Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Tree the Town" vs "Trash the Town"

The Richardson City Council election has spilled over onto the D/FW local news, with Diana Clawson, candidate for Place 7, complaining to Channel 5 about Richardson's "Tree the Town" initiative. Critics of the city are piling on, saying they aren't against trees, they just want to know how much the program is going to cost.

After the jump, how much will it cost?

So, how much will it cost? Upfront costs are being paid by corporate or non-profit sponsors who donate trees and the labor to plant the trees and keep them watered for their first year. After that, because the trees will be on city property, the city will maintain them. How much will that cost? It depends. How many trees will be planted? Where? How much rain will we get? How much more free labor and maintenance will we be able to solicit from charitable sponsors? As it stands now, the city believes the existing city budget will be able to cover maintenance costs. Can they guarantee that? Of course not.

Because the city can't predict figures for future rainfall, future charitable donations, future expenses, etc., critics condemn the "Tree the Town" program. That's their right, I suppose. But is it a winning campaign issue? It's a nuanced argument to make.

I'm not against trees, I'm just against paying for them. The trees are free? I know that. I mean I'm against paying to water them. The first year's maintenance is donated? I know that. I mean after that. No one can say for sure exactly what the long-term costs will be? Then, I'd rather we have bare medians, bare trails and sidewalks, maybe even bare parks. Who needs trees, anyway?

Diana Clawson prides herself on protesting Walmart's plans to come to Richardson years ago. She was successful in that effort. I don't remember if she ever told us how much that cost the city in lost sales taxes. More recently, she's lobbying against the development plans for the open land at US 75 and the Bush Tollway. I don't think she's told us how much in taxes and additional business activity Richardson will lose if she succeeds in stifling that project. Now, it looks like she doesn't even want trees in the city. At least not unless the city can tell her exactly what the long-term maintenance costs will be. Whatever the costs of watering trees might turn out to be, it's likely to be a drop in the bucket compared to the revenues her NIMBY politics are likely to cost Richardson.

If Diana Clawson has a campaign adviser, he or she needs to take her aside and tell her that being anti-tree is not a winning strategy. Someone needs to tell her that council members are ambassadors for the city. Marketing the city is a unwritten part of the job. Going on television and trashing the city is not the way to sell Richardson, not the way to attract people and businesses to come to Richardson. And it's not the way to win votes. If she really cares about Richardson, she'd demonstrate that she can effectively go out and line up even more corporate and charitable sponsorships to cover even more of the costs of maintaining all those trees shading Richardson in future years. The program is off to a good start. She'd demonstrate that she can carry it forward. She'd demonstrate she can build up Richardson, not just tear it down. Trashing the Town on the local television news stations is easier, but it doesn't serve the people of Richardson.

Hat tip to Destiny for "Trash the Town" slogan.

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