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Statement: “[B]ecause trimming of the city’s 30,000 palm trees has been reduced, pedestrians face more risk of being knocked silly by a falling coconut,” wrote financial journalist Roger Lowenstein, in a Bloomberg Businessweek story about San Diego’s fiscal problems.

Determination: False

Analysis: On March 31, Lowenstein wrote a piece in Bloomberg Businessweek about the growing push to eliminate public pensions in cities nationwide.

To illustrate the impact on neighborhood services that ballooning pension obligations are having on cities across the country, Lowenstein highlighted San Diego, including a bit about the city cutting back its trimming of palm trees. “[P]edestrians face more risk of being knocked silly by a falling coconut,” he wrote.

Yes, the city’s pension obligations have eaten away at its ability to provide services. The city has stopped trimming its palm trees. And that could put residents at risk.

Just not from coconuts.

“We don’t have any coconuts,” said Drew Potocki, the city’s arborist. “Coconut production needs a very humid climate. So you don’t really need to be worried about a coconut falling on your head.”

Coconut palms need more rainfall and warmer weather than we get in San Diego. The temperature should never fall below 40 degrees, said Phil Bergman, who owns a palm tree nursery in Encinitas (where he does not sell coconut palms).

“If you came to my nursery and said ‘I want to buy a coconut tree and put it in my yard in La Mesa,’ ” he said, “I would do everything I could to convince you not to do that, because it’s going to die.”

Word on the street is that there is a coconut palm in a private yard somewhere in Point Loma, he said, but he’s never seen it. The San Diego Zoo has just one, which it keeps in a temperature-controlled environment to help it survive, according to its website.

So San Diego residents are not at risk of coconut-related injuries, Bergman assured.

We should note that we respect Lowenstein’s journalism, which has repeatedly focused needed attention on San Diego’s financial problems. Perhaps he can be forgiven for thinking, like many, that we’re a bit more tropical here in arid San Diego than we actually are. His point was not entirely lost.

“Could there be leaves and fronds falling out of poorly trimmed trees?” Bergman asked. “Sure.”

And that is a risk the city has decided to accept. As we’ve written before, the city has eliminated regular maintenance of the 200,000 trees it owns citywide, including those 30,000 coconut-free palm trees. Fallen fronds, branches and palm berries, which used to be rare on neighborhood streets, now litter them citywide.

Since 2007, the city has paid close to $200,000 to residents who claimed damage caused by unmaintained trees. At the time we wrote about tree maintenance, Mario Sierra, then-director of the department charged with tree trimming, said he could foresee mounting legal problems and costs stemming, in part, from damage caused by falling debris.

“Going forward, if the funding isn’t there,” he said, “I can anticipate that there will be lots of problems in the future.”

Not from coconuts, though.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

You can also e-mail new Fact Check suggestions to factcheck@voiceofsandiego.org. What claim should we explore next?

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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