Editorial: Trees of Del Mar

Since its inception, the mission of the Sandpiper has been to defend our unique Community Plan, that has guided city policies and procedures since its adoption in 1976. Protecting our distinctive environment and maintaining our community character were primary goals of the Community Plan. Our tree canopy was singled out as a defining characteristic of our community (see original language below), and one that is well worth protecting. Recent events raise concerns that this goal of our Community Plan is being forgotten.


The Community Plan states: “The citizens of Del Mar…were aware that environmental resources are fragile, limited, and endangered by man’s propensity to despoil them more rapidly than they can be renewed or sustained. It is clear that individual actions, if taken without regard to such dangers, and without consideration for overall and long-range community interests, may seriously abuse the living qualities of our environment [and]destroy unique beauty…to the detriment of present and future generations. (CP, original page 53)


The Community Plan notes that “Del Mar falls within the Coastal Scrub Plant community and, other than portions of the San Dieguito Lagoon, has been extensively modified by development. Existing tree masses provide vegetative elements that add to, as well as help to define, the character of the City. Some of the most dominant trees include: 1) the Monterey Cypress, a native plant from Carmel Bay, California that has been used extensively throughout Del Mar; 2) the Torrey Pine, a species native to the bluffs at Del Mar and, like the Monterey Cypress, used throughout the City as an ornamental plant; and 3) the Eucalyptus, an ornamental tree imported to this country from Australia.” (CP, original page 22)


Torrey Pines and Monterey Cypress are protected trees in Del Mar, but their numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate. Recent windstorms have felled a few, but many more have been sacrificed for new home construction or for view protection. Enforcement of the tree protection ordinance has been lax, and it has been far too easy to get a tree removal permit approved by the Planning Department based on the “opinion” of an arborist hired by the property owner. Payment of mitigation fees and replacement of felled trees sounds like good policy, but it’s not regularly enforced, and actual replacement of a mature tree will take decades to restore the original neighborhood character.


Given that trees sequester carbon from the air (but release most of it into the atmosphere if they are cut down), preserving mature trees and planting more trees is an important goal. The city is finally moving forward on replanting some trees with funding from the Del Mar Foundation, but we will need more efforts like this to stabilize our tree count. With climate change, prolonged drought, bark beetles, and stronger storms, our protected trees need all the help we can muster. If we don’t reverse this trend, we will lose a defining characteristic of Del Mar.