Make trees a priority

Miller Avenue is one of the many areas in Gilroy lined with trees.

Trees play an important role in the health and vibrancy of a community. I grew up in a small Montreal suburb, Candiac, where trees were part of the city’s fabric. A homeowner’s property line was defined by the placement of a city-owned maple tree—most properties had at least two trees in their front yard. The city’s motto is “Candiac, my city under the trees”.

The maple trees were owned and maintained by the city and their majestic canopies lined every street. Prior to having children, my wife and I returned to my hometown and when we left she said she wished she could raise her kids in a town with an urban forrest like Candiac’s. When we chose to move to Gilroy seven years ago, a big part of the appeal was the mature trees and the communities of trees throughout the town.

Trees fight climate change, they tame stormwater runoff and provide a low tech solution to help save energy. Teddy Roosevelt said it best: “To exist as a nation, to prosper as a state, and to live as a people, we must have trees.”

Having sound policies and ordinances that protect trees creates a stronger, healthier and safer community. To my surprise, Gilroy has never had a protected tree ordinance.

At the last City Council meeting there was a protected tree removal ordinance on the agenda. Also to my surprise only two residents provided public input on the new ordinance. The purpose of the ordinance is to protect our community of trees, especially heritage trees (trees that are large and have historic significance to the city) from unnecessary removal. In recent times, two very significant oak trees with diameters greater than 30” were removed unnecessarily in order to expand the buildable area on a lot. At Rebekah’s Children’s Home, a massive oak tree was cut down forever, changing the landscape at the historic site.

Urban Forests programs don’t happen by luck. They require thoughtful policies voted by the council and implemented by public departments that promote the tree care ordinances to encourage beautification, air cooling and purification, noise abatement and land value enhancement.

A thoughtful program also includes budgeted resources for the maintenance, care and replacement of trees throughout the city. Did you know that Gilroy replaced over 105 trees in 2018 and has plans to replant over another 400 trees in the next few years?

It’s no secret that trees are loved by Gilroyans, but until now the survival and preservation of the very trees we love and admire for being part of our town’s fabric have been left to luck. While I strongly believe that less government is better, we do need to ensure that we create smart policies to protect, and preserve existing trees and invest in the neighborhoods and communities by planting new trees that promote healthy living and clean air.

Dan Harney is a Gilroy City Councilman.

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