Excellent Earth Day timing by my attorney and me. At 3 pm today Sean Malone emailed me a letter to hand-deliver to Pete Fernandez, City of Salem Public Works Director, and Ryan Allbritton, US Bank Regional President.
The letter notifies the person who authorized five beautiful Japanese Zelkova trees to be cut down, and the person who requested the trees be removed, that I'm filing an appeal of the decision.
Download Appeal letter to Fernandez and Allbritton
Download Exhibit A -- Appeal letter
I had just enought time before my Tai Chi class in downtown Salem to wish one of the two remaining trees "Happy Earth Day!" and "Thank you for being such a beautiful tree" after handing Allbritton's letter to someone sitting at a desk in the US Bank lobby.
Where we go from here is up to Fernandez and Allbritton.
My attorney -- a highly competent lawyer -- considers that the City of Salem failed to follow its own tree ordinance when it denied affected persons/opponents of the tree removal decision the right to appeal.
So my appeal concerns both the removal approval itself (which went against the recommendation of the City's Shade Tree Advisory Committee and testimony by tree experts), and the City's contention that the approval decision can't be appealed.
Now, a reasonable person would think that both the City of Salem and US Bank want to be sure that the cutting of five beautiful trees on a public right of way was done legally. I'm a reasonable person. And that's what I think.
My attorney's letter contains that sentiment. Mr. Malone says:
Lastly, Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Allbritton, I appeal to your spirit of community in requesting that you engage Mr. Hines in negotiations to determine if the three of you can reach an agreement that satisfies both your concerns and Mr. Hines’ concerns regarding the remaining Japanese Zelkova trees.
Soon after my wife and I moved to rural south Salem's Spring Lake Estates development, I said "OK" to being the neighborhood association's secretary. Twenty-some years later, I'm still writing and sending out minutes, along with keeping track of the groups bylaws/rules.
Once in a while I hear from someone who is concerned about something the board of directors has done. They ask me to check if that is allowed by our bylaws/rules. If there indeed is a problem, our board looks into it right away.
They, and I, feel that we're "public servants" of the ninety-six property owners here in Spring Lake Estates. Of course, we're volunteer public servants.
That's why I asked my attorney to use the phrase "spirit of community" in the letter that went to the City of Salem and US Bank. We have that out here in my neighborhood.
I hope very much that it is also alive at the Salem City Hall, even though many people I talk to tell me, "the City doesn't care what the public thinks; they just do whatever they want to, which usually is what the Chamber of Commerce wants."
Well, I'm an optimist.
Partly because I've experienced how people in a community can work together respectfully, productively, and openly, while disagreeing about all kinds of stuff. I'm a vegetarian progressive wine-sipping electric-car driving guy. I get along great with carnivorous conservative beer-drinking pickup-driving neighbors.
We argue about politics, diet, the environment, whatever. In a friendly way.
At neighborhood board meetings we're all focused on doing what's best for Spring Lake Estates. Anybody who has a concern about what the board is doing gets the full attention of me, other officers, and board members.
And like I said, we're unpaid "public servants." So I feel justified in expecting the same of taxpayer-paid public servants, such as City of Salem staff. Their job is to treat everybody equally, just as we do out here in our own little quasi-government of Spring Lake Estates Recreation Properties, Inc.
However, I'm also a realist. I know that the rich and powerful have much better access to government officials than the poor and powerless.
Watching a City Council hearing tonight on CCTV about the controversial Third Bridge proposal, I heard a number of opponents of the bridge complain that council members and city staff have shamefully stifled public input. I didn't hear one proponent make a similar complaint.
I bet it's rare, maybe never, that Republican'ish corporate'ish types gripe that Salem city government ignores their views and shuts them out of decision-making processes.
Thus I feel like I'm going to learn a lot from filing my appeal of the US Bank tree removal decision, which includes an effort to save the remaining two trees. I've had a lot of dealings with Marion County officials; hardly any with City of Salem staff.
My optimistic side expects that City staff will do everything possible to make sure that both the process followed in the US Bank tree removal application, and the outcome of Peter Fernandez' approval decision, were legally sound.
Meaning, city ordinances were followed correctly. And facts "on the ground" (literally) supported killing the trees, rather than pruning or thinning them. Or doing nothing with them.
I also expect that US Bank will hold off on cutting down the remaining two trees until my appeal is dealt with. US Bank has a corporate code of ethics. It says nice things about environmental stewardship, being a responsible member of the community, and such.
Waiting to make sure that a corporate action is legal strikes me as something US Bank would want its employees to do. Even so, whenever I drive through downtown I glance down State Street to reassure myself that the two Japanese Zelkova trees are still standing.
As unlikely as this is, if they get cut down before my appeal runs its course, then...
I want to be positive on Earth Day. I'm not going to share the thoughts that could come after that ellipsis. I'm hopeful that staff at the City of Salem and US Bank share the sense of respectful community involvement that we have out here in my neighborhood.
We shall see. We shall see.