Local Couple Drops Lawsuit Seeking to Block Ocean Beach Palm Tree Removal

Local Couple Drops Lawsuit Seeking to Block Ocean Beach Palm Tree Removal

Palm trees on a cold morningPalm trees in San Diego. Courtesy of the National Weather Service

A local couple has dropped their lawsuit seeking to prevent a cluster of palm trees in Ocean Beach from being removed, which city officials said is a potential safety hazard for planes flying in and out of San Diego International Airport.

In 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration and the San Diego Airport Authority ordered the trees removed because their height — some were about 70 feet tall — exceeded the safe limit required by federal law, according to San Diego City Attorneys.

Five of the trees were removed last April. The remaining trees, owned by the city and planted on public paths, have since been removed.

John and Tracy Van De Walker filed a lawsuit in federal court and later another in San Diego Superior Court to prevent removal. The couple claimed the city could not cut down the trees without violating city ordinances and city council policy. A motion to dismiss the lawsuit was filed by the plaintiffs late last month.

In a press release issued earlier this week, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott said, “Baseless lawsuits like this hurt taxpayers by deadlocking our crowded courts and forcing city employees and attorneys to pursue a frivolous lawsuit react. We will ask the court to order Van de Walkers to reimburse the city for its defense costs.”

The Midway law firm, which represents the Van De Walkers, said in a statement that following a ruling in favor of the city in a similar lawsuit seeking to preserve a cluster of pepper trees in the Kensington Borough, the Van De Walkers sought that their legal team dismisses her lawsuit.

However, the couple is “assessing other options, both legal and political,” the statement said, which called the prosecution’s statements an “act of hubris” that could be fuel for filing a class action lawsuit against the FAA. The City of San Diego and its ranger, Brian Widener, have no interest in preserving or protecting the beauty of San Diego’s historic and majestic palm trees.”

The City News Service contributed to this article.