ENCINITAS — A large palm tree that hovered near rows of electrical wires was chopped to a tall stump, and instead of providing shade and nurturing birds with its fruit, it may soon guard the door of a beach cottage as an artist is being sought to carve it into a Moai tiki head.Ann Knight’s house is just west of the North Coast Highway on the very narrow Edgeburt Street, which is dotted with older homes that she described as having “character.” Knight moved in 13 years ago when the tree, which may be a Canary Island date palm, was already mature.But due to potential fire hazards the tree poses with its proximity to electrical wires, SDG&E required it be removed after years of regular trimming was no longer effective.“It’s not that I’m opposed to them taking the tree down,” Knight said, but added that the power company wasn’t communicating with her on when it would take place.She personally received a form to sign about two weeks ago from the Davey Tree Expert Company in San Diego, which is contracted with SDG&E to maintain trees near the electrical easements, including the one on Edgeburt.
But Knight said she didn’t receive a copy of the form and it seemed like it was more of a suggestion that the tree be removed than a mandatory notice.
She said SDG&E did not return her phone inquiries about when the tree would come down, and that Davey Tree was on a deadline that was “invisible to us.”
Erin Coller, SDG&E’s communications manager, said that customers may request a copy of the form they sign for removal, but one is not given at the time of signing because it is not a triplicate, but a post card type-form.
She said SDG&E makes efforts to work with the customer as much as possible and aims to provide a courtesy notice 10 days prior to tree trimming.
She said that during an inspection process, “if a tree is found to be noncompliant with minimum clearance regulations and is therefore a safety hazard, then we will take immediate action.”
Knight just hoped to have enough time to decide what to do: sign the paper and allow for the 20-foot tree to be removed, not sign the form and be held liable for any damages caused by the tree, check into transplanting it for sale or find a woodcarving artist and turn the stump into a tiki.
She chose the latter, and placed an ad on Craiglist for a woodcarver to make a tiki head out of the tree similar to the Easter Island Head “Moai” at Swami’s Beach that was carved last March by artist Tim Richards after a Torrey pine was chopped down near the beach parking lot.
Knight has had several responses to the ad and after the tree dries out the carving can take place, she said.
In the end, it all is working out.
“We’re making the best of it and hoping to get a cool tiki out of it,” she said. “It makes me feel better, because it makes me sad,” she said about losing the approximately 40-year-old palm.
The tree trimmers left a generous stump Feb. 3, and gutted out its core in preparation for the tiki, she said.
The stump is about 12 feet tall, which will make the monolithic carving that aims to replicate its 12-century Chilean ancestor hard to miss.
Coller said that tree removal mandated by SDG&E is fairly common, and it’s of no cost to the customer.
“We have at least 400,000 (trees) in the system we manage, and 160,000 of those are trimmed or removed,” she said.
Their service territory covers all of San Diego County and parts of its sister counties on the east and west, which include Imperial and Orange counties.
Coller said contractors, such as Davey Tree, have access to a computerized system that is used to inventory the nearly half-million trees and track each tree’s growth and location in relation to the power lines.
“They can label trees they want to keep an eye on. It’s all about safety,” she said.
When a tree is found to be within a danger zone, she said directional pruning is a technique that is used to help it grow away from the power lines and conductors.
But palm trees pose a special challenge because of their fast frond regrowth, she said.
On Jan. 12, the California Public Utilities Commission established new rules associated with overhead power lines in efforts to reduce fire hazards.
The new rules increase utility safety practices and improve safety for residents living near power lines.
One of those rules that apply to SDG&E states, “Electric utilities are authorized to increase the time-of-trim vegetation clearances around bare-line conductors based on specified circumstances such as line sag, vegetation growth rates, and fire risk.”
The updated rules stem from the dozens of wildfires in 2007 that raged through Southern California and burned more than 780 square miles, claimed 17 lives and destroyed thousands of buildings and houses.
Power lines have been blamed for causing some of the worst fires of that year.
Coller said that Knight lives in a location where there must be an 18-inch clearance from the trees and the power lines.
Two palms were recently removed from a house on Neptune Avenue, which borders the ocean and is a block west of Knight’s home.
Guy Crutchfield said that his trees have been removed three times within six years, and he also had a tiki made from one of the stumps.
He said of the recent tree removals that he was given about a week or two notice by SDG&E to make a decision.
“It worked out for me — they were planted in a weird place,” he said.