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Carved tiki trees slated to get the ax in December

OCEANSIDE — Two tiki carved palm trees that stand about 70 feet tall outside the home of Steven Tustison, aka Tiki Daddy, are slated to be chopped down Dec. 12, because the city has declared them to be a safety hazard.
Tustison, who carved the trees and works as a professional carver, begs to differ with the city. “They are perfectly healthy,” Tustison said. “The carving depth amounts to somebody carving their names into any tree.”
Tiki totems were carved into the trees by Tustison about six months ago and that’s when city code enforcement received a few anonymous complaints and showed up at Tustison’s door to let him know the trees had to go.
Since the city’s complaint, Tustison has obtained hundreds of signatures supporting the carved trees staying. A table sits on his front lawn with a sign that explains the city’s complaint and a guest book where neighbors can sign in and give their support.
“I got 600 to 700 signatures,” Tustison said. “People have gone out of their way to sign the petition. Everyone is going to hate to see the trees cut down.” Tustison said he has also received a lot of coverage from the media on the dispute, including KUSI’s Turko Report.
Tustison says the carved trees represent the surf culture and aloha spirit to many. Tustison sees traffic slow down and people smile when they pass by the carved trees. “They’re like a tourist attraction now.”
“It’s a form of art,” Sarah O’Neil of Oceanside said after signing the petition to support the trees staying. “They look healthy. We walk by them every weekend and enjoy the art and beauty.”
Tustison said he e-mailed Councilman Rocky Chavez and Mayor Jim Wood about the matter, but did not get any word back.
Chavez said he can only go with what he’s read in the press, that the arborist hired by the city said the trees have been injured and need to be removed because they present a safety issue.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” Tustison said. The city claims it’s a safety issue, but Tustison says the city can’t find one carved tree that has fallen down. Tustison sites the fact that there are three other carved palm trees in town that are allowed to stay, including one on Godfrey Road that has been there for 10 years.
Tustison says that it’s unsatisfactory that the city made its decision on the basis an arborist said the trees were under stress. Tustison agrees carving causes some stress to the trees, but does not agree that it overtly affects the trees’ health. “You can’t kill them (with carving),” Tustison said. “They don’t provide nutrients through their bark.”
Tustison has been in negotiations with the city for more than a month. “I have enough wisdom to know when I’ve beaten a dead horse,” Tustison said. Presently, Tustison’s understanding with the city is that he is responsible for having the trees cut down by Dec. 12, yet neighbors are still adding their signatures to the petition and Tustison is still hoping for a miracle.
In case a miracle doesn’t materialize, Tustison says he will have the trees cut down, sell the tikis, and donate the money to charities.