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Saving the green

Local editorials

Medford should make an effort to protect trees and livability

Livability is a topic that comes up a lot these days in Medford: when we talk about traffic, when we talk about big-box retail stores, when we talk about neighborhoods.

Trees ought to be part of the discussion, too.

That is clear this month after workers felled a stand of more than a dozen old evergreen trees on nearly an acre of property on Morrow Road.

The neighborhood project left a piece of land with only scattered small evergreens and neighbors alarmed that the cutting was under way before they knew what was happening.

Even more alarming is this: The law allows it.

— Medford is the only city of any size in Jackson County without laws that restrict when property owners cut trees. To the west and south, Jacksonville and Ashland restrict cutting trees of a certain size. To the north, Central Point restricts cutting old trees.

In Medford, property owners have free rein. The law addresses only trees that are diseased or extend into the public right of way.

Or, as Councilman Sal Esquivel put it in a recent Mail Tribune story: It's your personal property, it's your personal, private right.

That's great to a point. But city government restricts all sorts of actions by property owners for the sake of the livability of others and to protect the beauty of the community. We're sure Mr. Esquivel wouldn't want a giant neon sign or a gravel quarry next to his Medford home and city laws protect him from that possibility.

Trees, of course, represent more than greenery. They make shade, improve air quality, attract wildlife, add to neighbors' privacy and increase property values, often not just on a single piece of land but across whole neighborhoods. The most desirable parts of our dry region? It's no coincidence: those with the trees.

Still, tree laws are almost always controversial. The city's tree committee, which is debating changes in Medford's tree laws but doesn't want to go public yet with its ideas, seems to know that by instinct.

But trees are something we should be talking about publicly. It's not clear yet to us exactly where the city should draw the line on tree cutting, but it is clear it ought to draw one somewhere.

It should establish a process that stops property owners from willy-nilly whacking of valuable stands of trees, and it should give neighbors a voice in the process.

Trees, like traffic, businesses and the rest, play a role in shaping all of Medford. Treating the issue as a simple matter of property owners' rights misses that point entirely.

Budget games continue

The Oregon Legislature finally recognized last week that it needed a real revenue source to pay for valuable services. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of tricks in the budget plan.

One of those tricks is the proposal is to allow a sixth video poker machine in Oregon Lottery retail locations.

If the measure becomes law, it would bring in an additional &

36;22 million in lottery profits for the state over the next two years.

The same politicians who cater to the anti-tax crowd are all too willing to turn their heads, hold their noses and take more money from indigent and other low-income people who, studies show, are more inclined to play the Lottery games.

One lawmaker said Saturday that the Legislature is counting on the Lottery Commission to bring in another &

36;45 million in profits by expanding its electronic game offerings.

The last year, with its school closures, laid-off cops and slashed social programs, showed us that we must adequately fund essential services. Now it appears we need a lesson in learning how to pay our own way, instead of dumping the costs on someone else.

Did you know?

The conservative, anti-tax, anti-school crowd is howling that the Oregon Legislature's budget-balancing surtax will drive state residents into the poorhouse. Did you know that the surcharge would cost &

36;36 a year for a family making &

36;45,000 annually? That's &

36;3 a month. Not a bad deal for keeping school doors open and State Police officers on the road.