High on Gov. Greg Abbott’s hit list for the Legislature’s special session is a rule preventing local entities from controlling tree removal in their communities. Senate Bill 14 and House Bill 70, filed July 10th, do just that. Abbott and the sponsors extoll these measures as striking “a blow for personal freedom.”
We have to ask. Freedom for whom?
These bills flatly deny any city, county or neighborhood group the right to manage the urban forests that surround their homes and businesses. So … Freedom for people who would cut down trees. No freedom — and no recourse — for people who want a say in preserving and protecting the neighborhoods they selected and choose to nurture.
Let’s dig a little deeper. These bills preclude all oversight by local authorities. In doing so they:
- open the door for short-term owners —developers, contractors, real estate speculators — to literally change the face of your neighborhood … without having long-term skin in the game. Why should short-time investors enjoy rights that supersede those of permanent, vested residents?
- act as if a plot of land exists in a vacuum; that if I decide to raise livestock, start a carwash or put a rental trailer in my back yard, it has no adverse effect on my neighbors’ existence. Or if it does … well … tough.
- substitute State dictates for local wisdom. Our state is blessed with 11 vastly disparate ecological areas. All due respect to our legislators, but do 181 part-time public servants in Austin have a better feel for each one of those regional needs than the people who make their homes there? And how many of those 181 are vitally interested in your local concerns? We’d guess that would be — at best — two.
- undervalue the benefits of our existing tree canopies. Trees lower ambient temperatures (cutting energy bills), counteract air and water pollution, combat erosion, muffle noise and increase property values. If my neighbor opts to clear-cut his property he’s loses those benefits. But he also takes them from me … and from the larger community.
- provide no recourse for citizen aggrieved by an owner exercising his property rights.
Honestly. Consider this scenario: You find a beautiful wooded lot in a tree-friendly community and build your dream home. A year later someone buys your neighbor’s place and installs his own personal waterpark. Old-growth trees are decimated. Your AC bill goes through the roof. And after every rainstorm the runoff from next door eats away at the corner of your home’s foundation.
Who you gonna call? The governor? Think he’ll be calling you back?
…at least, it does for a few more weeks. If you want a say in your community’s urban forest now’s the time to speak up. Fill in your address below and get in the ear of your state reps….. while you still can.
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More than 220 million Americans live in an “urban forests” — that matrix of public and private trees that dot your local community. But aside from finding the best branch to hang the pinata we rarely give a second thought to what trees do for us. Maybe we ought to ….
“I am directing the Texas Legislature to enact critical reforms to restrict local government hyper-regulations that micormanage business, threaten private property rights and hurt housing affordability.”
“Almost everything that keeps us from being crushed to death or dying from chronic disease . . . in the history of the United States has been done at the local level.(Preemption laws) will stop innovation in civil rights, in safety and in community health.”