Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It's CYA Time at the City of El Paso Regarding San Jacinto Plaza Tree

Construction at San Jacinto Plaza, January 9, 2015

"Taking any action foreseeable leading to the death of a tree or shrub or permanent damage to its health, including but not limited to excessive pruning, cutting, girdling, poisoning, improper irrigation, unauthorized relocation or transportation of a tree, or trenching, excavating, altering the grade, soil compaction, or paving within the drip line area of a tree."
- from the "Policy and Standards Manual for the Care of Trees and Shrubs in the City of El Paso", Section 10.4 "Other prohibited actions" 

Beginning Monday, when word leaked out about the City's intentions to take down El Paso's beloved San Jacinto Plaza Holiday Christmas tree, City officials have been backtracing and rushing to cover their considerable posteriors.

Major media outlets such as KVIA have picked up the story. 

As of this morning, I think this is the official City word: They are trying to save the tree (the word to City Council members) but it has been severely damaged by construction. They have also begun a PR effort which suggests that El Pasoans want quality of life, recreational opportunities - i.e. "we had to cut down the tree because you all voted for the Quality of Life bonds". Put your boots on folks, because it's getting thick. 

The backtracking is being done without any accountability. My call to City Manager Tommy Gonzalez's office two days ago for a meeting has not been returned. Instead I first heard from Parks and Recreation Directory, Tracy Novak, telling me that the CM wanted him to call me. During his call, I got a message from the Convention and Visitor's Bureau telling me that the City Manager thought it best for me to talk to them. Where does the buck stop?

Of course the tree has been damaged but I have learned from expert arborists that it still could be saved. What has caused the tree to be damaged? "Trenching, excavating, altering the grade, soil compaction and paving within the drip line area of a tree." (See above guideline in the City's official Tree Care Manual. That's another publication like Plan El Paso that city officials have shelved even after meetings and meetings involving citizens helped to create them.)

It seems that the City has a terrible track record when it comes to protecting trees. A private tree expert has said that in the past the city has been very bad about making contractors keep their trucks and equipment away from existing trees on construction sites.  It was a big problem years ago at Eastwood/Album park when a recreation center was being built.

I was serving on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board when plans for the Plaza remodel were being made under the supervision of then Deputy City Manager, Debbie Hamlyn. The tree was there. The most recent December 16, 2014 Project Update merely mentions "trimming the tree" (page 11). The report is also interesting because it shows pictures of the lack of following the city's tree manual. City officials in charge of the San Jacinto Plaza remodel should have known about the tree care standards adopted by City Council and made modifications to the park remodeling to protect the Mondel Pine, El Pasoan's beloved Holiday Christmas Tree. They have and did not.

And what's the update on the California Fan Palms that were removed? An eye-witness says that the contractor did not take them to be replanted somewhere else. The contractor cut them down. Standard operating procedure would have been for those palms to go to the El Paso Tree Farm to be replanted at another city site.

Frankly, the contractor should be back-charged for the damage to El Paso's Holiday Christmas tree, particularly if it has to be cut down, and for cutting down the fan palms. Better yet, charge El Paso's Engineering Department, the worst Department in the City of El Paso and that for many years running now.

1 comment:

  1. WHO is the City Arborist, and/or the Project Arborist, and what do they have to say? Does Mr. Gonzalez have special expertise as to what constitutes irremediable damage to the tree?