COWS all want Woodside to be wooded but the fines for wrongful tree removal are beyond belief. The most recent notable fine was for $212,500 which the Town received after Council denied the appeal of the fine for non-permitted tree removal on a lot. That’s a lot of moo-la!!
The question now is what is the appropriate use of these funds? At the July 12 Council meeting, Grant Huberty, Planning Commission Vice Chair, suggested using the funds for chipping, Defensible Space matching fund, or SODS (Sudden Oak death) programs. Also discussed were safety oriented issues like bridge projects, or putting it into general fund for the chipper program or for the beautification of the Town, solar panels on Town Hall or create a new community space, where citizens can get together. It seems to us that the funds should not be used for capital projects such as solar for Town hall or even bridges which should be planned and budgeted at all of our expense. Instead these funds should go to tree related projects such as the SOD programs, beautification including tree planting, the chipper program, or tree and shrub related fire protection programs.
Irrespective of how the money is spent, we are troubled by the process by which it is obtained. First of all the appeals do not appear to be decided based on any articulated COWncil policy. We have seen many times when COWncil has granted appeals and significantly reduced these large fines. How are they deciding who must pay the full fine and who pays a reduced fine? The COWncil should do a review and see what the history of the fines paid has been including fines not appealed, fines where the appeal is denied and fines which are reduced and by how much.
The second concern is that if expenditures are set up based on having extra cash for things that are sorely needed and wanted but for which General Fund money is not available, isn’t it likely to influence the outcome of these appeals before they are even he-rd?
Our third is that there needs to be periodic reminders to COWs as to what can be done without a permit and when permits are needed. Most COWs tend to think of the trees as theirs to do with what they like. The rules are not intuitive. Perhaps an annual mailer reminder mailer with to every household reminding them that trees cannot be cut without permit. Also perhaps adopt an ordinance requiring that every real estate deal in the town must come with a tree information handout.
We understand that we have to have a way to stop the non-permitted removal of trees. This is very important especially now that we have lost so many trees to SOD. We just want the process to be fair and equal.