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From the Publisher's Desk...

FLAWED UNDERLYING POLICY THE REAL GINKGO TREE VILLIAN

Much has already been reported — including by us on page 1 of this issue — about the contretemps in Dupont East’s 1700 block of Corcoran Street, dubbed by the neighborhood’s ANC commissioner, Bob Meehan, as the “Chainsaw Massacre.”

As we outlined in our news story, this sudden tree removal event would not have happened if DC government officials had paid any attention to published procedures which do, in fact, allow for the removal of female ginkgo trees — but only following a multi-step, property owner initiated process culminating in a majority agreement and then followed by staged work over a period of time.

This policy, established several years ago, was in response to on-going complaints from residents around the city living on streets where female ginkgo trees dropped their noxious berries. These residents clamored for the removal of those trees. On the other hand, substantial numbers of residents were (and are) passionate about these trees — both female and male – because of their unique beauty, especially in the autumn when their leaves turn a spectacular golden yellow. So special are those trees to the enhancement of the streetscapes in the blocks where they line the sidewalks that they have taken on an almost iconic presence.

But why should these trees be chopped down simply because there are some residents who are bothered by the berries? Further, why was it even a good thing for the city council to have acquiesced in the setting of this policy, even with its several hoops that need to be jumped through? Why is it a good civic policy to encourage people to avoid taking on just a little bit of extra responsibility to ensure keeping their neighborhoods attractive? What we have with this policy is a mechanism that encourages residents to work against maintaining and improving the quality of life that might be enjoyed by everyone?

We believe that property owners especially — and they are the only ones who are given the power here — have a responsibility to keep not only the rear of their properties clean and tidy but the fronts as well, especially the public sidewalk onto which their properties abut. This is not a radical notion; it is already standard with respect to the clearing of snow and ice in the winter and the year-round responsibility to keep garbage and trash in closed containers and not left to spill out into the public alleys behind their properties. Why should sweeping or hosing into the gutter these berries so that the city’s street sweeper machines can scoop them up be any different than the requirement to clear snow and ice and keep the rear areas clear of debris?

In our view as a homeowner, we find it peculiar that there are owners who believe they have no responsibility to sweep their sidewalk areas. It is so easy to do and one would hope that owners would have enough pride in their homes to want to keep the front areas clean. This view, we should report, appears to be shared by large numbers of residents who responded to our call for comment when this controversy first erupted in November. And, from the comments received, it is quite clear to us that the overwhelming majority of residents have no sympathy for others who will not make the effort to keep their sidewalk areas clean.

Unusual and beautiful trees are precious. A policy that even encourages thinking about chopping them down is misguided. We urge the city council to repeal the existing policy and to remind residents that they have responsibilities to help maintain the quality of neighborhood life.