Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Tree codes: Cartoons for grown-ups

Property owners become the butt of a bad joke.  

Read the newspaper article below to see just how silly our tree codes are, and see if the new tree code amendments will make them any more reasonable and user friendly.  It appears the code language that the judge ran into is being changed.  Are the proposed changes supposed to make it easier or more difficult to do normal landscaping?  I can't interpret what they mean, but they might make it harder if staff gets to approve a written landscape plan before you can cut a tree.  Is that what is being proposed?  Hard to tell, but if so, that would make the tree code immensely more onerous.

The public comment on the draft codes is open until May 18.   Get your comments in to the committee, and send a copy to the City Council and label them as: TESTIMONY FOR PUBLIC HEARING ON  PP 15-0003.  Lastly, come to the public hearing yourself to testify in person or just come to show support for real change in the city's most hated municipal code.  If you come to the meeting, you may read from your prepared comments if you wish, but anything you have to say will be great.

Now for the fun stuff.

A judge, a tree, two rhododendrons and a battle with city hall:  editorial Agenda 2016
The Oregonian, March 7, 2016. By The Oregonian Editorial Board
Use link above to read the entire article.

Local governments rarely provide fodder for political cartoons or TV comedy skits. But when it comes to limiting basic liberties, it's hard to beat your local city council. Try waggling a chainsaw at a backyard tree in a place like Lake Oswego, and you'll see what we mean. Or, if it's easier, read about Tom Rastetter and his Douglas fir.

Like many cities, Lake Oswego has established conditions under which homeowners may remove trees of various sizes. Such trees may not belong to the public, but the code assumes that they provide a public benefit that justifies an abridgement of homeowners' property rights. Even if you accept that such an abridgement is appropriate, it's no small feat to strike the proper balance of interests, which is why tree-preservation codes are easier to support in principle than in practice — especially when they're being practiced upon you.

Lake Oswego is in the midst of a tree-code review, and the saga of Rastetter's tree provides two timely questions. The first question: Is the city, even with a revamped code, capable of properly balancing the interests of the public with those of property owners? If Rastetter's experience is any indication, it sure doesn't seem so. Two appeals, the hiring of an arborist and the expertise that comes with being a circuit court judge: All were necessary to remove a single tree — in a group of 10! — whose existence is a burden the person who owns it.the person who owns it.

The second question: If Lake Oswego can't be counted on to strike the proper balance, should it be regulating what homeowners do with the plants in their yards at all? No doubt, Lake Oswego would continue to have an abundant supply of trees even if it let homeowners cut them down whenever they felt like it.

Shhh:  Here's a tip about dealing with the city on tree codes of you ever need it.  And if they change the wording of the codes a bit, the equation should still come out the same.  What's good enough for the Judge, should be good enough for the citizens!  

City Math:


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