Compass: City ignores public, goes logging in Town Square

Several fresh tree stumps appear in Town Square Park on Thursday, May 1, 2014, downtown. Erik Hill

Tree huggers! Eliminate illegal activities. Make the park safer...

That's how readers' comments responded to prior articles on the tree cutting in Town Square Park. I call it municipal vandalism.

Tree huggers? You bet. Some of us live here because of the physical environment. We even have landscape codes because developments that look nice bring in more money. Our parks deserve even higher standards.

Make the park safer? The APD just admitted defeat by saying they couldn't curb the illegal activities unless the trees were removed. How sad that our law enforcement and city officials feel they must resort to these policing methods.

The tree cutting was illegal. We have laws governing changes to the park and a process to be followed. City officials are not exempt from playing by the rules. They blatantly ignored the on-going process of 're-visioning' the park that occurred at the PAC just days before the trees came down.

Couldn't they wait for the report from that effort? Good suggestions were made; many weren't draconian either. But no, the city would not wait. The tourists are arriving.

Our land use plans aren't just shelf ornaments. The Downtown Comprehensive Plan was adopted by the Assembly a few years ago; it is a legal document. Changes to the park (page 67) must go through Parks Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission for public reviews. The phrase "public process" is neither hollow, nor to be side-stepped.

Just doing 'maintenance" and dealing with safety--that's what my crystal ball says the city will retort to our assertions. Cutting nine trees in that small park changes its character. That's not maintenance.

It was hinted that the trees were somewhat 'diseased.' Provide us that report from the city arborist, please.

The meetings between downtown businesses and city agencies were not formally noticed so that the public could attend. This isn't how a real public process works. At least provide us with the minutes, e-mails and recordings so that the truth may be known.

The Parks Director and Mayor were not forthcoming on the day they attended the re-visioning meeting at the PAC where dozens of people gathered to discuss the park. Instead the Director is quoted in the paper as saying, "I didn't think of mentioning it (scheduled tree removal)."

He also told the gathering there was no money for the park. Yet thousands were spent only days later for tree cutting, installing a railing and for future lighting. Where did that money come from?

At 5:30 AM on May 1st, the demolition began. Within hours the Downtown Partnership's thank you letter was on the mayor's desk. It ended with praise for the Park Director and Superintendent for their extreme helpfulness in identifying ways to make the park safer.

It's not just about the trees. In a democracy, the public process is all we have. How do we legislate against blatant violation of city laws by our elected officials and a powerful lobbying element? They've just thumbed their noses at us and our laws!

Cutting trees won't change the bad behavior. But more community policing might. The APD once worked with ethnic groups through their social organizations and churches to educate and offer effective parenting and networking skills. Has the APD budget been cut so much they have to resort to tree cutting instead of providing leadership-quality policing?

Insist on an honest public process. Make the park whole again. Fund APD so they can do their job instead of re-designing our public spaces. Above all, insist the Mayor and Park Department officials apologize for violating city laws:

All Assembly: wwmas@muni.org Mayor: mayor@muni.org Parks: parks@muni.org.

Dianne Holmes is a longtime Anchorage community activist.

 



By DIANNE HOLMES