It was an accident.

I ended up in the park on a whim.

Taking an offbeat walk one afternoon, I took a left instead of my usual right. And there it was. The sign. I snapped a photo and immediately shared it on my instagram stories with the caption, “Oh no you don’t, motherfuckers.”

It was basically on from there.

The sign said this, exactly:

And I couldn’t let it happen.

SDG&E is the power company for San Diego, and I knew that whatever reason they had for clearcutting almost a hundred trees, including endangered Torrey Pines, I needed to hear it.

The Torrey Pines are an endangered species of pine that only grow in one area in San Diego, California, Torrey Pines – a scenic area now named for the tree. It was one of the rarest pine species in the world in the early 20th century, with only around 100 trees surviving. Because of this, Torrey Pines is visited by travelers from all over the world and by local residents who come daily to rest at the stunning overlooks, walk a peaceful trail or parks, or exercise in a clean, beautiful environment. It is also the namesake of many tourist destinations and local favorites, such as Torrey Pines golf course, Torrey Pines High School, Torrey Pines hiking trail and more.

It was November 7th. I was having flashbacks about the last 365 days all morning and this – the possible removal of practically all the trees in this park – was NOT the news I could swallow.

I went home, fuming. And I googled.

I happened to know what district I live in, because I take an especially (especially more than most) interest in politics. So I googled our district + our councilwoman + her phone number.

And then I dialed.

“Hello?” answered a sweet voice.Young woman in her twenties. A secretary.

“Yes, hi,” I started, ” I was in the park today and saw a sign about SDGE removing 75 trees?”

“Ah, yes,”

So she was familiar with it.

“Let me transfer you.”

I was transferred to a The Parks Department, where I was informed that a drastic 75 trees, including endangered Torrey Pines, were scheduled to be clear cut before the end of the year.

“There is a meeting tonight,” the voice on the other end told me, “In about 2 hours. At 4:30.”

“Where is it?” I asked.

That question steered the course of my life forever.

THE FIRST MEETING:

I showed up about 15 minutes early to the meeting, just to make sure I had arrived at the correct place. I had never been to a community meeting before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Representatives from SDG&E were there, as well as members and volunteers from San Diego City and about 5 other members of the community.

On my way there, I had called my best friend Abbey Gibb, an Emmy winning anchor for the San Diego’s Fox News Station. She came immediately with a cameraman, plopped a microphone on the desk, and started filming.

When I arrived, they had already decided that the clear cutting was happening before the end of the year. They passed out flyers entitled “OPTIONS FOR TREE REPLACEMENT” which was 5 out of 6 pages of SDG&E explaining why they couldn’t plant certain trees to replace the mature, healthy trees they planned to clear cut. I was astounded, but I sat and listened.

WHAT WE LEARNED:

  • The power company, SDG&E was proposing to clear cut 75 endangered trees, including Torrey Pine trees in the town of Carmel Valley, City of San Diego over the next 3 years. Their plan includes clear cutting 25 trees a year in large clusters in public parks and by private homes.
  • Their initial justification for this was public safety. They cited one tree fall last year, which could have happened from due to a vast number of causes, none of which SDG&E has bothered to look into.
  • At a public meeting representatives from SDG&E explained that they “must think in worst-case scenarios” and that the trees “pose a potential danger to the power lines, should they fall.”
  • With SDG&E’s logic, one could argue that every tree on every block in America should be cut down, since most suburban trees are located by power lines!

We made every argument we could think of at the meeting. I pointed out that there must be other solutions, such as anchoring the trees together to ensure they don’t fall. I was told then, that the problem was not tree fall, but power lines.

Surely, I said, there was a way we could begin manicuring the branches of trees to make sure they don’t hit the power lines!

  • SDG&E’s response to our compromise was that it was “unhealthy for the tree” to cut off various branches as necessary. Well, since we are now talking about the health of the trees, let us remind SDG&E that the MOST unhealthy thing for the trees would be to cut them down completely, leaving only stumps!
  • Also unaddressed is that this would leave no space to plant more trees, but STUMPS of the trees that once were all over our neighborhood. Who profits from the endangered tree bark gathered from these trees is still unclear.

I knew that none of the healthy, mature trees in this park were in danger of falling! In fact, the intricate tree structure was likely the reason that they had stayed so healthy for so many years. Even after a mandatory water restriction for the last 5+ years, the endangered trees are still thriving, despite not being watered at all!

That meeting as adjourned with no resolution, and another meeting was called in December.

In the meantime, I started a petition on Change.org. Surely I was not the only person who felt this way about the trees!

Overnight, I was floored.

THE RESPONSE

Since the petition went live, I have been CC’d on dozens and dozens of heartbreaking, outraged, impassioned emails from family’s who live in the community, sent directly to SDG&E. And trust me, they have made a dent. I’ve cried, I’ve wept, I’ve reached out to you, I’ve met the most incredible people. These trees are not just trees. They represent sentimental and personal value to people. They are sometimes the SOLE reason people have moved to this wonderful community. Look around the trees and you see homes, people, stories, memories and a community who loves these endangered, beautiful plants and their park with all their hearts.

So, on December 4th I went door to door with signs, speaking with thousands of neighbors and letting them know that if they wanted to protect their park, to PLEASE show up at the meeting on December 5th at 4:30. Many people said they’d be working, but would sign my petition. Many people said they’d be there.

On December 5th, about 45 impassioned families showed up to the meeting to protest. They were shocked to learn that the representatives from SDG&E chose to skip the meeting, after hearing that the community was unhappy with their proposal.

However, at this meeting, a new map was presented to the community. It was even more drastic than the last!! Here’s the map:

WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR:

This new map shows the power company SDG&E’s plans to remove nearly every single tree on the West side of the park, including almost a dozen endangered Torrey Pines that are perfectly mature and healthy!

• SDG&E’s new tree cutting map, which was brought to our attention at the last community meeting, shows a clear and imminent plan by SDG&E to deforest the entire West Side of Carmel Mission Park, including clear cutting endangered Torrey Pines. This plan would leave the West side of the park not only unprotected from sound or wind, it would leave no protection of the homes lining the park against potential wildfires. Our real question is still WHY? One look at this map shows a distinct and clear plan to rid one side of the park of trees in a straight line for about a mile. What are they planning to do with that cleared space?

• In an interview back in August with the Del Mar Times, Greg Peck from SDG&E admitted that this would drastically change the look of the park, saying “It’s going to look completely different because those are tall, beautiful trees [and they will be gone.]”

• At the last community meeting, we were told that tree replacement options were NOT going to be limited to just 15 gallon potted plants, which would be absolutely no replacement for the healthy, endangered, mature, oxygen-giving trees we currently have. Our current trees have taken 50+ years to grow, and many of our older residents are afraid they will “not be around to see any new trees mature.” We were assured that SDG&E was giving the community a few decisions about which trees were replacement options when they first proposed this drastic plan.

• And yet we were shocked to then read another direct contradiction in the August Del Mar Times article. Here is their official statement from SDG&E: ”For every tree removed, SDG&E will replace it with two 15-gallon tree replacements that would grow to about 30 to 40 feet at the most.” This was the opposite of what the community was told.

• In the November community meeting that myself and SDG&E attended, the community was also told that stumps would be removed and we would be able to replant. Another contradiction. The article cites, “After the trees are removed there will be no stump grinding because of the threat of soil erosion on the hillside.” This would leave us with stumps all around the park: an eyesore and threat to our property values. This is the official word from the city on the power company’s final plans. Read the story here: http://www.delmartimes.net/news/sd-cm-nc-mission-park-20170803-story.html

• In the last week, San Diego has seen devastating wildfires and hurricane-high winds unlike those previously recorded. None of the trees in our park – or even any of the branches – fell or were in danger of falling. This directly contradicts SDG&E assertion that the trees are in danger of experiencing “tree failure” and falling onto power lines in the face of storms.

• In fact, healthy trees like the ones lining our park may have had a direct impact in stopping recent wildfires from spreading to our town, as they offset carbon emissions. Last week, California’s attorney general announced that carbon emissions are the leading cause of California’s wildfires, and that, without stopping them, we may continue to see wildfires like ones in neighboring towns of Oceanside and Bonsall for years to come.

So, why am I telling you this?

Because my life is forever changed. Activism is not just a buzz word that rears its head when Washington abuses it’s powers. Activism happens in your own backyard. In your own inbox. In your own town. It’s happening all around you. Every time a community comes together to create change, you’re watching activism in action. And it’s SO inspiring, so energizing, and so beautiful. It really has moved me so much, and I know it can change your life, too. Best part? It’s free!

You can be involved, you can be present, and you can be heard, simply by saying out loud that you won’t be silenced. We only have one planet and you can protect it.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

It’s safe to say that if I didn’t show up at the November meeting, the trees would already be gone. They were already scheduled for removal by the end of the year.

Many people feel like they don’t have the power to change the outcome, or that they’re too small to fight big corporations.

Through this experience, I’ve been reminded – and I’ve truly learned – that nothing changes without individuals making changes. People pushing back. People getting angry. People getting educated. Community’s coming together. Every day folks getting passionate.

Without me making a stink, without me starting a petition, without people from all over the world reaching out to those who needed to hear it, those trees would be gone. The park would be on it’s way to being barren.

Want to help me save the trees? The most important thing you can do is continue to reach out to the people who need to hear it most, SDG&E and San Diego City. You don’t need to live in the neighborhood for them to hear you. This sets a precedent worldwide. If SDGE gets away with the logic that trees are a danger to power lines, every tree on every street in the country is in peril!

Tell them you are against the deforestation and would like SDG&E to consider alternate options besides clear cutting Carmel Mission Park (such as anchoring the trees together with a cable or manicuring branches on selected trees, for example):

Greg Peck (SDG&E)
Email – gpeck@semprautilities.com
Phone – 619-405-8120

Michael Daleo (SDG&E)
Email – mdaleo@semprautilities.com
Phone – 858-654-8630

Barbara Bry (City Council Member for Carmel Valley)
Email – barbarabry@sandiego.gov

Please CC me: taramackey@me.com

This is THE most important thing that you can do. Next month I will take all your signatures and comments to our final meeting with the Community Planning Board and City Council Members, who will decide the next best steps along with the citizens.

We want to protect the community. We look forward to doing that. Please get involved and sign the petition. It means so much to the cause.

Thank you so much for your continued efforts to save our community and protect our world. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.