North-South antagonisms needled by tree ordinance
chart outlining how few trees are protected by proposed
In the last
50 years, half of the world’s forests have been razed to manufacture “premium”
beef and executive-grade ass wipes. (And, yes, we are including your boss in one
of those categories.) Industrial agriculture has played a huge role, as have the
expansion of cities.
Without a doubt the world needs more trees. Trees
absorb unhealthy pollutants (including climate-destabilizing CO2), help keep
smog levels in check, provide shade to offset the heat island effect, and much
But they don’t heal all wounds.
Concern that a proposed tree
headed to a Council vote next week will disproportionately punish
San Antonio’s South Side by setting a city-wide goal of 40-percent tree cover is
expected to inspire some debate this week, according to at least one South Side
Council aide. After all, ecologically speaking, trees are more of a North Side
thing, with Hill Country forests nudging in as they do. The South, meanwhile, is
dominated by the brushier South Texas plains ecosystem. So, to comply,
developers there will have to plant more trees, some are
It's a point even the greens recognize.
definitely going to be a disincentive, it seems to me, if you’re having to plant
in areas where historically its more a plains-type environment,” said Annalisa
Peace, director of the Greater Edwards
Don’t get her wrong. Peace praises the proposed
ordinance for its attempt to close a much-abused ag-exemption loophole that has
allowed too many land parcels to be clear-cut for development. She just worries
it doesn’t do enough to steer development away from the North Sides’ Camp
Bullis, golden-cheeked warblers, and the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. She’d
like to see the tree canopy raised to 55 percent over the recharge zone to help
protect the city's primary source of drinking water.
“Our group wants to
develop on the south, downstream of the sensitive areas,” Peace said. “This
ordinance is slanted toward people that already have investments in those
environmentally sensitive areas [to the north].”
Richard Alles of the Citizens Tree Coalition
pushed for years to get to this point. And yet he calls it a “mythology” to say
that under this proposed ordinance “when a developer chops down a tree, he pays
a fee. In fact, it’s just the opposite.” [See his chart at top.]
starters, most trees are too small to be counted. Others are the wrong species.
Even more are discounted for being rooted in the right-of-way or along easements
— which can make up a third or more of a lot.
“It’s so hard to get across
how week the ordinance is,” Alles said. “People look in the ordinance and they
see a number that says you have to preserve 35 percent of the significant trees.
They don’t read the part that says easements and rights-of-way are excluded.
They don’t realize, that’s a third of the land. And this percent, this 35
percent, that only applies to the remaining two-thirds of the land.
can destroy 80 percent of what’s on a site without paying a penny in
Keep that in mind as you read "final" canopy requirements:
step one is to bulk up the ordinance. When tree (that is: air, water, shade,
habitat) protection becomes real, then we can get all North-versus-South with
There could be something to South-Side objections if the ordinance
were a strong one. But tree people like Alles say as long as virtually any tree
can still be axed under it, the proposed ordinance is less of a
tree-preservation ordinance than a tree-planting directive. And it costs
developers a lot less to plant a tree that build around one. That alone keeps
the South attractive.
And yet it’s good to see some City leaders
reportedly thinking in ecological terms, even if only reflexively and in defense
of developers. Rooting on to that sort of thinking, San Antonio could take the
tree ordinance as an opportunity to push development out of the environmentally
sensitive North by making tree preservation as tough as possible. Then we could
protect our aquifer recharge zones and help direct future growth in a direction
with fewer environmental landmines.
Then, as the population shifts, some
of the disparities among school systems might even start to be addressed. Things
could get radical.
Posted by gharman on 4/27/2010 10:49:55 AM
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