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Richard Alles

INTERVIEWEE: Richard Alles (RA)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: February 15, 2006
LOCATION: San Antonio, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2332 and 2333

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. Im here for the Conservation History Association of Texas and were in San Antonio, outside of the urban core, and its February 15th, 2006 and were at the home of Richard Alles, who has been the director of a group called the Citizens Tree Coalition and has been involved in trying to protect trees from being removed and trying to enhance some of the values that trees provide for the community. So I wanted to thank you for taking time to talk to us.
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RA: Well, thank you. Its an honor to do this interview.
DT: Thank you. I thought we might start by talking about your childhood and if there were some kind of experiences that you had or maybe mentors in your early life that contributed to your interest in trees and protecting the environment in general?
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RA: Well, Id have to say that my mother was a big influence on my interest in conservation. She loved nature and she loved birds and she also instilled a sense of compassion or an ethic of compassion in me that I think is very important, not only for people in environmental conservation but people who are working for animal rights or the rights of the elderly or people who are working to help victims of child abuse. I think the politics of compassion are something that play across aa broad spectrum ofof interests, but they all speak to compassion for one another and compassion for the
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environment. So at aat a young age, well, I grew up in a suburban neighborhood and we had trees around the house that we liked to climb up in and play in and one of our favorite sports, if you will, was to climb up to higher and higher limbs in a tree and jump out of it.
DT: You were telling us about the trees that you used to climb.
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RA: Wewe had a favorite tree that wethat myself and the neighbors would climb up in and wed jump outoff of the limbs and dare each other to go to the next highest limb and jump off of that. And eventually, we worked our way up to a dangerously high limb and I jumped off of it and when I hit the ground, it had become so slick and compacted from our weeks of jumping that my feet just slipped out from under me and I broke my arm, breaking my fall. And that was my, I guess, a painful bond with trees but
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it didnt discourage me from loving trees. And as I grew outup, we moved out to the suburbs, aan even more suburban area where we had a lot of trees and my dad and I would spend a lot of time in the yard, trimming the trees and caring for them andand he liked the trees and I enjoyed them. I always appreciated their beauty and I guess feltfelt kind of a bond with them. Sometimes I would go off to aa park somewhere and Id just look at the form of the tree and the complexity of the branching and thethe multitude of leaves and it just fascinated me that such aa complex creation existed and could be appreciated just for itsits innate beauty.
DT: Any particular kind of tree?
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RA: Well, II always liked the live oaks because they grow slowly and so their branches take on a lot of unusual curves and they get real gnarly and have very interesting shapes andand a lot of variation in their trunks. And II think soand Ive really spent all my life in the central Texas area and have always appreciated the live oaks since theyre the trees Ive been most exposed to, I guess.
DT: Maybe you can go through some of the values that you see in trees. I mean, you talked about some of the, I guess youd call them aesthetic values, the beauty of their form, but maybe some of the ecological values that you see in trees?
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RA: Well, as aas a child, I had asthma and Ive always been very aware ofof our air quality here in San Antonio, which has been on the decline lately. In fact, a few years ago, San Antonio exceeded the EPA limits on ozone and are working to correct that problem. And of course, trees not only emit oxygen, you know, they convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, but they also clean the air of pollution and they prevent the formation of ozone toor help reduce ozone formation. So from athe standpoint of air quality there, its very important that we try to maintain a certain level of tree canopy cover here
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in our city so we dont suffer from the smog and ozone problems that a lot of large cities suffer from. And then theyre very valuable for reducing storm water runoff, which has been a big issue here in San Antonio. Weve had many deaths from flooding here over the years, many, many, deaths. And recently the city has had to institute floodplain buyout programs for people on the south side of town who live in areas that have become part of a floodplain. In other words, as more trees on the north side of San Antonio,
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which is thethe higher ground, the Balcones Escarpment area, are removed and replaced with asphalt and concrete, the volume of storm water flooding into the less affluent south side areas is increased and the floodplains have expanded because of that. And people have found now that their houses are flooding where years ago they didnt. And, you know, we have had some torrential rains in the past few years that have
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contributed to that, but its costing the city money and the federal government because they found that theres really no economical way to reduce the volume of storm water going into these creeks and floodplains, so it really is cheaper to just buy peoples houses and demolish them and to remove the development thats in those floodplains. So from that standpoint alone, an urban ecosystem analysis that was performed for the city of San Antonio in 2002 showed that just on the basis of storm water management alone, trees are
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worth billions of dollars to our city. You have theI think most people are aware that they reduce energy usage, they reduce your utility bills in the summer and reduce the amount of air conditioning your house requires by shading it. And Iin cities like Atlanta where theyve lost a lot of tree canopy over the years, thstudies have shown that their urban heat island has increased proportionate to thethe loss of tree canopy cover. And in Atlanta, I know on a summer day, its, I believe, eleven or twelve degrees hotter in their downtown area than it is in the outlying areas that still have good tree
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canopy cover. And San Antonio has a similar effect. It hasnt been studied to thethe level that they have in Atlanta, but I think anyone who goes down to the Riverwalk, which is, you know, our biggest tourist attraction here, in the summer immediately recognizes that its miserably hot on aon a summer evening. Its much hotter than, you know, the surrounding suburban areas in San Antonio and reallyit really detracts from peoples enjoyment of the Riverwalk. So those are, you know, thethe three main effects, other than the aesthetic effect. And therestheres one more study Id like to
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point out, one more effect and this is an effect on peoples health and sense of well-being. And one study showed that people who had hospital rooms with a view of trees outside their window actually had aa quicker recovery time than people who didnt have a view of trees. And it was smallit was a small but statistically significant effect. I think perhaps it shortened their recovery time by a day or so. So, you know, from that standpoint, I think there are effects thatthats an effect that people wouldnt recognize right off the bat. Its important for homeowners to maintain the value of their home
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thatthat they have trees around them, especially if they want to resell the house because the first thing a lot of homebuyers look for is a house with mature trees around it. And in a study that was done in New York called Trees Mean Business, they showed thatthat businesses, retail establishments and restaurants and the like that have trees around them are more likely to attract customers and that the customers are more likely to spend more money at those businesses. So I think thenot only the economic, but the aesthetic and the, you know, spiritual value of trees areare things that people need to consider.
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II know the argument against tree preservation from the development community has been that it costs money and while tree preservation does cost money, itofto theto the developer, this is somebody whos going to resell the property. Theyrethey really just own the land temporarily until it can be resold to the person whos going to live on it or the business thats going to be there andand own the land for the long-term. And so Iit seems shortsighted to only look at the initial costs of doing the development and not what the long-term economic benefit would be of the trees.
DT: You had mentioned earlier that theres also somean historic or cultural value, especially large and very old trees. And you said theres the Rough Rider Pecan, is that right and maybe some other ones. Can you explain how that has been an issue in San Antonio?
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RA: Well, fortunately, II dont of any historic trees like that that havethat have been lost and let me say that that doesnt mean theres hasnt been any. Im just not aware of them. But weve got several trees that are historic. One is the Ben Milam Cypress thats on the Riverwalk and this is a tree where a sniper in the Mexican army would perch himself and wait for passersby toto fall into his snare. And one of those passersby was Ben Milam and he was shot and killed by a sniper who was perched in that cypress there, which is still there on the Riverwalk with a marker on it. And the Rough
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Rider Pecan is a historic old pecan tree that is at the site where Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders used toto train and congregate back in the early part of the twentieth century. And offhand, those are thethe two historic trees that come to mind.
DT: Are you aware of any trees in the San Antonio area that might date back to Native American days? Ive heard there are some trees that point towards springs and they tend to be saplings at the time, they were bent down and now youll see them as horizontally leaning or bent trees. Have you seen any like that?
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RA: Well, it seems like there are trees that fit that description near thethe Blue Hole or the San Antonio spring, which forms the headwaters of the San Antonio River, but actually I was not aware of that phenomenon and thereaaround the San Pedro Springs in San Pedro Park, there are also trees like that. Huge live oaks thatand so I guess, perhaps theyretheyre bending toward the springs because thatstheir root system is extending in that direction, possibly. I dontthis is the first Ive heard of that, but you know, now that you mention it, I have seen trees like that around our two major springs here.
DT: Do you find that tree cover has any impact on aquifer recharge?
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RA: Thats aa complicated question. Tree root systems promote infilstorm water infiltration or rainwater infiltration because they loosen the soil andand create void spaces that are conducive to storm water infiltration. So from that standpoint, I do believe that they would help maintain thethe base flow in the streams that flow across the aquifer recharge. I mean, and by base flow, I mean sort of the average dry weather flow thatthat occurs in a stream oror river. And its been shown inin areas where the watersheds been developed, theres a lot of impervious cover and therea lot of the
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trees have been removed that the base flow in that stream goes away. And so how does that affect aquifer recharge? Most of the recharge going into the aquifer comes from streambeds. Not allobobviously not all of it, but the majority is from water flowing through streambeds that go across the recharge zone. So I think from the standpoint ofof preserving trees and maintaining a healthy base flow in these streams that it could help recharge. Now that said, its also believed by people Ive talked to at the Edwards Aquifer Authority that if you increase runoff into these streams flowing across the
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recharge zone, that that would increase recharge. And obviously trees reduce runoff and they also transpire moisture out of the ground andand into the atmosphere. You know, thethe water cycles very complicated and wewe have a kind of a mentality now, its thethe cattle rancher mentality, that we need to get rid of all the ash juniper and cedar trees to help recharge the aquifer. Now really the motivation behind clearing of ash junipers, cedars is to create pastureland and grazing land for cattle because those lands, you know, are being displaced byby the cedar trees. So there have been a lot of studies
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done by thethe cattle ranchers and the people at Texas A&M, thewho are interested in that type of agriculture into what are the eeffects on the hydrology of an area because the cedars were cleared. And most of the studies Ive seen areare inconclusive. Theyve shown in some areas that it does help increase stream flows and inincrease flows out of slittle localized springs in that area. Other studies have shown that after the trees are removed, other vegetation grows up to replace the trees and
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that other vegetation also transpires water out of the soil and into the atmosphere and that after a number of years, you know, following the removal of the trees, the streamsspring flows have gone back to what they were before. A lot of people point to the ranch that David Bamberger restored near Johnson City called Selah. And you know, he did a wonderful job restoring that ecosystem that had been devastated by overyears of overgrazing. But it wasnt just cedar removal he did there, it was cattle removal. He took the herds of cattle off the land. He did a lot of sculpting of the land with bulldozers
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toto terrace the hillsides so that water wouldnt run off of them rapidly. And he planted hundreds of tons of native grass seed out there. So thereits a very complicated issue and to get back to the question of aquifer recharge, thethere are ongoing studies by the Edwards Aquifer Authority but theyretheyre incomplete. And to say that theres been a quantifiable link established between clearing cedar trees and an increase in aquifer recharge is not justified at this point in time. Its, you know, itsits the
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hydrology isis very complicated and its taken some very elaborate studies to try to establish a quantifiable link between these two events and it hasnt been done yet. But in a few years, theythey expect to have these studies finished. So the jurys still out onon that issue.
DT: Let me ask you another question about this connection between trees and hydrology and runoff. What do you think the connection is between trees and erosion, erosion control?
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RA: Wellwell, clearly theythey prevent erosion and annobody should even think of clearing cedars from a hillside in the hill country because the cedars are keeping that hillside and what little bit of soil it has on it from washing, you know, down into the stream and into the Gulf of Mexico, I guess eventually. So you know, thethe root systems of trees spread far beyond the dripline of the tree, which is thethe extent of the tree canopy where, you know, I guess water would, you know, drip sort of from the edge of the canopy, which is why its called the drip line. The root system of trees are shallow
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and they extend well beyond the canopy of the tree and they hold soil in place and prevent erosion. So one of the biggest untold or Iunrecognized ecological crises, according to Malcolm Beck, whos ourwho youve interviewed beforeand whos our local organic gardening guru, is the disappearance of topsoil, or just, you know, soil fromfrom the land and his data showed that weve lost just a mind boggling amount of topsoil, you know, over thethe past century or so. So, clearly, you know, trees help stabilize hillsides and prevent erosion.
DT: Maybe could you talk a little bit aboutmoving on from some of the values and uses of trees, and talk about the trends that have been seen in the tree canopy in San Antonio. I think that back in 2002, there was an urban ecosystem analysis that you had mentioned and tried to track. What was happening over long periods of time in number and aerial extent of trees? Can you talk about the results of that?
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RA: Well, that was aa very valuable study. That was performed using satellite imagery and a GIS, or Geographic Information System, software and some proprietary software that was developed by American Forests, which is aa national advocacy, nonprofit for trees. And that study showed that between 1986 and 2001, San Antonio lost something like 39 percent of its heavy tree canopy cover and thats primarily due to develand developmentor almost entirely because of land development. And alalong with that loss in tree canopy cover, you know, the city has seen an increase in
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storm water runoff and flooding, seen a decline in air qualitynot entirely due to the loss of trees, but also the increase in the number of cars in the area. And itit was very alarming because I dont think up till that point anyone realized how rapidly trees were being destroyed. That was the first large scale study ofof the city and its urban forest. And that study was very helpful in getting a stronger tree ordinance passed because it was really a wakeup call to city leaders to see the headlines in the [San Antonio] Express News, tree cover
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down 39 percent in 16 years. You know, thats somethingthatsthats a big number thatthat people paid attention to and I think was aa major boost to our efforts to improve the ridiculously weak 97 Tree Ordinance.
DT: Maybe this would be a good point to talk about the efforts to preserve trees, going back to some of the early efforts. You mentioned the 1997 ordinance, I guess there were groups that were working before that, on the 281 Corridor that touched on trying to protect against tree damage.
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RA: The tree preservation efforts here in San Antonio go back a long ways and I know The Conservation Society, which has been around for many, many decades has worked for tree preservation all along. We had a fight back in the 60s that The Conservation Society was involved in. It pitted The Conservation Society and the Sisters of the Incarnate Word University and other folks against the Chambers of Commerce and people who, you know, wanted San Antonio to grow and to expand its transportation
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system. And this was the fight over what was, at that time, called the North Expressway andand nowadays is called the McAllister Freeway oror US 281. And that expressway was planned to go through some of the most beautiful areas in San Antonio and, in fact, through part of the Incarnate Word University campus. Right next to the Trinity University campus, right next to the Sunken Gardens Theatre there in
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Breckenridge Park, through the Olmos Basin area, which is still one of the most beautiful natural areas inin San Antonio, inin the urban part of the city. Its a huge floodplain area with thousands and thousands of trees and beautiful rock bluffs and even caves back in there. And of course, thethe Olmos Creek flows through that area. And in addition, there were many very affluent folks that had beautiful homes in that area. So it was aa
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bitterly contested expressway and, unfortunately, thethe freeway advocates won. But that was, to my knowledge, and II grew up here in San Antoniothat was the first big fight over the environment that I was aware of. There were also some women, and I cant recall if they were members of The Conservation Society or not, who fought to prevent the destruction of some giant cypress trees along the San Antonio River and thethisthe legend is that they chained themselves to those trees to stop the bulldozers andand literally faced down these people who were intent on destroying the trees and
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saved them. Some of the, I think, at that point, IveI left San Antonio, orand moved to Austin, so therestheres going to be a lapse inin my historical account here. But in thein the 80s and 90s, as developmentthe pace of development increased, there were a number of high profile tree massacres that really disturbed the people here in San Antonio. One of them was the CarMax over on I10 near Callahan Road. They went into aa site that was covered with very large oak trees and completely clear-cut the entire site. And you had aa K-Mart, a huge K-Mart go in on 281 north of the airport that
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wiped out acres and acres of giant, giant oak trees near the Salado Creek. And the Builders Square on the other side of 281 did thethe same thing in their development. And I think those were some of the events that were, I guess, seminal events inin thethe efforts to preserve trees here in San Antonio.
DT: And some of these efforts eventually resulted in some ordinances to try and formalize, organize protection of the trees?
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RA: Right. And in 1997, the city passed its first tree preservation ordinance and it was largely in reinin response to these events that were occurring. Austin had had an ordinance already then for a number of years and I think people saw that unregulated development wasnt going to get the job done, that there were going to have to be some regulations established. Otherwise, we were just going to see the continued decimation of these trees, a lot of them that were hundreds of years old and for big box development, ssome of which is very short lived. You know, I think of thethe Builders Square
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and K-Mart are two examples. Both of those stores went out of business after a number of years. But thethe oak trees that had been there for hundreds of years that were wiped out for that business thatthat lasted maybe ten years or so. It just didnt seem right for that to happen, for that heritage and that history and that beauty andand all those environmental benefits to be destroyed for such aa short-term consideration.
DT: Tell us a little bit more about this 1997 ordinance. What were some of the strengths and maybe some of the weaknesses?
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RA: Id say the biggest strength of thethe 97 ordinance was that it forced developerssome developers into thinking about trees and planning for tree preservation in the earliest stage of their projects. And suandand any tree ordinance, thats one of thethe primary benefits of it isis requiring a developer to survey the trees on the landthe existing trees on the land and account for those trees in the design of its project. And the ordinance did place an emphasis on older heritage trees and when we speak of heritage trees, thats a term thats defined in our tree ordinance to mean, in 97 it
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was a tree with a trunk that was 30 inches in diameter or larger. Inso, itit did place special emphasis on those trees. Theres been an interpretation issue as to how much emphasis it did place and I can talk about that later, but itit did help with commercial developments and prevented them from just going in and clear cutting a site. Now unfortunately, on thethe single-family residential development side of the ordinanceand thats approximately 80 percent of the land area that goes to new development is for
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single-familythe ordinance was just astonishingly ineffective. It was so full of loopholes and exemptions and options that a developer could wipe out 94 percent of the trees on a site and still comply with the 97 ordinance. It had no protection for the trees roots, so we had instances where developers would go in and theyd preserve a tree, but theyd change thethe elevation of the land around the tree by raising it four feet next to the trand inin effect, burying the bottom four feet of the tree trunk. And conversely, they could go in and grade up thethe roots of the tree to put in streets and driveways and with predictable results on the health of the tree. So really, the 97 ordinance was a failure asas regards single-family development and itit actually was not even a big
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success for commercial development and thats one of the reasons we passed a new ordinance in 2003. There was a project on Callahan and I10, it was a for a Lowes Home Improvement Center, a big box store. And on that site, there was a tree that was estimated to be 300 years old. It was a huge heritage tree that amazingly had a pretty high profile among the neighbors there. You know, they were aware of that tree, they appreciated it, they loved that tree. And Lowes came in during the darkness of night and took the tree out. And there is was, laying on its side the next morning, toto the
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chagrin of thethe neighbors andwho called up the city and they said I thought we had passed a tree ordinance. And they said we did. And they said well, why could they tear down this giant, 300 year old oak tree? And, well, because it was one ain one of the areas that was exempt under the ordinance. In other words, the Lowes complied with the 97 tree ordinance and the ordinance allowed the destruction of that tree because there are certain exemptions or loopholes in the ordinance that leave a lot of heritage trees unprotected. And one of the exemptions is that wherever a developer decides to put
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the big box, you know, thethe actual building itself, that area is considered exempt. And it can be any area on the piece of property the developer chooses, so if he wants to put the building over the biggest grove or stand of heritage trees on a site, he can do that and all those trees are not counted. Its like they dont even exist. So that was one of the biggest failings of the 97 ordinance.
DT: And I guess the frustration with the 97 ordinance resulted in the 1999 creation of your group, the Citizens Tree Coalition, is that correct?
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RA: Thats right.
DT: Can you talk about how that coalition was put together and what its first efforts were?
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RA: Well, initially, I was involvedI wasI was on the board of directors of a 501(c)3 called San Antonio Trees and our organization is primarily interested in planting trees and weve done a number of tree planting projects around the city. And there was also a member of the Alamo group of the Sierra Club, Loretta Van Coppenolle, who was the most outspoken advocate at the time offor tree preservation in the city, for protecting trees from being destroyed by development. And so Loretta and people from San Antonio Trees, Richard Summer and Eloy Rosales and myself, got together in late
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1999 to talk about an upcoming revisionor actually, it was a review of the 97 ordinance. And that review was actually created by the City Council when they adopted the ordinance. Theythey mandated that in three years, there would be a review of the ordinance to evaluate its effectiveness and the reason thatthat review had been
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implemented at the request of environmentalists whod felt like theyd really gotten gypped onon the 97 ordinance and they wanted another shot at it. So thatin 99, wewe formed the Citizens Tree Coalition specifically to address the revisions to the tree ordinance. And thethe coalition grew, we went out into the community and we made preservapresentations to different neighborhood associations and environmental groups, told them what our recommendations were going to be on reforming the tree ordinance and managed to get about 50 neighborhood organizations, neighborhood
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associations, religious groups, civic groups and environmental groups to join the coalition and endorse our efforts to strengthen the tree ordinance. And so that was99 was the beginning of that process. I was atat the time not really one of the leaders. I had agreed to draft thethe white paper for the group. TheI was going to draft this white paper and be involved for about three months and then, you know, in 2000, we were expecting the City Council to reform the ordinance and then our work would be done. Unfortunatelyor foractually, fortunately, it didnt work out exactly that way. It
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turned out, through a process thats mysterious and I dont understand completelyI ended up being the leader of The Tree Coalition and carrying thethe ballII shouldnt say that. But, you know, leading the efforts to reform the ordinance for an additional over three years. When the deadline expired for thethe review to occur, thethe city really hadnt even started it yet. Then they, the city, hired a consultant out of Kansas City to look at not only the tree ordinance, but the entire realm of the citys
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development codes. And in 2001, that consultant hareally hadnt had time to deal with the tree ordinance. He issued his final recommendations on the development codes and the tree ordinance was sort of left hanging and that was really a decision that was made by Mayor HowarHoward Peak at the time. Mayor Peak, for reasons I only partially understand, did not want to change the tree ordinance at that time and II remember aa meeting thatthat was probably one of the low points in our efforts. Wed gotten dozens of people from the community to turn out for this meeting where we were going
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to discuss the tree ordinance alalong with people from the development industry and the consultant who was doing the revision on the development codes. And we all showed up at thisthis meeting, you know, forty or fifty people and I immediately noticed there werent any developers at the meeting. So, you know, I knew something was up at that time andand that was confirmed when Mayor Peak walked out andand told us that thethe tree ordinance revisions were off the table, that we werent going to deal with it
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and that if we wanted to petition the next City Council thatthat was coming in in a few months that, you know, that was our prerogative. Thatthat thehis City Council wasnt going to deal with the issue.
DT: Why do you think that the mayor didnt feel bound by the 1999 ordinance, that it sounds like it provided for this revision?
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RA: Well, I was told by one of thethe chairs ofof this committee that was revising the development codes that Mayor Peak had made a deal with the developers that he would kill the tree ordinance revisions if they would go along with some of these development code revisions. One of the major provisions ofof the new development codes was that residential developers would have a set aside a certain amount of land for parks and open space in every new subdivision. And until that point, the city had no requirement for that and we were seeing vast areas ofof high density, residential,
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single-family development going in. You know, miles and miles of development with no parks or green space or open space in any of these neighborhoods. It was just, you know, house after house after house as far as the eye could see. So, you know, that and somesome other kind of smart growth standards in those development codes werewere something that wasthat Mayor Peak wanted to see happen. The newits called the Unified Development Code was sort of the grand accomplishment of his administration and he, I guess, saw that there was a lot of opposition to thesethis new Unified
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Development Code and cut this deal to get it passed. Now thethe ordinance didnt exactly mandate that it be revised. Therethere wasnt any requirement that City Council change the ordinance, just that itthat it be reviewed, so you know, Im not sure, you know, what his thinking on that was, exactly. You know, whether he was violating the ordinance or not, but the review was terminated at that time, it was never completed.
DT: And what year was this?
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RA: 2001.
DT: And so for the next two years, there was, I guess, a continuing effort to get the revisions through. Can you tell us about that two-year period?
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RA: Well, the city hired the consultant from Kansas City, Mark White, again toto come in and work with the stakeholders on revisions to the, specifically, the tree preservation ordinance. And he convened, I believe, four meetings and they were large meetings, you know, maybe a hundred people or more would show up for each meeting. And there was a lot of dissension atat those meetings. A lot of, you know, because they combined two groups thatthat seemed to be at odds with each other. You had the
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development industry representative and then, frankly, somesome very hard-line representatives from the development industry and I think of some people who, at the time, worked for KB Homes, which is the biggest residential homebuilder here in San Antonio and developer. And theyd come to the meetings with studies that showed people didnt want parks in their neighborhoods. That, if we amended the tree ordinance
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and made it nemore expensive, that you would price all these low income folks out of the housing market and they wouldnt be able to own a home and allall of the benefits that home ownership brings with it. Theythey didnt want the ordinance changed; in fact, their argument was we dont need a tree ordinance. Residential developers recognize the benefits of trees for theyou know, in increasing the sales price of a home and so we save all the trees we can. And theres no need for a tree ordinance, it just adds
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expense to theto a house without bringing any benefit along with it. And for, you know, wewe had people from the environmental community at the meetings that didnt buy into these arguments and some of the meetings got a little rancorous or argumentative. And I dont think the consultant, Mark White, really knew quite how to deal with the people of San Antonio and to deal with these large meetings. And he did his work and he issued a report and it was a big comprehensive report, but it really didnt
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go very far in improvingor in making any changes to the ordinance. He left a lot of it as it was. So theit was the feeling atat that time, Councilwoman Bonnie Connor, was leading thethe tree preservation ordinance effort and she saw fit to establish another smaller committee that had, you know, maybe five or so environmental representatives and five or so development representatives on it. And these committhis committee was to meetit would be facilitated by members of the City Development Services staff and thethe hope was that at the end of these meetings, the developers and the environmentalists would sign an agreement that we had come to aan agreement on
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what the new ordinance should be and we agree to support this ordinance in getting it passed by City Council and not try to work behind the scenes to get amendments tacked on when it went to a vote and that sort of thing. But thethisthis smaller committee met, I think, six times or so over the course ofI think it started meeting in 2002 and met maybe six times and werewas not able to come to an agreement. In fact, one of the developers, Norm Dugess, walked out ofof one of the meetings. And thethe
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representative of the Real Estate Council of San Antonio state inthethe Real Estate Council of San Antonio, to give you a little background, is the local advocacy and lobbying group for developers. Itsits not like the Board of Realtors thats involved with realtors, you know, real estate sales people. This is a organization thats made up of developers andand builders and large landowners here in the city and their primary effort is, you know, political advocacy and they have, you know, their own lobbyist who works the city. Theythey stated that they didnt feel like they were ever going to reach
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an agreement with The Tree Coalition and the environmentalists and that they werent going to continue with the meetings. So that committee ended without an agreement and itat that time, the city staff members were directed by, I believe, Councilwoman Connor, to take what had come out to that committee and cobble together a new ordinance and, you know, submit it for consideration to the Council committee thatthat she was on. And that ordinance went to the Council committee. Wewe protested vigorously over the ordinance, we felt like it didnt go far enough, especially in
01:01:37 – 2332
thethe quantity or number of trees that were required to be preserved and in doing anything about a lot of the big deficiencies in the ordinance. Like itit left intact these huge areastheresinin residential development, there were huge areas within any subdivision that were exempt from the ordinance, where trees standing in those areas didnt even count. And
[End of Reel 2332]
DT: Well, lets resume and I think one question to ask you about this whole process of the meetings between the developers and the environmental community, it was mediated by a consultant working for the city, is that the city and its consultant was sort of put in a position of trying to broker a deal between two aggrieved parts of the San Antonio community rather than having a city represent, what I would presume, is the larger number of people, which would be the environmental community and the neighbors of these developers. How do you think that came to be and what do you think the effects were?
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RA: I think thats a continuation of a culture thatswas established in San Antonio in thethe 50s and 60s. The development industry has always had enormous power inat our local government level here. There was a group called the Good Government League that had a lot of its candidates on City Council and in the mayors office and Im not an expert on the Good Government League. IveIve heard people talk about them a lot, butbut they were more or less aligned with the Chambers of Commerce and the business interests. And, you know, so throughout San Antonios history, theres always
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been, I believe, an undue influence exerted on city and county government by the land development industry. And not only thethe governments, but also our local community owned utilities, the electric company here in San Antonio, City Public Service and ourour water company, the San Antonio Water System, are both owned by the City of San Antonio. But traditionally, those boards have been dominated by land development interests, especially San Antonio Water Systems.
DT: Is that just a kind of cultural tradition or is it because San Antonios a big population, big media market, it takes a lot of money to run a campaign. Need to get the money from some deep pocket. What do you think the source is?
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RA: Certainly, yeah. Developers are the primary funders of election campaigns here in San Antonio andand have been for as long as Ive been aware of the issue. So its aI think candidates see thatthat they really need toifif theyre going to get elected, need to get contributions from land developers, because theyve, you know, had thethe open pocketbooks. That said, there have been several successful candidates who werent funded by developers. In fact, Mayor Garza, ourourthe mayor before Phil Hardberger, whos our current mayor, ran against an opponent, Tim Bannwolf, who
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wahad a huge campaign chest that was funded by developers andand he won. Course, you know, theyreitthat mightve also been due toto Mayorto Ed Garza had more of a broader appeal among San Antonio voters thatthat Tim Bannwolf couldnt overcome. He was kind of aa north side guy who didnt really appeal much to the south and westsiders. Sobut getting back to your question, the development industry funds candidacies and they also through, you know, their very well funded advocacy organizations, the Builders Association and the Real Estate Council, have people, you know, full time staff whowho work on local political issues. And they ensure that groups like the Planning Commission and Zoning Commission and Board of
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Adjustment and the Board of Directors of the water system, those governing bodies are always loaded with people who are favorable to their interests. Soand theres been enormous pressure put on the city staff by the land development industry and the Chambers of Commerce. I mean, theyve mounted campaigns to create a environment among the city staffers thats more customer oriented. In other words, the staff people arent there to represent the interests of the community; theyre there to serve the
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customer, i.e. the developer. And we even had a instance where athe CEO of the San Antonio Water System was testifying before a Senate Legislative Committee Hearing here in San Antonio; it was when the legislaturein one of the off years, they had a committee hearing here over water issues. And I was struck by one thing he said. Hehe was talking about our customers and to him, his customers, the customers of this publicly owned utility thatthat serves millions of people, were developers. Not thethe citizens who were drinking the water and paying their monthly bill, but the
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developers because the developers fund these infrastructure expansion projects, you know, for them to extend their water mains andand their sewage lift station and sewage infrastructure, you know, out into undeveloped areas. To him, those were the customers that his organization was serving andand so thethe Chamber ofChambers of Commerce and the builders lobbying groups have worked very hard to create this customer service attitude among city staff. And they eventhey have renamed the department thatthat regulates them; its called the Development Services Department.
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And the city built this multi, multi million dollar new building, that was part of the deal Howard PeakMayor Peak made with the developers to get this 2001 Development Code passed was that they build this magnificent new caat the time, called the One Stop Center, which would consolidate all the services that the city provided for developers into this beautiful new facility that the city and taxpayers paid for. Andand its called the Development and Business Service Center. So its there to service developers andand business people, not to work to protect the interests of the city.
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Now I dont want to say that thethat there arent people there who do work to protect the interests of the community, there are. But I am saying that theres been aa huge push to create this developer friendly environment where, you know, we get your developwe stamp approved on your development plans real quickly andand cause asas little hassle for you as possible. And, you know, thats all underdone under thethe guiseI, you know, I dont know if youd call it guisebut under the philosophy ofof economic development and promoting economic development here in the city.
DT: How do you think that philosophy got reflected in the 2003 tree ordinance that I guess youre operating under now?
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RA: Well, theres still a lot of what Id call loopholes, exemptions inin the ordinance. Therethere are complaints that the ordinance is too complex, but if you look at it, most of it areare different options and exemptions and loopholes to give developers flexibility. You know, instead of just saying you have to save this many trees on your project, theres all sorts of different options they can use, so. And one of them is that instead of preserving large heritage trees, they can choose to pay a fee to the cityits called a fee in lieu oryou know, some people try to characterize it as a penalty, but
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the money is used toitit goes into the citys tree planting fund to plant new trees and so while it looks like the ordinance requires developers to preserve a substantial percentage of the trees, theres aa little loophole in there that says they can destroy 90 percent of the heritageof heritage and smaller trees as long as they provide whats called mitigation, of which, you know, the blood money we call it, they pay to the city isis one of those options. Another one is if they can plant smaller replacement trees to make up for the trees that were destroyed, you know, in a more convenient location
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onon the property where its not interfering with the plans for where the building goes or what have you. Theresso thats one. Another is theyre given an option of instead of protecting the tree roots in anin an area around the base of the tree, you know, keeping the bulldozers from digging up the roots in those areas. Um, thats called the root protection zone, commonly, and typically in ain a lot of cities, its the area directly underneath the tree canopy thats kind of off limits to the bulldozers to protect the shallow tree roots in that area. Well, in our ordinance, developers can avoid that requirement completely and, you know, pave their parking lot up closer to the trunk of
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the tree if they warrant that the tree wont die within three years. Its called the tree warrant. And so it sounds like oh, thats good. Theyre even giving us a warranty on these trees, but really, you know, its aa way for them to get more parking and, you know, less root protection for the tree. And itsits really a matter ofof lterritory almost, or land. You know, how muchifif Ive got a Wal-Mart and I want to put in 25 acres of building and parking, whats the smallest piece of land I can fit that on and
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still meet the tree ordinance? And if youre having to preserve large root protection zone areas, obviously thats consuming land that could be used for parking cars. So they have this option to provide a warranty in lieu of protecting the trees roots, but since it only requires that the tree stay alive for three years, its not really a good deal for the community because trees, you know, theyretheyre remarkably hardy, you know, they can live and, you know, still sprout leaves even after youve done enormous damage to them. But is that tree going to thrive? Is it going to continue to grow and get bigger
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and bigger after thats happened to it? And the answer is probably no, that youve got a tree that might live but its going to be kind of like a potted plant thats going to get to a certain size and then quit growing beyond that. Kind of like aa large bonsai tree or something.
DT: One of the largest exemptions that I understand has come into play is the grandfathering of large tracts. Can you talk about what grandfathering means, maybe give us some examples of how thats happened here in San Antonio?
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RA: Yeah, IdId love to. Grandfathering started with a state law that wasit was passed in the 80s thatit was inadvertently revoked in 97, but then rin 97, it was reestablished in its current form. And what the grandfathering law saysits a state law, as I saidis that once a developer applies for a permit to build a development project, the regulations that are in effect on the moment he appliesactually mails, drops the permit into the mail by certified mailon that instant, development regulations are frozen and there cant be any increase in regulation on that development project. Now
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there can be a decrease, it only works one way. You cant increase tree preservation or aquifer protection or parks, but you can decrease them and if you decrease them, the developer can take advantage of that decrease, even though the regulations were supposedly frozen on that instant he submitted his permit. Well, so what is a permit? It turns out under state law; a permit can be any number of things. It can be a developer goes to the water system and he said Id like you to contract to provide water to my
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development at some point in the future and those contracts are free and, I believe at the time, they gave a developer ten years before he had to put his first penny into that contract. Aa permit couldve been a plat somebody filed that showed nothing more than the outline of the property and saying, you know, this isIve platted this lot of 25 acres or whatever. Or it could be aa development plan thatthe problem with the law
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is that it was retroactive. It applied to permits that were filed before the law went into effect and cities were caught with their pants down when this law went into effect because they had issued a bunch of permits to people that didnt have expiration dates on them that required very little to noalmost no information about what the developer intended to do in his project. And so it allowed developers who saw a new aquifer protection ordinance about to be passed by city council or a new tree ordinance and thatas I explained earlier, theyll gettheyll know three years ahead of time that this
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new ordinance is coming down the pike. And what it enabled them to do was to file these sketch plans where in a half hour, a engineer could draw up a plan for aa, you know, 2000 acre chunk of land and file that with the city and say thats my first permit application and the clock stopped now. And this occurred with our aquifer protection ordinance. The engineering firmthe biggest engineering firm in San Antonio, Pape-Dawson, had one of its owners, Gene Dawson, Junior, as chair of the water quality
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committee that was writing the aquifer protection ordinance. And at the same time this committee was drafting those rules with Mister Dawson as its chair, he was alsDawsons firm, on behalf of big landowners was filing development plans for thousands and thousands of acres of land over the aquifer recharge zone. So that when the ordinance went into effect, there were alreadyIImI think it was around ten thousand acres that had been filed just before the ordinance went into effect. And then everything that had been filed, you know, in the years pre-1995, you know, was also
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exempt. And weve had developersone developer filed a lawsuit against the city in 2004 claiming his grandfathering started in 1927. That was the year hed filed a plat on this land. Now plats never expire and the grandfathering law says a city cannot shorten the duration of a permit. In other words, once you issue the permit, if it doesnt expire till, you know, the year 3000 or if it never expires, you cantyou cant shorten the duration, meaning you cant put a different expiration date on it once its been issued. And that was the dilemma a lot of cities found themselves in when this grandfathering
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law plassedpassed. They had rules out there that allowed developers to file, to sketch out a development on a napkin and submit it as a development plan. Thatyou know, Im exaggerating a little bit, but literallyor figuratively, something that sketchy could be submitted and they had permits that had no expiration date. Now there is a provision in the grandfathering ordinance for dormantwhat they call dormant projectsthat have made no progress to completion. But the threshold for making progress toward completion is very low and thats something that can easily be exploited. So thats why
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inin fact, I heard this week in Austin, somebody was claiming grandfathering to 1910 on aon a plat theydthat had been submitted then. So the citylet me give you an aanother example ofof how its working. The city recently was on the losing end of a judgment in district courta ruling in district court by Judge Andy Mireles who ruled that a developer was exempt, not only from our tree ordinance and park and open space ordinance and others, but also the citys stormwater drainage ordinance. Now thats
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frightening because most peoples interpretation of the grandfathering statute is that you cannot get an exemption from codes and ordinances that protect the public against imminent threats of destruction of property or injury to persons, I believe is how thethe statute reads. Well, clearly thats what thethe drainage ordinances do, you know, they prevent flooding, which can kill people. But, you know, now weve got aa ruling in district court that somebody has been grandfathered from the drainage ordinance. Now the citys appealing that and I believe itll be overturned, butbut you know, thats an
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example ofof how grandfathering can work. And so I think the intent of grandfathering was that once a developer starts his development project, its not fair for the city to be able to go in and impose different tree preservation standards that would force him to redesign its project or maybe make the project uneconomical because there were so many trees on the property or something to that effect. And you know, thats thethe motivation thatthat the people who back these grandfathering laws give for supporting them. But in reality, thethe way the law is written, it requirestheres no
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requirement for any actual investment to be made in the project, only filing of plans and for permits. And itsits been written to favor developI mean, you know, the pendulum has swung so far in developers favor on this grandfathering issue that its really just way out of whack and thats why its so hard for the city to enforce the aquifer protection ordinance here, whichthe aquifer protection ordinance has been applied to very few projects on the recharge zone. MostId say easily 90 percent of the
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development on the recharge zone has been exempt from the aquifer protection ordinance because of grandfathering. Now the numbers arent quite as bad on the tree ordinance for reasons I wont givekind of complicated. But you know, weveweve had the same thing with the tree ordinance. Developers see it coming in thethe three years we negotiated over the 2003 tree ordinance, there were 35,000 acres of development planof plans for development filed with the city. So we lost at least 35,000 acres in that three years wewe debated over the new ordinance.
DT: Can you give me some examples of the effects of some of these loopholes and exemptions in grandfathering clauses? What actually happens on the ground when the tree ordinance doesnt apply?
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RA: Well, we get tree massacres. Theyre clear-cutting.
DT: Loopholes in the 2003 ordinance that you could point to?
00:27:36 – 2333
RA: Yeah, thethe Encino Ridge Pulte Homes project on Highway 281 North is a very visible project because its right next to a busy highway and so thousands of people see this giant hillside thatthat was completely stripped ofof every shred of vegetation. They were grandfathered from the 97 and 2003 tree ordinances both. And
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that was a project that Pape-Dawson got in under the wire before the aquifer protection ordinance passed. That was one of those projects that a dewhere a development plan was filed just weeks before the aquifer protection ordinance took effect and weve got the PGA Village project. Here was aa project that was immensely unpopular here in the city. There were a hundred thousand signatures gathered in ain a huge petition drive against the project, asking that it be put to a vote. And thenownow why would we
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be voting on it? Because the PGA and theand their developer, Lumbermans Investment Company, had come to the city asking for a huge incentive package to put the PGA there on one of the most sensitive parts of the aquifer recharge zone. And that incentive package including creating a special taxing district that had eminent domain powers that would collect all the taxes, not only in the PGA Village area, but could actually extend beyond the boundaries of it. It was, you know, tax abatements thatthat went for decades from city taxes. And now this was an area where clearly the city did
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not want to encourage or incentivize development. So why were they doing this? Because the developer was grandfathered from the aquifer protection ordinance. How did he get grandfathered? Well, let me say this. We do not agree that he has a valid grandfathering claim, but reregardless, he said Im grandfathered for 100 percent impervious cover on this twoapproximately two thousand acres here and I can put in 9000 homes in this sensitive area if you dont play ball with me. So in effect, itit was a threat, that if you dont give us this incentive package to do this development which, you
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know, had a lot of environmental standards associated with it, including impervious cover limits that equaled what the aquifer protection ordinance wouldve provided, ithad it not been grandfathered. You know, that was thethe tradeoff thatthat the city leaders were given. Now II wanted to tell you a little bit about how they got grandfathered. They had filed aa very sketchy development plan before the aquifer protection ordinance passed and nothing had happened on the project. But the city had a rule that within 18 months, you had to file a plat for one of the units inwithin that development
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plan area, and a unit would be like a subdivision with 150 houses or whatthats typically how development is done in ain large areas, is unit by unit. What the developer did was he filed a plat for a one-eighth acre little segment of a road right on the corner of a property. On the overall development plan, it was just a tiny speck. And that one-eighth acre plat was what held the grandfathering on that PGA project and led eventually to what we now have, which is a 30 year tax abatement and a special taxing authority out there with powers more limited than what I described earlier, but the taxing
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authority is comprised entirely of people associated with the developer and with the PGA. Thereitit was an elected board of directors. It was supposedly elected by the voters of the area. Since there werent any voters on the land, they put these people out there in trailer homes so that they would be residents and could vote in this election to establish this board of directors for the taxing authority. So thats, you know, one of the effects of grandfathering. Weve got the Indian Springs Development, which is next door to PGA,
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whwhichwhose star hashas risen dramatically now that PGAs going forward. Theyre proceeding rapidly with development there. They were grandfathered from the aquifer protection and tree ordinance and clear-cut a huge area for a subdivision called Val Verde Village. In addition, they removed or clear cut 600 acres in ain a separate incident, 600 acres of habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler without first getting it approved with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So that incident was in the
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newspapers. Theyve since negotiated a deal with Fish and Wildlife to provide some mitigation land to offset the destruction of the 600 acres of habitat and that land is conveniently for them located in a very isolated corner of the development that probably wouldnt get developed anyway because of its isolation andand geographyor topography. So it leads toto clear cutting, it leads to high-density development over the aquifer recharge zone. Were seeing residential subdivisions going in with up to, I think, seven houses an acre would not be unheard of. You know, development thats at
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such a high density that itsits not appropriate for such an environmentally sensitive area. So I think, you know, the bottom line on grandfathering is its enabling degradation of our sole source aquifer that serves 1.8 million people and its enabling, you know, environmental degradation that harms our air quality and increases storm water runoff and flooding and all the, you know, other things that trees prevent and that impervious cover facilitates.
DT: In the same year that the 2003 ordinance was passed, you were struck with a, I think its called a slap suit that maybe indicates the stakes that are involved in this in terms of not just the acres and numbers of trees, but also the dollars that are at risk, both from the development community and from some environmentalists who have tried to challenge these proposals. Can you talk about what happened?
00:36:59 – 2333
RA: Well, thWal-Mart was being developed by Mark Granados and his company, Hill Granados Retail Partners. And in order for that development to occur, he had to get the property rezoned by the city. And Id been asked by the neighborhood association affected by the Wal-Mart to come in as kind of the tree expert on the development and the rezoning issue because they were negotiating with Mister Granados on what type of concessions hed make to the neighborhood on, you know, in order to exchange for this rezoning. And atat one of the meetings, IdII asked Mister Granados whyor Id
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asked him if he would consider certain development standards for tree preservation, you know, volunteering to comply with certain development standards for tree preservation and neighborhood friendly design. And he replied well, I dont have to do any of that. All I have to do is comply with the current codes. And I said well, Mister Granados, the city doesnt have to rezone your property either. That exchange there was, II think,
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probably thethe seed thatthat started the slap suit. Now later on in the tree efeffort to promote the new tree ordinance, Id sent out a email and Id mentioned Mister Granados project in the email because Id been informed that he had gotten a variance from the city from thethe tree ordinance. And I thought that wasI noted that in my email because I remembered during those meetings that Mister Granados had promised the neighborhood that hed comply with the tree ordinance, but then here he was getting a
00:39:23 – 2333
variance from it. So somehow that emailand this is the dangers of email herefound its way to Mister Granados and he took issue with my characterization ofof him because, to him, I was saying that he was being less than honest with the neighborhood. So inand I dont know entirely what the motivation behind thethe slap suit was, Im kiI guess, kind of speculating here asas to Mister Granados motivation. It also appeared from some of the exchanges we had during the lawsuit, he was worried that we were going to get his project stopped, you know, because at that time it was under
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construction. So the day after the tree ordinancewas the new strong 2003 tree ordinance was adopted, Mister Granados filed aa lawsuit against me for 25 million dollars and also named the Citizens Tree Coalition and all its members in that suit and it was a defamation suit, claiming that my email was defamatory. And at theand itinits interesting because in his petition, he claimed that I had lied about him getting a variance from the tree ordinance, yet in an interviewyet we had a letter from the city regarding the variance. And he also claimed in an interview with the newspaper that he
00:41:16 – 2333
had gotten the variance, but it was for the purpose of saving more trees. So we were, you know, obviously distraught over the 25the magnitude of the lawsuit and, immediately, several attorneys from San Antonio called me and offered to represent me for free in thethe lawsuit. And the letters to the editor started, you know, bebecause thetheit had been in the newspaper about Mister Granados and how outrageous the lawsuit was. One of the writers dared Mister Granados to sue him. So we were aassembled a team of attorneys and hadthere was a hearing on athey wanted an injunction against me
00:42:23 – 2333
that bawould basically be aa shut up order. You know, I could not say anything about Mister Granados or his project and that injunction was denied. They also asked at another hearing for us to produce the membership list of the Tree Coalition and that was denied. And so asas the lawsuit wore on and our attorneys asked for, you know, thethe disclosures from the other side asas part of the, you know, leading up to the trial, they asked Mister Granados for his financial records to show, you know, the 25 million dollar loss hed suffered from the email. And at that point, Mister Granados said well,
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Ill drop the suit if Richard apologizespublicly apologizes to me for the email. And we said thatandlet me back up. We had also filed a cotwo countersuits against Mister Granados claiming that the lawsuit was frivolous and without merit and was basically a harassment lawsuit. He agreed to drop the lawsuit if Id apologize and we declined to offer an apology and eventually decided that we would settle the lawsuit. The only stipulation was that we could not go to the press and publicize thethe end of the
00:44:18 – 2333
lawsuit. And so on September of 2003, he withdrew the lawsuit and withwe withdrew our countersuit and each went our own merry ways. Now coincidentally we were having a fundraising concert thatthe evening after the lawsuit had been dropped and I was congratulating one of the attorneys at thethe microphone about what a great job hed done and how he got in there andand did a kick ass job. And we got a call from Granados attorney on Monday morning saying that he heard Richard was going around
00:45:11 – 2333
all over town saying hed kicked my ass and that he was going to hire this high profile attorney out of HoustonI cant recall his name. Big name guy to sue me again. So maybe thats all I should say about the lawsuit.
DT: Well, maybe we should talk a little bit about what your experience with tree protection in general and the environment, I guess, more broadly still. What its taught you and maybe if theres a message that you would want to pass onto younger people who would see this tape?
00:45:59 – 2333
RA: Well, one of the things I have to keep in mind because when youre involved in an effort like Ive been involved in, there are a lot of disappointments and losses and probably more thanthan there are victories. You know, weve tried to get trees preserved, but we still see clear-cut. There was a big clear cutting for a Home Depot, thea few months ago. So thats still happening and, you know, you go to City Council
00:46:39 – 2333
and you try to get them toto vote the right way and homost of the time, theythey dont. But there are a lot of victories. So you have to keep in mind, you know, why you got involved in the first place andand what that big passion and big goal was thatthat you set out to accomplish and why youre doing that because if youif you cant keep that in the forefront, thenthen I think you can get frustrated and burned out very easily. And I also think that, for me, this is aas much a spiritual quest as anything else. Ive
00:47:33 – 2333
for me, its a quest in learning how to love my fellow, you know, citizens of Earth here and, you know, atat times, you know, you go to meetings and people get angry at you andand you get angry and theres argumentation and rancor. It doesnt have to be like that, but sometimes it just turns out like that andand these people you vehemently disagree with, youyou have to deal with them still every day andand so I tried to, as much as humanly possible, not get caught up inin anger or even dislike for people, but try as much as I can to love them in a way andand be congenial with them and friendly
00:48:37 – 2333
with them andand keep on good terms despite our disagreements. And I thinkyou know, I grew up in San Antonio and Ive seen, I think, the quality of life here, in many ways, has really declined for people. Not only in thethe health of the city, but just in thethe aesthetics and thethe ability toto enjoy the nnatural beauty San Antonio has to offer and itits very sad to see whats happened since the 1950s when, you know, I started noticing things and Iso I feel very strongly thatthat we need to try as hard as we can to preserve whats left. And theretheres still a lot left to preserve that,
00:49:38 – 2333
you know, for the future, once ayou know, once aa giant heritage tree thats 300 years old is destroyed, itll never be replaced. Theres never going to be a tree that big or that old on that site again becauseeither because theres not room for it or just because its, you know, not going to happen in thatthat environment as it is then, you know. When the land was natural, the environment was conducive to trees growing to huge old statures, so. Itsits rapidly disappearing and something I feel like doesnt have to happen the way it does and thats what Im trying to change.
DT: And of the places that remain, is there a special natural area that you hold dear, that you go for solace or enjoyment?
00:50:54 – 2333
RA: Well, toreally, mythethe state parks in this area areare the places I like to go. The Guadalupe River State Park, the Hill County State and Natural Area, Lost Maples, you know, those are the places that are special to me. Even Big Bend, when I can get out there. But you know, here in thein the city, thetheres a grotto at the Oblate Seminary here in town thats beautiful, has some beautiful trees in it. The San Pedro Park is aanother place I like to go. I dont get there as often as Id like. And even to Eisenhower Park, which is a newer city park not far from here.
DT: Is there anything youd like to add in the time that remains?
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RA: Did you want to talk about thethe exemptions andI mean, not the exemptions. There was thethe issue regarding whether we should try to preserve individual trees.
DT: You could if youd like. We have about five minutes, I think.
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RA: One of the issues with thethe tree ordinance as it is, is that we dont have anystill dont have any root protection for single family residential development and developers are going in and theyre trying to preserve individual trees on lots, but theyre getting damaged by the construction around them. So one of the things the citys trying to do is to create an incentive for them to preserve stands of trees instead of, you know, isolated trees inon lots or parking lots. And I think thats something thatthat should be looked at. But its difficult sometimes to create an incentive unless you have rules that
00:53:31 – 2333
are in place at aa sufficiently high level that you can create anan incentive to go above those. If theif the rules, the threshold for preservation is set so low, all you canyou end up giving away so much in incentives, you cant afford it. So, you know, there has to be a balance between the carrot and the stick, I think, and I dont know thatthat we couldnt do more on thethe stick side of the equation with the tree ordinance that would, I think, create an incentive in and of itself just by raising the standards and also make it easier for the city to provide incentives that dont compromise, you know,
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some other aspect of the environment or the environmental aspects of that particular development.
DT: Thank you very much.
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RA: Youre welcome.
DT: Appreciate it.
[End of Reel 2333]
[End of Interview with Richard Alles]