Moonlight Beach palm tree wins heritage status in Encinitas

Moonlight Beach in Encinitas.
(Sean M. Haffey / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

La Costa Canyon High School student submitted application nearly four years ago


It took nearly four years for the city to process the paperwork, but a former La Costa Canyon High School student has won city heritage tree status for the iconic Canary Island date palm at Moonlight Beach.

The Encinitas Planning Commission approved Tanner McConlogue’s application Aug. 3, ending a process that required state review and also experienced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tree, which is about 50 years old and 60 feet tall, will now gain a sign declaring its heritage status and it will join others on a city list of protected, special trees. It’s such a focal point amid the sand at Moonlight Beach that it’s featured on many city postcards and advertisements.

“I wanted to do that for that tree because I grew up next to Moonlight Beach,” McConlogue, who is now a cybersecurity major at the University of Southern California, said when contacted via phone after the commission’s vote.

He was a high school junior in the fall of 2019 when a neighbor suggested that he submit the application to protect the tree.

“She told me to do it because she thought it would look good on my résumé,” he admitted, but he never actually mentioned it on his résumé because he didn’t think people would find a tree listing request all that important.

It’s been so long since then that he kind of forgot about the pending application until someone from the city contacted him recently to let him know that it was coming up for final approval Aug. 3. His proposal gained its initial approval from the city’s Urban Forest Advisory Committee back in January 2020.

In order to qualify for Encinitas heritage status, a tree must meet one of four criteria:

  • Be one of the oldest and largest of its species in the city.
  • Have a unique form or species.
  • Have historic significance due to an association with a historic building, site, street, person or event.
  • Be a defining landmark or significant outstanding feature of a neighborhood.

The date palm meets all of these criteria, a staff report states.
“It is the only tree located on the beach, and its prominent location creates a significant iconic and recognizable visual landmark within the community,” it notes.

In its review of the application, California state parks officials said they could support the request with a few conditions, including limitations on where the heritage sign is placed and how regular chemical treatments to prevent South American palm weevil infestations are handled.

City Planning Commissioner Susan Sherod said Aug. 3 that she was pleased the city was being careful about its use of chemical pesticides on the palm tree. Commissioner Chris Ryan said she was proud of McConlogue for pursuing the heritage listing, saying he attended school with her children.

McConlogue said he has a strong personal connection to that tree. As a little kid, he was under it one day when a palm frond fell and hit him on the head.

“Looking back, it is one of my most hilarious and cherished memories of Moonlight Beach,” he wrote in his application. “One day, I hope to share memories like this with my own children underneath the Moonlight Beach heritage tree.”