Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Del Mar needs a comprehensive review and update of its tree policies. Instead, we’re getting only review of the Trees Scenic Views and Sunlight Ordinance (TSVS). Updating the TSVS is important, for sure, but in my view it is a mistake to take it on alone. The TSVS is all about removing and trimming trees to restore views. But, taking that on alone ignores other equally important tree goals:


  • Increasing our tree canopy as called for by our adopted Climate Action Plan to increase GHG (green house gases) uptake, provide shade to reduce cooling and energy needs, to provide habitat, water and soil management, to provide privacy, and to beautify the community consistent with the Community Plan
  • Managing trees to reduce fire risk
  • Updating our dysfunctional tree removal permit requirements
  • Establishing clear mitigation criteria for tree replacement when trees are removed
  • Updating our Tree Policy Manual
  • Updating policies for our protected trees

Done comprehensively, we can find the “sweet spot” where views can be improved while the canopy is increased, and while we transition away from fire prone invasives to native trees, while improving our tree removal and mitigation requirements and beautifying the community. That approach can garner broad community support. Taking on only the TSVS to improve views while ignoring these other important goals is, in my view, a mistake that will not lead to success or broad community support.


I made the above argument to council at the recent goal setting session on February 13, 2023. I recommended we break the comprehensive review into bite size pieces and take them on in an organized way over time as our resources permit, but in a way that our community can see we are addressing the full scope of tree issues. My recommendation did not garner the support of my council colleagues and did not make it to the adopted workplan. Only review of the TSVS made it. Here’s what the official minutes of that session report:


“City Council consensus was to pursue updates to the City’s Trees Scenic Views and Sunlight Ordinance in spring 2024 and to start by reviewing similar ordinances in place in Laguna Beach and Tiburon.”


Trees help define Del Mar. We are blessed with many beautiful and productive trees on both public and private property. We can and should manage them to meet all our goals.


Editors note: At its March 20 meeting, where numerous residents spoke and sent “red dots” in favor of greater protection for Del Mar trees, the Council directed staff to bring back an outline of what would be involved to carry out a comprehensive tree policy review, in terms of resources and timing. No decision has been made, as of yet, to expand the Council workplan beyond updating the TSVS Ordinance.