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City rolls out eco-friendly fleet

District 10 City Councilman Chip Haass last week proudly unveiled one of San Antonio’s new Toyota Prius hybrid sedans that will replace part of the City’s 500-vehicle fleet. Although the fleet currently includes 26 hybrids, 39 new gasoline-and-electric-powered Priuses were recently purchased through the City’s replacement program.

The City plans to replace gas-only vehicles with the new hybrids when the older models reach 96,000 miles or the 10-year mark.

“This purchase illustrates the San Antonio City Council’s commitment to reducing ozone pollutants in our region,” said Haass in a news release. “From now until October 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency is grading the San Antonio region’s air quality. Measures like this should assist us in avoiding federal sanctions.”

Haass described the City as “one of the largest 10,000-pound gorillas in the region,” and said it needs take the lead in responsible stewardship of the environment. “We can push ourselves to do more.”

The City has made other changes to improve air quality, such as purchasing low-sulfur diesel, using compressed natural gas to power River Walk maintenance barges, and converting 240 of its fleet vehicles to propane fuel.

One step forward, two steps back.

The San Antonio Planning Commission, aka the official escort service for real-estate developers, has approved another attack on the City’s tree population, presenting Council with proposed changes to the Unified Development Code that will allow more reckless destruction of trees.

Proposals include eliminating protection of “invasive exotic species,” such as chinaberry, Chinese tallow, tree of heaven, Chinese pistache, ligustrum, golden raintree, and tamarisk trees. The category would also include the cottonwood, more commonly known as the alamo. Developers also want to preserve heritage trees through a random grid method instead of counting all of the trees on a give property. Another proposal suggests eliminating root-protection zones in parking lots through the use of “alternative construction methods.”

The alternative construction methods were not specified.

Smaller bulldozers?

City Hall lobbyist Richard Alles, whose sole client is Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, says the odds are 16 to one that heritage trees would be counted in the grid system. There is no method for counting trees that are destroyed. Alles recommends that City Hall pass the invasive-exotic species death sentence, contingent on a field-verification by the city arborist.

“Developers cannot recognize trees,” he said.

Developers also wanted to remove the ashe juniper from the tree ordinance’s protective branches. But Alles and urban forester Mark Peterson defended the much-maligned ashe juniper, or mountain cedar.

Peterson, who has worked on the City’s tree ordinance since 1994, says exotics threaten the environment, but ashe junipers and huisache trees are native species that perform a function.

The ashe juniper, or mountain cedar, Peterson says, is the most drought-tolerant plant in South Texas. “It uses no water, no fertilizer, it is the perfect tree.”

Furthermore, if a developer wanted to kill a mountain cedar, just water it, Peterson says. He suggested the City Council schedule a program “on myths of the cedar.”

“We’re not talking about grass restoration, we’re talking land development,” says Alles. “Developers want super-high-density development over the aquifer-recharge zone. If we destroy the juniper, it would be a disaster for the aquifer.”

Alles and Peterson, contend that juniper ashe trees are actually repairing man-made damage to the environment by growing in places where cattle ranchers and settlers allowed overgrazing by cattle and goats.

District 5 resident Allen Townsend urged the Council to require more trees to be planted, not destroyed. “We planted trees in District 5, and we want more. Why not require developers to plant more trees, particularly when they have destroyed so many?”

Yeah, why not?

By Michael Cary


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