RANCHO SANTA FE — Rancho Santa Fe is very protective of its signature eucalyptus trees. At the Association meeting March 18, one of the agenda items was to devise a plan to encourage residents to “reforest” Rancho Santa Fe making it easier for them to buy eucalyptus and other trees to replace ones that have died from insects or disease.
The next item on the agenda was taking SDG&E to task because the Assocation feel the power company is going too far in the yearly tree trimming which keeps trees out of power lines.
“Trees in the Rancho Santa Fe community are a huge part of the ambiance of where we live,” said Bill Beckman, president of the board. “Our signature tree is the eucalyptus.”
He said that while residents expect the tree trimming and removal, this year crews have been particularly aggressive. There have been many calls to the Association office objecting to what is seen as the stepped-up activity.
Beckman said a eucalyptus tree in the entry of his home, which he thought to be healthy, was removed by SDG&E in spite of his vehement protests.
“SDG&E had been very aggressive in its desire to take it down,” Beckman said. “Now it is a stump.”
He said he believes the reason for the aggressive approach is that SDG&E’s power lines were blamed for the massive 2007 Witch Creek Fire and they don’t want to be liable for damages in the future.
“That goes though my mind every time I see a crew working,” Beckman said.
Michael Daleo of SDG&E defended the tree cutting and trimming saying the yearly trimming keeps trees out of power lines, which prevents fires and outages.
Daleo said the decisions on which trees to remove are not “arbitrary or capricious.”
“We look at every tree on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Daleo said the process includes pre-inspections and reports by arborists and foresters and that the company maintains a database that tracks the condition of approximately 400,000 trees within its service territory throughout San Diego County. This type of close scrutiny allows experts to determine if a forest is in decline and when to take appropriate action.
Beckman was not convinced.
Adding insult to injury, Beckman said, after a tree is removed, much of the wood is left on the property for the homeowner to deal with.
Rancho Santa Fe resident Lindsey Davidson complained to Daleo that 10 trees on county property adjacent to hers were taken down all at once and not only do the stumps “look horrible,” the excess wood ended up on her property. She said she wants the wood removed and the stumps ground down.
“You’re rubbing salt into the wound,” Beckman said. “We took down your beautiful tree and now we’re leaving the wood.”
Said Daleo: “Well, it is your tree.”
“It was your tree,” quipped director Tim Sullivan, adding humor to a tense moment.
Beckman said while in the fight for his tree’s life, he was told by a representative from SDG&E that it has the power to cut down the tree whether he wanted them to or not.
Daleo said that SDG&E has the right and the responsibility to remove old and diseased trees. He said if his company knowingly walked by a tree in question and it fell, causing a disaster, SDG&E would be responsible.
Beckman said he has since learned a homeowner can keep a tree, but doing so presents a Catch 22. If the homeowner keeps the tree and it falls and sparks a disaster, then the homeowner could be liable for damages.
Director Deb Plummer asked if there were some way the project could be dialed down a bit since the village is on the verge of undergrounding overhead wires which would solve everyone’s problem.
Director Tom Lang suggested that perhaps it is the attitude of the workers from the company that is the issue and they have not approached the homeowner correctly.
Beckman said he believes it is difficult for a single homeowner to resist the pressure of SDG&E, so the board proposed a committee made up of residents and the utility to oversee the project.
“We are not going away,” Beckman said. “Don’t think we said this and now we’re going away. We need to sit down with you to solve this very big problem.”
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