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Point Loma residents now sue city and FAA to stop palm tree cutting

Upset neighbors take their battle to save trees to court as two residents are now suing the city’s arborist and the FAA over the removal of 100 year old palm trees.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — John and Tracey Van De Walker are protective over their neighboring palm trees and keep a close eye on them.

"Pretty much patrolling the neighborhood to try to see if they are going to sneak in and try to top off some of the trees before anyone is able to catch them,” said Tracey Van De Walker.

Just last week neighbors of Ocean Beach and Point Loma rallied to save their area trees from being cut down from the city per FAA order for flight path safety.

"These are historical trees, here since 1909. They are older than the airport is, so that is the importance,” Van De Walker said.

Now, the couple is suing. Their attorney Mark Applbaum filed a cease-and-desist order that he says went unanswered. 

"It is very difficult for me or for any of these people to understand why the sudden need for the removal of these trees,” said Applbaum.

The City of San Diego says it will not comment on the lawsuit and stands by its statement from last week that read in part:

"At the request of the FAA and San Diego International Airport, the City of San Diego is planning to remove approximately 20 palm trees from two locations in Ocean Beach and Bankers Hill. The trees are located on City property. According to the FAA, during inclement weather conditions these trees may interfere with the designated flight path and potentially cause arriving planes to be diverted away from the airport."

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority released a statement that said:

“It is responsible for operations at San Diego International Airport (SAN) and is required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and California Public Utilities Code Section 21659(a) to proactively mitigate and prevent future effects on airport operations by ensuring vegetation does not block or impair instrument or visual operations at the airport.

The purpose of trimming or removing the identified palm trees is to ensure the safety of the community and the flying public as planes approach San Diego International Airport. During inclement weather situations where visibility is impacted, the FAA re-routes aircraft to approach SAN from the west. The City of San Diego-owned palm trees located in the public right-of-way adjacent to the neighboring homes exceeds or will soon exceed acceptable elevations under federal standards, intruding into the airspace that surrounds the airport.”

Attorney Mark Applbaum says the palm trees in question are 4 to 5 miles west of the airport and should not impact a pilot’s visibility.

“Two hundred feet above sea ground is supposedly the FAA rule, but these trees are 70-feet high, so for them to get to 200-feet will take many, many more years,” said Applbaum. 

Tracey Van De Walker says she and residents want an open meeting and for a judge to sign off on a temporary restraining order to halt tree chopping. 

“You have these long streets lined with the palm trees, and it's just the feeling that you get that they are in the beach community, and these tall, majestic trees are beautiful,” said Van De Walker. 

WATCH RELATED: Sunset Hills residents protest in order to keep multiple palm trees from being cut down (October 2021)

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