Group makes last ditch effort to save coastal live oak tree

CARLSBAD — A hundred years ago, it was just one of the thousands of coastal live oak trees in San Diego County. Today, the lone oak rooted near the intersection of Cannon and Palomar Airport roads is the last of its kind in the area. It may not be there for long. The city recently announced plans to site a high school parking lot on the lot where the tree currently stands, sparking a grassroots campaign to save the old oak by environmental group Preserve Calavera.
“When the bio survey was done for the environmental impact report, they didn’t even identify this tree as an important resource on this site,” the group’s president, Diane Nygaard, said. “The tree is a symbol of the natural resources of the area that are being callously ignored in the process of doing this high school.”
Nygaard added that her group supports the building of the school. They just want it done in an environmentally conscious manner, she said.
Preserve Calavera attended a school district public hearing Feb. 11 to plead their case before Superintendent Dr. John Roach and the school board. The board had not been aware of the tree’s unique status. Nygaard urged them to build the parking lot around the tree, but Roach said that might prove impossible as the tree is growing at a higher elevation than the proposed lot.
“We’re trying to do what’s right for building a school, respecting the environment,” Roach said. “The challenge is trying to keep everybody satisfied. That’s an impossible task, but if we can preserve the tree, we’d like to do it.”
Roach said he’d like to box the tree and perhaps transplant it. Nygaard said the chance of a century-old oak surviving that kind of procedure is about 10 percent.
In an effort to raise public awareness of the old oak, Preserve Calavera hosted a tree naming contest in early February. Response was strong, with more than 200 entries submitted in a little more than a week.
Gerald Sodomka, a semi-retired botanist from Encinitas, had the winning entry: El Abuelo, the Spanish word for grandfather. The globetrotting Sodomka named the tree after a venerable Southern Redwood he saw in Patagonia.
“I thought to myself, what a perfect name for this oak tree,” he said. “The tree’s a survivor. It might date back to when California was part of Spain and Mexico. It reflects our Hispanic heritage that we still have here in California.”
He noted that as old as El Abuelo is, it could easily live for another century.
Wendy Hinman, a local history buff and writer for Carlsbad Magazine, was on the name judging committee. She said they liked the romance of the Spanish name and hoped it would lend a little extra protection to the tough old tree.
“It’s just a great old tree and we have so few left in Carlsbad,” she said. “I think it’s very important to preserve history and natural resources, and I think we should think before we destroy.”
More information on El Abuelo can be found at