We Must Have Order!

I sometimes think that the small daily vexations of government do more to wake up regular people than the really big abuses of government. Below is a relevant anecdote.

Seven or eight years ago, the City of Santa Cruz forbade me from cutting the tree figuring in the picture below. It’s a redwood tree. It’s in my tiny front yard. Its invasion of a sewer line cost me $10,000 before I asked humbly for permission to remove the tree. Now, the tree roots are destroying the foundations of my house as well as the sidewalk in front of it. The city says that I am responsible for fixing the sidewalk, indefinitely, apparently because redwood tress grow at least for several hundred years.

redwood in santa cruz

Now, to be fair, the City arborist told me a few months ago privately that if I asked for permission to cut the tree again now, it would probably be approved. It does not do me much good now. She said no when I could afford to cut it now, I can’t afford it. Besides, the city insists that I have to pay for a permit to remove the tree I did not want in the first place. This is more offensive than the much higher cost of taking the tree down which involves real work, at least. (It’s true that I bought the property with the tree on it. I had no idea then that I could even be denied the permission to cut a forest tree.) I am quite insensitive to the need of my city to have redwood trees, specifically, within its boundaries.

First, everyone knows that redwoods are destructive. Moreover, they sterilize the area where they grow. Second, it’s not as if our citizens were deprived of trees, as people might be, say, in Arizona. In fact, there is a large forest a four minute drive from my house, seven minutes by bicycle, tops. It’s a 90% redwood forest. It’s not clear to me that I must recognize a duty to subsidize the redwood viewing of residents and visitors who are too lazy to drive or bike there.

Note my delicateness of mind: I admit that many of my fellow Santa Cruzans would be morally torn between the desire to commune with redwood trees, on the one hand and their fervent wish to not contribute to global warming by driving four minutes, on the other hand. But I think they can just bike there, or walk. I also admit that there are people in Santa Cruz who don’t own a car and who are physically unable to bike or walk to the forest. I would be in favor of a city-sponsored collection to bus them to the redwood forest four times each year. I would gladly contribute, voluntarily, that is.

Two deeply different views of the world are at odds here. Now, let me assure you that although I am a conservative, I like trees. I like cherry trees and apple trees mostly, for obvious reasons, but redwoods are OK because they give high grade lumber. And, yes, they look wonderful. That is, they look wonderful where they belong, in a forest, with their brothers and sisters and all the cousins around. My own redwood tree (the tree that my family and the City apparently jointly own) is a object of shame. It’s so bad, that I never use it to give directions to my house although it stands right out. It’s an object of shame because PG&E, the publicly regulated monopoly, has the right to shape it in any way it chooses. I am sure there are technicalities that escape me here but the shape it prefers makes my redwood tree look like an old, overused toilet brush. Sorry for the vision, I call them as I see them!

Well, I planted a yellow rose bush nearby and the bush found the spot attractive. It grew and grew under my firm benign neglect. Eventually, it had to discover that the nearby redwood tree makes a good ladder to the sun. The result is in the photo above. Well, I think you are not going to believe this but a member of the leftist and left-liberal city council complained about the rose bush on the tree. She says it looks unkempt. Here you have it – not left-wing thought, there is no thinking involved here – but the leftist temperament in a nutshell: Things have to be neat; personal preferences do not matter; bureaucracies give you predictability even if at stupendous cost, the market is inherently messy. We must have order even if it impoverishes our lives.

8 thoughts on “We Must Have Order!

  1. Could be The Netherlands Jacques.I once cut a tree in my back yard, within a minute I had a neighbour I had never seen before shouting he would complain with the municipality. Of course he did not reply when I asked him to pay for the damage the tree was doing to my garden. My ‘escape’ was the width of the trunk: below 25 centimeters you were allowed to cut it without permit, above only with a permit. In my own backyard…

  2. Edwin: Well, yes. My fear is that he US is going the way of Europe. Americans used to be natural anarchists (I mean non-theoretical anarchists.) I have seen this trait decline in frequency during my lifetime here. I do my little best. Incidentally, in Santa Cruz where I Iive, there is an institutionalized tolerance of the cutting down of fruit trees, specifically. Can you guess why?

    I don’t know if I thanked you for putting my painting of bare-breasted Liberty on the cover of your book. That was smart and appealing.

    • My pleasure Jacques! I must confess though: I had nothing to do with the cover choice, as a matter of fact contractually the publisher makes all the choices, not the author… I actually strongly dislike the cover of my first book. Brandon justly removed it from the right hand column at our beleoved site :-)! ,

    • Busted! Haha!

      Here is my lame excuse: I’ve got to feature lots of books by lots of smart people, and there’s simply not enough room for them all so I choose to feature the most recent ones. When 2015 rolled around I had to cut some 2009 classics. 😦

  3. Suggestion, Brandon: Feature all books. There are no page limitations on a blog, right? It’s useful to know that people who take absurd positions on this blog actually have some sort of credentials. The fact is that having written a whole book is a credential of sorts. Completing even a bad book takes some intellectual qualities. (I know what I am talking about!) There is an unavoidable search for credentials because reading time is limited and reading material infinite.

    There is the possibility of moving books from front page to a special section after a while which could be consulted. This is even more important in NOL than in other blogs because it attracts readers not used to judging American forms. Note that none of this is an invitation to restrict participation nor to institute a pecking order. (I don’t mind debating with the barely educated, uncultured and unwashed myself.)

    • Thanks. I’ll take it under consideration.

      As of now, all the books are featured, in everybody’s respective bios. The big, beautiful pictures on the sidebar are for recent books though (five years). If I added all the books, the other information featured on the sidebar would hardly ever be seen.

  4. Read your article with interest. Here, in India, even trimming a tree in public place if it interferes with electricity line is pretty difficult for a law abiding citizen. The electricity department or the people we don’t worry much about the laws can do it easily. I take it positively thinking that we are doing at least something for the conservation of environment. I have lived in cities throughout my life. I am seriously concerned about two things. First, in the name of development we invade forests very violently, uprooting trees, making all the inhabitants of forests homeless… Second, we plant trees in cities but do nothing to help them grow properly. I think we have started learning how the nature should not be harmed but, no one is thinking how important it has become now to teach the modern man (having a new lifestyle) the appropriate ways to live with the nature.

  5. Promod: I welcome your opinion but we are talking about apples and oranges here. I know India a little, I used to know Mumbai very well but that was thirty years ago.

    Nature in India, or Nature near urban areas of India, may be hurt by the disorganized pressure of too many poor people. Here, in the US, the overall population density is quite low. More importantly, the population density in urban areas is also low by any standard. Americans are rich by any standard, including the poor. The direct consumption pressure on trees is correspondingly low. Hardly anyone uses trees for fuel except where dead tress are abundant; even there, it’s very few. The lumber industry is heavily regulated. I believe, accordingly, that there are more trees in the US than there were one hundred years ago.

    Trees are considered desirable by many or most Americans for aesthetic reasons and for vaguely religious reasons ( half-baked paganism). I concur, on the whole. My essay raises two questions:

    1 Why does the beautiful, green city of Santa Cruz need specifically the kind of trees that will destroy my house when the same trees exist by the thousands a short distance away?*

    2 Why am I forced under threat of jailing to bear the costs of other people’s enjoyment on this particular kind of tree in my own front yard? (I am even willing to contribute financially to help those who really cannot walk, bicycle, or drive to the forest, go and enjoy the forest.)

    I raise these issues because I believe that in our kind of society, tyranny starts small and next door to where we live.

    * At the risk of sounding a little patronizing (because I don’t know what you know), the trees we are talking about are sequoia, “redwood.” Some are a thousand years old. They grow very fast.

    Note that the words I used to describe what I think is the pressure in India on natural resources. I say “disorganized pressure,” not “unlawful” anything. I think force of law, the armed power of government is a bad way to manage conflict, even in India.

    Talk to you later.

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