Little towns, big, big government

I own (or, rather, the bank and I own) a nice lot here in Marin County.  I’ve got a pretty back yard with views of hills and water.  When the trees at the back of my property get too tall, I hire a reputable tree trimming company to cut them down.  That sounds perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it?

It turns out, though, that in Marin, even cutting a tree on ones own property can be fraught with hazards and pitfalls, depending upon which town, or which “not town,” you call home.  As you read the following, keep in mind that I’m not talking about a situation in which you’re demanding that a neighbor cut one of his trees that interferes with your view, or that a neighbor insists that one of your trees should go for the same reason.  I’m talking about a situation in which one of your own trees is bugging you:

In San Rafael, there is no regulation governing removal of trees on private property, while in Tiburon, Sausalito and Belvedere, homeowners may cut trees that block views.

But in the San Geronimo Valley and other unincorporated areas across Marin, regulators want homeowners to spare that ax — unless they’ve got official permission and lots of cash to pay for the privilege.

Although the average tree-cutting permit charged by Marin cities is about $98, county officials now bill unincorporated area residents $1,490 for a “minor” tree removal permit — and twice that for a “major” permit involving a heritage tree.

The high woodsman fee and a plan to reduce from five to two the number of trees that can be cut each year before fees are imposed has residents up in arms in the San Geronimo Valley, where proposals to outlaw tree-cutting near streams to protect salmon habitat have prompted controversy for three years.

Read the rest here.

Silly though it sounds, I’m not ready to get my knickers in a twist.  Trees are the Marin equivalent of zoning.  Marin, after all, offers four things that make it so that people are willing to pay a fortune to live here:  (1) proximity to San Francisco without the inconvenience of San Francisco; (2) a temperate climate; (3) gorgeous trees; and (4) gorgeous views.  These last two, of course, have a nasty habit of conflicting with each other, which is why you can make a lot of money here as a lawyer specializing in view disputes.  (And no, I’m not one of those view lawyers.)  In other words, in Marin, tree/view laws are as important as zoning regulations are in other towns that regulate businesses and red light districts.

My purpose in raising this issue here is twofold.  First, I find it amusingly Marin-ish, and pass it on for that reason alone.  Second, it’s a reminder why local government is a good thing.  This is precisely the type of issue that should be fought out at the local level.  Can you imagine what would happen — God forbid! — if one of Obama’s federal agencies got involved?

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  • jj

    I live in the other side of the conversation, and we’re probably responsible for most of the problems you have – at least in one area.  Up here everybody blithely went to town a hundred years ago, cutting down every tree they could get near, right up to the edges of streams and rivers.  The result of that is that of course there isn’t a healthy salmon run left int he state of Washington – they’re all struggling, plenty of them are marginal, and there are a bunch that are just gone.  Places where older folks remember salmon teeming in their youth, wherein no one’s seen a salmon in forty years.
    The problem is, you cut down all the trees on the river banks, next time it rains – in about twenty minutes – the soil will wash into the stream, choking the gravel beds where the salmon lay their eggs, and in a few short years a 20,000 year old salmon run is wiped out.  “Geez… wha’ hoppened?  I dunno, Harry – have another beer.”
    In fact, as someone from the east, I look at the state of Washington and I’m compelled to believe it was plundered – oops, I mean “developed” – largely by morons and drunks.  (And then you look at the actual history and you realize, Holy Cow – it was developed largely by morons and drunks!  And thieves.)
    So I don’t know.  I’m on both sides of that issue.  You guys lean perhaps too far to trying to preserve what’s left; up here they’ll cheerfully chop down the last perfect nesting tree for something, in order to send it to China where it can be turned into matchsticks and sent back to us at a 12,000% mark-up.  That’s not splendidly bright, either.

  • Charles Martel

    Marin has cognitive dissonance when it comes to trees. A couple of examples:
     There’s a 17-acre plot of land—a former nursery—contiguous to my town’s downtown that after years and years of NIMBY angst is finally going to be developed as a new neighborhood. One of its boundaries is marked by a creek whose banks have been colonized by Australian acacia trees over the past 20 years. Construction of the new housing will involve felling the acacias, a prospect that brought out the tree worshipers in full force.
    It was only after some rational folks patiently explained that the incredibly fast-growing acacias are considered “garbage trees” because they push out native plants, provide no food for indigenous fauna, and constantly shed branches—a potential danger to people walking under them—that the earth cookies reluctantly withdrew their objections.
    Book didn’t mention that Marin is very hilly, and it’s on the hills where most of our gorgeous trees have taken root. One problem though: After years of fastidiously protecting our wooded heights from fire, we’ve allowed an accumulation of dead leaves and branches that will fuel one massive fire come the day some stoned OWS type drops a lit match. Unlike the Europeans, who know enough to periodically clean their forest floors of flammable debris, Marinites salute themselves for their love of nature, which apparently means not removing a clear-cut (sorry for the pun, SADIE) danger to their homes.
    Stupidity writ large.  

  • Earl

    @jj:  I’m pretty sure the Chinese will send those trees back as chopsticks, rather than matchsticks, but otherwise too right!!
    Marin sounds a lot like Portland, OR in regard to tree issues… awful lot of people in Portland seem to think they know better than you do what is best for the property you’re paying taxes on…..

  • Ymarsakar

    I saw Marin and the near by neighborhoods from Google Earth Satellite, so no need for her to mention the geography. Those little trees planted in a row between streets… yeah.

  • suek

    They’re shipping that wood the wrong way, Earl!

    You know…my guess is that if you wanted a tree gone, the trick would be to kill it somehow – maybe inject some sort of weed killer into the roots. You now have a dying/dead tree. Your local government will now come and demand that you remove the unsightly thing or be fined. As for how you do the deed (could you be prosecuted for tree murder if they found out?), I remember something about a sports rivalry in Missouri? Mississippi?…somewhere in that area… in which one team one-upped the other team by poisoning the tree roots. The trees were of some sort of major importance…500 years old or whatever … and held a “mascot” status. They were pondering whether there was some way to save them. It was not considered an appropriate sports rivalry action – rather the powers that be considered it to be plain and simple vandalism. A joke taken too far.

  • Oldflyer

    Discussion touches close to home.  I live with a wild-eyed tree hugger.  We have towering oaks and  other, more fragile, trees threatening our home.  Two have come down, one through the roof, over the past 25 years.  But, there is no talking reason.
    There are appropriate trees for particular areas.  Just because a certain tree grew in a certain place does not mean that it would not be better replaced by another.  More ornamental in some cases, more size  appropriate in others.  In fact some areas  are not appropriate for any trees at all.  Think baseball fields.  Just kidding.   But, there are no facts that will convince those who refuse to be convinced.