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Citizen's View: Plenty of trees, but not enough trust

There are two ways of looking at tree codes: Which trees should be cut down? And which trees should not be cut down?

At first blush, both questions seem like two sides of the same coin — just different ways of expressing the same idea. But the truth is that the questions express polar opposites of how tree codes work.

The first question applies when property rights are held by the government, with carve-outs for property owners. In this framework, a property owner must ask for permission (get a permit) to remove a tree and be able to defend his reason for doing so. Property owners are only allowed to cut a tree under specific circumstances and supply proof that their conditions fit the requirements.

The second question implies that property rights are held by the property owner, with carve-outs for government control. The assumption is that government only has the right to control tree removal under limited conditions. If this philosophy is followed, as it is in most jurisdictions, property owners would only have to get a permit to remove their trees if doing so would destabilize a hillside, cause harm to a protected natural area or is in the public right-of-way.

Lake Oswego is famous for its regulatory overreach, with the Tree Code being the most disliked and burdensome regulation in the city. How did Lake Oswego get to where it is today with regard to trees and property rights?

Since its beginning, the Tree Code has expanded with no end in sight. Once a government, bureaucracy or activist group starts to believe it has the moral authority to decide what others can and cannot do with their property, there is no restraint or limit on what it can do. There is also the feeling that it has the right and obligation to not allow any loopholes or backslide on past gains. The only way to retain power over others is to gain more power.

There exists today the fear among many tree protectionists that if the public is “allowed” the “right” to make choices about how to care for their property, people will take advantage of their “freedoms” and clear-cut their lot. They could no longer depend upon government to hold citizens’ rights and chain-saw lust at bay. This fear exists without any evidence that people would do harm to their own property — act against their own self-interest and spend thousands to devalue their largest asset.

The amount of control and mistrust of regular Lake Oswegans is appalling. How did we get to this unholy place, where everybody is suspect as soon as they buy property in the city? How did we get this far from our roots as a free people?

Unfortunately, there is no relief to be found in the amendments proposed by the Ad-Hoc Tree Code Committee. The fastest and surest way to resurrect citizen confidence and trust in City Hall is for the City Council to control trees on public land and go back to the time when we had no residential tree codes at all. We can trust our neighbors to do what is right.

Dianne Cassidy is a resident of Lake Oswego.