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Personal attacks not productive

This letter is in response to the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission meeting Jan. 28. The agenda was to hear testimony about, and to vote on, the proposed plan to restructure Lithia Park’s “Japanese-like” garden into an authentic Japanese Garden.

Preliminary discussion began around June 2018, and continued at the regular meetings of the Ashland Parks Foundation. An impressive professional and artistic design was put forward, and a charitable individual deemed it worthy enough that he offered to donate the funding.

The proposal was on the agenda for discussion at our October meeting. It was presented to the community, and after much discussion, it was decided to orchestrate a site visit for the public. All citizens were invited, and the proposal was greeted with a general approval — with the exception of the removal of two Douglas fir trees, as required by the proposed plan. Several public meetings and testimony/listening sessions ensued.

At the Jan. 28 meeting, commissioners listened to testimony from more than 30 citizens. The main bone of contention seemingly revolved around “spiritual” concerns, and there was considerable heartfelt expression regarding a spiritual connection with the trees in question, or the park, or the garden, or some combination of these. There was also testimony targeting the commission and the project’s financial donor — questioning our integrity, our motives and the process of the entire proposal. Several citizens used shaming, belittling and demeaning tactics in their testimony. Commenters treated the gift/donation/investment to the community as if it were tainted by some ulterior motive.

I was very disappointed and somewhat appalled, to say the least. I fully recognize that every individual has a spiritual value arising from their heart, and that my use of the word “reprehensible” in my comments about some of these unkind testimonies may have been a tad strong, but people need to be more civil, and not be so quick to proffer abuse at every turn.

Some of the testimony also dealt with the negative environmental effect of removing the two Douglas fir trees. Trees do have an ability to store carbon, helping to reduce excess carbon in the atmosphere. Granted, this was only two Douglas fir trees out of the millions of Oregon’s Douglas firs (all our homes’ skeletons), but I was curious as to just how much carbon these two trees stored in their 90 years of growth. Using standard tables and charts, it came out to approximately 3 tons of carbon stored in the two trees. Data tell us that an average automobile will release 3 tons of carbon in 30,000 miles. Carbon is still sequestered in the milled wood used in construction. Only if the wood is burned is the carbon “quick-released” into the atmosphere. It is released a little slower if left to rot in the forest. Science helps in centering these discussions.

The community deliberation should instead be about reducing the amount of fossil fuel released into the atmosphere. This is where the vast amount of the carbon footprint is produced. In addition, the Japanese Garden plan proposes adding hundreds of additional trees, reducing somewhat the net carbon loss from the removal of the firs. This may or may not be a complete carbon mitigation as far as the fir trees are concerned, but that is a science project for another day.

In recent years, citizen testimony has become increasingly vocal on complex and controversial issues. This is a good thing, but increasing accusatory allegations and attacks on personal integrity, rather than commenting on the actual issue, is more and more becoming the norm, and does little to further the debate. I do apologize if some of my reactions seemed like overreactions, but I stand by my decision to approve the Japanese Garden Plan as proposed. The overall benefit to the community in social engagement, cultural understanding, spiritual enlightenment, esthetics and educational opportunities are significant and worthy.

Jim Lewis is an Ashland Parks and Recreation commissioner.