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Do you enjoy hypotheticals?...part 3

by fredo
on 10/7/2009 @ 7:47am
You are a code enforcement officer for the city of Tacoma. A complaint has been received about some broken sidewalks in an old part of town. Upon arrival you discover an entire block of broken sidewalks which are all out of compliance. The street is lined with enormous oak trees which have the most beautiful appearance but whose roots have destroyed the sidewalk. You realize that in order to replace the sidewalk all the trees will have to come out. You would sign off on the work order immediately, but you realize that by doing so you will be sending a death notice to this urban canopy. What is your decision?

by wildcelticrose on 10/7/2009 @ 8:49am
devise a clever plan for a raised boardwalk?

Seriously, that sucks and it happends all the time.

by fredo on 10/7/2009 @ 10:05am
Wild@ OK you've come up with a solution that might solve this issue. Now lets put some numbers on this solution.

Let's assume that the cost of the new sidewalk 300 feet long is $60K and this would work out to $10K per lot (the lots are 50' wide). Let's further assume that the removal of the trees themselves would be borne by the city.

Now lets look at the raised boardwalk option. Because it's an unusual approach and because it would have to conform to ADA requirements that option would cost $150K for engineering and construction. The boardwalk would have to be rebuilt every five years because its foundation rests on the tree roots. Who should pay for the $90K difference and the ongoing reconstruction? The city or the property owners? (all numbers are just assumptions, change them if it suits your rebuttal).

by thriceallamerican on 10/7/2009 @ 10:18am
Move the sidewalk?

by ixia on 10/7/2009 @ 10:38am
Move to Rio Rancho

by fredo on 10/7/2009 @ 10:52am
If the code enforcement officer moves to Rio Rancho won't he have to quit his city job?

by Erik Hanberg on 10/7/2009 @ 12:21pm
I would hate to lose the canopy. It keeps the street better looking, it keeps the heat of the street, it provides a place for wildlife like birds, which helps to keep bugs down ... it's good in so many ways.

Part of the question here might be: whose trees are they? If they're the residents, and they don't want to lose them, I'd be in favor of a small LID that would cover part of the costs of the improved sidewalks--in your example, I suppose that would be the 90K.

If they are the city's trees--ie, on the city's right-of-way--then the burden of keeping the trees would be on the City.

by fredo on 10/7/2009 @ 12:38pm
I stated that the roots were coming from street trees, i.e. from trees planted along the street on city right-of-way. The trees are city property as is the sidewalk. The property owners are responsible for the sidewalk but the responsibility for tree maintenance is less clear. The broken sidewalks in my hypothetical are out of compliance. The public enjoys the trees from an environmental standpoint and from the appearance but the tradeoff is that provision of sidewalks in this setting is nearly impossible.

by L.S.Erhardt on 10/7/2009 @ 1:12pm
Well, if the code enforcement officer is anything like the cops in Tacoma, they'll turn a blind eye to the problem if there is any perceived difficulty in the job.

by Joe TS on 10/7/2009 @ 5:54pm
I think the property owner is responsible for the trees as well as the sidewalk.

by Maria on 10/8/2009 @ 12:10am
Trees are valuable too, especially older trees. I remember seeing somewhere a way you can calculate the "value" of a tree (based on increased property value, aesthetics, desireability of neighborhood boost, energy savings due to shade, etc.) that would have to be a factor also.

It takes a long time to grow beautiful trees, so as one who appreciates nature and beauty, I'd advocate keeping the trees if possible.

I dunno if the cost is that high, or if the need to replace sidewalk is that frequent. I live on a street with really large, mature cherry trees, and the sidewalks are replaced every 10-15 years...certain problem sections more frequently. The problem sections are generally right next to the tree, and not every tree has prominent roots. Concrete and labor are cheap....perhaps it's not necessary to do the raised boardwalk because it seems cheaper just to do the standard stuff.

Maybe the neighborhood could have a work party and just do it themselves, with approval from a city inspector??

by L.S.Erhardt on 10/8/2009 @ 1:11am
Mech Legs. The solution is Mechanical Leg bio-enhancements.

Just design, build and sell Mech legs that use hi-resolution 3-D scanners and automatically walk over the cracks with no tripping... much as you would if you were actually paying attention to where you were going instead of stuffing your face with corn dogs while texting your facebook "friends" and having your iPod cranked up to 10 so you can hear N*Sync over your own chewing and labored breathing.

by fredo on 10/8/2009 @ 6:34am

I'll take my hypothetical a step further if that's all right with you.

The out of town property owners have hired a paving company to bid the sidewalk. The bid has come back pretty high, citing the root proximity. Furthermore the contractor will not guarantee the sidewalk unless the trees are removed. The property owners told the paving company that "concrete and labor are cheap" but they just laughed.

The city arborist has prepared an analysis of the trees which demonstrated a value but the value was greatly diminished by the inappropriate location of the trees. The trees were deemed generally beneficial but possess no monetary value. Even the arborist admits that the trees are a problem.

So how will the neighborhood save the trees and furnish a level sidewalk which won't trip people who are eating corndogs and listening to their ipods? Or should the property owners be allowed to force the removal of the trees?

by Maria on 10/8/2009 @ 10:31pm
I think if the trees really are a problem (sometimes they are), they can take them down and replace them with less invasive trees. It's a shame to lose old, beautiful greenery, but if the final analysis is they must go, then we have to start again.

I don't have a problem with cutting down trees if they really are a danger or economically it's a ridiculous cost. However, in 80% of the cases (my scientifically derived figure based on pure imagination), there's a workable solution. It might be something like, take out half the trees, take out the worst trees, cut down a portion of the root, develop a flexible concrete using old tennis shoes and chewing gum, etc.

I guess I'm an optimist, I always assume there's a solution that will make everyone happy to a certain extent...if we're willing to innovate and investigate the problem with creativity and intelligence.

by fredo on 10/9/2009 @ 6:59am
Rignt on Maria, some good thinking there.

In many cases there is a workable solution. The heart of my hypothetical isn't so much to determine a workable solution, it's to discuss who should pay for it.

We have a community that pays a lot of lip service to the urban canopy but doesn't seem to be especially interested in funding solutions to the problems created by the trees. This is demonstrated in the city code which requires property owners to fix sidewalks damaged by street trees, even when the trees were planted by the city. If people want to encourage an urban canopy they would be well-advised to change the city code in a way that makes the city responsible for tree-related sidewalk damage.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 10/9/2009 @ 7:47am
A tree's a tree. How many more do you need to look at?
Ronald Reagan

by fredo on 10/9/2009 @ 8:10am
Crenshaw@ Probably not Reagan's finest quote. But undeniably funny.

What do you think? Should 'tree huggers' be given the opportunity to share in the cost of sidewalk replacement if it would further the cause of promoting the urban canopy? Or is it the evil property owners responsibility alone?

by L.S.Erhardt on 10/9/2009 @ 9:21pm
Catch 22... If the city assumes responsibility for the trees, they also get liability. Which means we all get liability.
Who wants to pay for the lawsuit after a tree falls during storm on some idiot's brand new Hummer?

If it is the property owner's sole responsibility, then we will see many trees taken down preemptively out of fear and we'll never reach our 200,000 (or so) tree goal by year 20XX.
I mean, who would let the city plant a tree that you're on the hook for should it tear up a sidewalk, road or damage a water main?

Damned if you do, damned if you don't, in the current set-up.

Now, I really hate having to use the example of our neighbors in the 206, but...
They have a "tree steward" program. The info used to be here, but it seems that Nickels axed it this year along with most of the SOT's arborist staff & funding.
Well, regardless of the idiot that runs Sea-Town (and we thought Anderson was incompetent!), they used to have a good program where volunteers were trained and equipped to care for trees in the right of way. And, (if I remember correctly), the city would take out dangerous trees, but the homeowner was responsible for sidewalk repair.

by fredo on 10/10/2009 @ 7:11am
Thorax@ I liked your comment about the preemptive removal of trees by homeowners who don't want any arborial aggravation.

I hope this discussion has established one over arching truth:

If we want a city with beautiful tree-lined streets then we would be advised as a city to prepare a plan for socializing the costs associated with the maintenance and nurturing of the trees. Laws which create an adversarial relationship between the property owners and the tree lovers are bound to fail both.