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A family tree in San Diego: Widow tries to stall its removal

May 9, 2016

All Marie Ostwald wanted was for the pepper tree that that has graced the front of her home to stay standing as long as she is alive. “I just need a couple more years,” she wrote on a Facebook post over the weekend.

But city officials have determined that the tree, its roots buckling the sidewalk, is unstable and must be cut down.

Ostwald and her husband, who died in 2005, planted the tree in 1957.

“We planted it. We grew up with it,” Ostwald, 91, said. And the thought of losing it, she said, makes her very emotional because her “heartstrings are attached” to the leafy tree with red blossoms.

The problem started a couple weeks ago, when Ostwald said she contacted her councilman’s office and requested that some work be done on the sidewalk that had been cracked as the tree grew over the years.

Crews came and the work was done. “I was so happy,” Ostwald said. But the next thing she knew, more workers came out and told her the tree had to come down.

Now she is asking city officials to stop the removal, taking to Facebook on Sunday with what she called a Mother’s Day tree:

I was already a young mother when my husband and I planted this tree in 1957. As a mother, I nursed it and I helped it to grow from a seedling to sprout. As the years went by, our family grew and so did she. All the neighborhood kids grew up playing within her shade. Today, she’s a San Diego landmark at the corner of Greenbrier and Mission Gorge. She’s a beautiful majestic living thing that has grown old alongside me.

My husband died in 2005 but I still remember the day we planted the tree. This next week, the city will try to remove this member of the family because it grew too large. After 60 years, they think she’s outlived her welcome. The city says it must go because it cracked the concrete. They repaved the sidewalk and now say the tree will cause future damage. They cut some roots and suggest the tree is no longer properly anchored. A privately retained certified arborist says it’s possible the tree can stay for years to come. It’s all I have left of my late husband.

I just ask that the tree stay as long as I’m alive, I’m 91 now. I make a plea to Mayor Faulconer to step in and save our lovely tree. He’s my last hope. On Monday, I’ll sit with the tree and ask the workers not to take it. I ask other mothers in the neighborhood, if you have time tomorrow or in the next couple of days, will you sit with me? If I have enough support, I think they might not take her. I just need a couple more years.

A city arborist affirmed on Friday that the tree was unstable and had to come down and that the work would likely take place this week, Ostwald friend Anthony Wagner said.
Baker writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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