Despite the legislative session being one of the most contentious in recent memory, homebuilders and cities managed to agree on a bill limiting local tree ordinances. But Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed the bill and called for statewide repeal of tree ordinances in the special session that begins Tuesday.
Based on past incidents, one can easily predict the consequences of Abbott’s legislation; homebuilders from California will come into our community and clear-cut entire hillsides of trees. To make way for big-box parking lots, giant heritage oaks will be routinely destroyed.
And taxpayers will be saddled with the costs of dealing with the stormwater runoff, air pollution and water contamination these new developments generate
Based on the rhetoric coming out of Austin, you might not realize that you are probably free to do as you please with your trees. That’s because San Antonio’s ordinance, like about 98 percent of ordinances in Texas, applies only to land developers and builders, not to homeowners. Moreover, ranches and agricultural land are exempt and counties aren’t allowed to have tree ordinances.
The military has been quite vocal regarding the tree ordinance’s importance to Camp Bullis’ mission. Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and JBSA-Lackland and JBSA-Randolph rely on Bullis for field training. With more than 85,000 personnel stationed at these military installations and the secretary of defense calling for Base Realignment And Closure, or BRAC, in 2019, Abbott’s legislation could have a devastating impact on our local economy.
Tree ordinances are an equitable requirement imposed on new development to offset its impacts. When new subdivisions and strip malls are finished, they discharge stormwater, contaminants and pollutants onto other people’s property. As trees are bulldozed and natural land paved with streets, driveways and buildings, flooding and drainage problems increase for downstream property owners.
In a story titled “With a building boom comes higher flood risk,” the Express-News reported that “floods keep happening, damaging private property and roads, and taxpayers end up with the bill. Since 2007, San Antonio and Bexar County combined have spent at least $850 million on drainage. That’s only a small fraction of the $2 billion worth of flood control projects needed in the city alone.”
Subdivisions are home to thousands of cars emitting tons of toxic gases and even carcinogens such as benzene. Hot, unshaded parking lots are areas of prolific ozone generation.
Moreover, pesticides, herbicides, dog droppings, motor oil and other contaminants are washed off with stormwater and find their way into creeks, rivers and the Edwards Aquifer.
San Antonio enforces its tree ordinance to ensure that trees remain to reduce stormwater runoff, clean up air pollution and absorb the water contamination that new developments generate. In a crowded city of 1.7 million, people must clean up after themselves. That’s why developers are required to install expensive sanitary sewer systems and why they are required to preserve trees.
San Antonio’s trees remove about $84.4 million worth of air pollution each year.
They provide about $1.6 billion in stormwater management value. And their root systems absorb contaminants, preventing them from polluting our drinking water supply, the Edwards Aquifer.
Finally, city taxpayers are spending $3.4 billion on the Vista Ridge pipeline, which will bring water to support future development. And we’ve spent $325 million buying forested land over the aquifer recharge zone to protect our drinking water from development. We have been more than fair to the land development industry.
So don’t let the governor overturn our tree ordinance and mess with our economy, health and safety.
Call your state senator and representative and tell them to stand up for San Antonio and its trees.