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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Do we really need yet another tree ordinance?

In attempting to make the case for yet another tree ordinance, in the
wake of the failure of four previous ordinances, the writers paint a
fantasy and highly distorted picture of not only their interpretation of
the ordinance, the tree owner's "rights", but the impact on our city.

A reading of the history of the Tree Commission from its very beginnings
to the present, when a thoughtful City Council repealed almost all of
its provisions on MAy 19th, is a chilling glimpse into the workings of a
kangaroo court proceeding, where little or no evidence appears, the
"verdict" is declared at the start, and the usual and customary ruling
most often involved summary tree removal. Now that the Council has
provided a breath of fresh air, isn't it time to sit back and begin by
reviewing what proved dysfunctional and unworkable in previous
ordinances---in short "failure analysis" so that we do not simply
continue to repeat the mistakes of the past?
The basic assumption of El Cerrito's 1992 Tree Ordinance: "Obstruction
of Views by Trees on Private Property" states its pro-view bias upfront
not only from the very title of the ordinance but in a series of
unproven and unsubstantiated statements such as: "Views from individual
properties add to the property values in the city and thus contribute to
the tax base.... The loss of views in residential neighborhoods can
result in a decrease in property values and in a lessening of the
economic stability of residential areas..." There are no balanced
claims concerning the value of trees to not only the individual tree
owner, the neighborhood or the community---though there is a
considerable scientific basis and literature that upholds the importance
of mature trees in our environment and their invaluable contribution to
our health, safety and well being.

The authors of the letter assert: "Ideally neighbors should be able to
resolve their problems among themselves." Indeed they do. During the
years that the Tree Commission has been in effect, many view
complainants have privately and responsibly leased or purchased "air
rights" or paid for tree care and maintenance that would be beneficial
to their desire for a view, as well as mutualy benefit their tree owning
neighbor. They apparently do not see the connection between the
view-seeker's unwillingness to compromise, to respect their neighbor's
right to privacy under California law, and the quiet enjoyment of the
trees by not only the tree owner, but their neighborhood as well. We
can only wonder if the writers' assertion that: "some neighbors do not
wish to cooperate" and the implied threat that the "frustrated"
view-seekers "resorted to destroying the trees while theirs neighbors
were away" is yet another example of the bullying, harassment,
intimidation that some view complainants consider their divine "right"
conferred upon them by the tree ordinance.

The letter writers have not researched either the history, or the
background of how and why millions of so-called "non-native" species
were planted throughout California and Contra Costa County during the
early years. Had they done their homework they would have discovered
that 150 years ago (the mid-1850s) the Contra Costa County landscape was
bleak, browned out, semi-desert, with scrub brush and grasses the
prevailing "native" species. Local municipalities , the state
agricultural agency, and the federal government then not only urged
prospective settlers to plant eucalyptus, redwoods, Monterey pines and
cypress, among other large shade trees, extolling their many virtues,
but additionally provided millions of free seedlings and plants. If
these governmental agencies were wrong then, can we be so certain that
in demonizing these very trees now, that we have not gone too far in the
opposite direction?
No one "owns" the issue or its resolution. However, there are more
sensible, cost effective and equitable solutions than yet another
divisive and destructive tree ordinance that pits neighbor against
neighbor and bring out the worst in its people.

Now that we have begun a dialog, can we not continue to explore all
possible alternatives that will bring our community together?

Evelyn Kiresen
Linda Blum
Ben Oill
Sandra Barsky
Charlotte Robinson
George and Mary Chao
Dan and Rebecca DeLeon
William and Patricia Smith
Mike Gow
Susan Miller

Run dates: 2003-08-25 - 2003-09-08

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