-year contract — to be considered by the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on March 13 — was “returned to (city) staff at the mayor’s request.”

That contract called for spending as much as $1.7 million for citywide tree maintenance in fiscal year 2013, and as much as $18.5 million for tree service between 2013 and 2018.

The work, to be completed by three contractors (including West Coast Arborists), included removal, trimming, planting and inventory of trees within public rights-of-way and open spaces.

Meanwhile, the


has received inquiries from La Jollans requesting to know when palms will be trimmed in the following locations: the 300 block of Prospect Street; the 1600 block of Torrey Pines Road (across from Coast Walk); on Park Row and Belvedere Street; on Nautilus Street east of Muirlands Drive; near Kellogg Park in La Jolla Shores; and on Forward Street in Bird Rock.

Resident Joyce Snell said she believes the Forward Street palm hasn’t been trimmed in at least 10 years. “I had to pay someone recently to clean off my roof and yard from the palm debris,” Snell said. “I’m hoping to be on the list.”



has forwarded those readers’ inquires to Lightner’s office, and will follow up upon approval of the next tree-trimming contract.

To ask San Diego Mayor Bob Filner to approve tree-trimming funds, call his office at (619) 236-6330.