Developer lobby stumped by ordinance amendments

Fortunately, a wave of tree preservation advocates flooded the port side of the chamber to give our municipal ship of state some ballast. Many signed up to defend San Antonio's trees.

Scenic San Antonio President Kathleen Trenchard blamed the fall of the Roman Empire on the ancient

Aaron Salas dances to the sounds of House Nation during the Night to be Free II party organized by House Nation and Mi Casa Su Casa at Space on East Commerce. Photo by Mark Greenberg
civilization's proclivity to chop down trees so they could crucify Christians.

Michelle Petty of the local Sierra Club and other groups said a loophole that was big enough to drive a Mack truck through is "now big enough for three Mack trucks." She also said the practice of developers' bulldozing trees in the city - 40 percent of San Antonio's tree canopy has been lost in the past 16 years - is responsible for children "not outgrowing asthma. Lung tissue doesn't regenerate. Why provide good lunches to seniors if they're dead because they can't breathe?" She referred to a previous agenda item discussion, to put her remark into context.

The rhetoric of the tree huggers was enough to drive District 9 Councilman Carroll Schubert out of the council chamber - he was shaking his head in disgust, and had to, uh, leave. One would hope that he departed to review the city's vicious dog ordinance, considering two killer pit bull terriers had recently launched a rampage on his constituents.

Mayor Garza and District 8 Councilwoman Bonnie Conner circled the wagons at City Hall during the previous few days, and worked out amendments without benefit of much public input. "We managed to make both sides upset and it's a clue to me that we're in a good place. We will not reach a consensus on this," Conner said.

The ordinance, adopted anonymously after some council members expressed doubts about how the final details were worked out, contains the following items:

• The percentage of preserved trees increased from 20 to 35 percent in residential areas and from 25 to 40 percent in commercial areas. According to a note from the mayor's office, the commercial increase is nullified by another section of the ordinance.

• Easements, rights-of-way, and parks are exempt from the ordinance, which cancels out the increased percentage in residential areas.

• Heritage trees, such as 150-year-old live oaks, do not count in street rights-of-way or easements. (We told you so).

• Root protection in residential developments is eliminated

• Root protection in commercial areas has been cut by one-half.

• Understory protection (undergrowth) is mandatory in commercial root protection zones.

• Points earned for understory preservation have been reduced.

• There is no credit for complying with mandatory parking lot shading requirements

"Do we have a complete ordinance with these amendments?" Councilman Schubert asked before a vote was taken. "We can't change an ordinance every month. How can we tell if it is going to work?"

Garza replied that the ordinance should be reviewed next year to assess how it is working.

Schubert said he is concerned about last-minute changes to the ordinance amendments, complaining

Local builders and their lobby monkeys flooded the chamber last Thursday to oppose Ed Garza, the Tree Hugger Mayor, as he pushed amendments to the city's tree preservation ordinance.
that, "The business community was not brought in on the discussion." (However, Schubert failed to note that the business community had been behind the two-year delay of adopting the tree ordinance, and that developers had extensive access to elected officials that the tree preservationists did not.)

District 3 Councilwoman Toni Moorhouse echoed Schubert's criticism of the last-minute huddle by the mayor and Councilwoman Conner.

"This (process) doesn't give you time to hear from as many people as maybe you're supposed to. We need to make sure we have more notice," said Moorhouse, whose big-money developer buddies recently dumped a pile of cash into her re-election campaign fund.

Garza would not promise the latest version of the city's tree preservation ordinance is the final product. A tree gets stronger as it grows. Perhaps the ordinance can do the same. Or a gust of developer wind could knock it down. •


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