Tree talk

I didn’t make it to the Chico City Council meeting this week, the one featuring Andrew Meghdadi‘s attorney finally getting a chance to explain their side of the big tree take-down deal. I didn’t go to the meeting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is I’ve already sat in Willam Warne‘s office and heard what he plans to do. And I’ve written about it. What was being presented at the council meeting was nothing new and council would take no action. Basically Warne says his client was working from a map that called for the removal of more than 100 trees and the city showed no interest in seeing the map or overseeing tree-removal operations. City officials say that’s not accurate, that they had no idea Meghdadi planned to cut down that many trees.

I think I know what happened: A tree-removal map received by the city and dated Jan. 30, 2002, includes this note: “Trees rated 0, 1, or 2 to be removed.” According to the arborist Meg Burgin‘s tree survey, a tree rated “0” is dead, those rated “1” are in “moribund or severe decline,” while those with a “2” rating are in “general decline.” The question is, does the note on the map refer to the arborist’s survey, which says 94 trees are rated “2,” while 36 get a “1” rating and two trees are dead or rated “0?” Or is that note simply an explanation as to why certain trees on the map were to get the ax? It’s like saying, “Oh, you can never have too many trees in a subdivision.” The meaning is up for interpretation, and that’s why we have courts. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard that because there is no legislation in place to address the matter, this court action may well go all the way to the state Supreme Court, where it will set a precedent. And I’m guessing the city can’t force Meghdadi to do a supplemental environmental-impact report. Maybe, just maybe, the city will adopt a tree ordinance to protect the trees we have left. That’s the best that could come out of this sordid mess.

When I woke up the day after the City Council meeting, feeling a little guilty for not going, I turned on Channel 12 or 24 (it doesn’t matter which) and Maureen Naylor of Wake Up!, the local morning news/weather and happy-talk show, told me that Meghdadi’s attorney had spoken before a “packed” council chambers. I watched the tape and found that was not exactly true. At the very beginning of the meeting, it was packed because of the 70 or so city employees—many wearing orange T-shirts—who came to the meeting to get the attention of the City Council. They exited after about 10 minutes, leaving a lot of empty seats. The city workers— a total of 144 office assistants and maintenance aides and so forth—are represented by the Service Employees International Union, which is in contract negotiations with the city administration.

Just recently the employees’ Blue Shield health insurance costs took a 21 percent jump. (Sound familiar?) The employees want the city to help shoulder the burden of the increase. In a letter to the council, the SEIU says there is about a $50,000 to $60,000 difference between its last proposal and what the city is offering—approximately the same amount the city is putting out for one of the 14 police officer positions recently approved by council. The letter also questions the wisdom of paying about the same amount for a public relations campaign to discourage out-of-towners from coming here to celebrate Halloween, “while some of us will have to take on second jobs to pay for insurance.” Union rep Robert Belgeri said, “Our plan was not to disrupt the meeting,” but simply to remind the council of the employees’ plight.

Randy Larsen, host of KZFR’s Eco-Talk called me from Cleveland this week to say he was approaching the parking lot of Jacobs Field, home of the (once-) mighty Cleveland Indians. He was going to pick up a ticket to see the Indians play the White Sox that night. Larsen flew back to New Hampshire a few months ago and is riding his bike back to Chico. “Yeah, I started two weeks ago in Keene, N.H.,” he told me. I asked, “You mean as in Rick Keene?" "Exactly," he said. He said while riding through the Adirondack Mountains, he was attacked by "very aggressive" black flies that bite. "I’ve found that they peel off at about 12 mph—there’s nothing you can do about them when you’re going uphill." Larsen said he’s covered about 1,000 miles in two weeks. I didn’t get to ask him when he’d be back—he was in a hurry to get to the game, which the Indians lost.