Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Post-Postings: Progress on Guns on Campus; Regress on Saving Live Oak Trees

Every so often, a news or opinion item notes novel developments on issues I've addressed in previous blog postings. As luck would have it, two appeared in the opinion section of today's Houston Chronicle.

One is an editorial calling recently proposed laws to allow concealed guns on Texas college campuses "not such a bright idea."

Such proposals are not new, whether from a Texas perspective or even nationwide. But they reached a fever pitch in the wake of the on-campus shootings at Virginia Tech on April 18, 2007. Two days later I decried the complete insanity of the idea in a posting entitled Nothing a Few More Guns Wouldn't Fix! The concern was also in the background when I argued that the Supreme Court's subsequent gun ruling mistakenly found in the 2nd Amendment A New Right to Kill, but virtually ignored clear historical evidence on the real right to bear arms that the Founders codified--evidence which no Supreme Court justice disputed.

So it will come as no surprise that I find the Chronicle's arguments against arming college students to be persuasive. More importantly, so does everyone at Virginia Tech today, along with the student government of the University of Texas in Austin.

But until the editorial I was not aware of an even more positive development: "After the horrendous carnage on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007... Seventeen states introduced measures to allow guns on campus. Voters turned them all down." It's especially gratifying that after extensive public discussion voters in one-third of the states have agreed that guns on campus is a lame-brained idea that, as the Chronicle says, would only "increase the vulnerability of students and others on campus."

The other topic was protecting live oak trees, one of the few natural assets in the Houston metropolitan area. This was the subject of my post on June 24, 2008, which highlighted efforts by "Trees for Houston" to prevent the city from destroying 126 live oak trees for the wholly unnecessary widening of a major thoroughfare. It was also addressed in a posting October 7, 2008, about the mayor's support for planting a million new trees in Houston over the next five years.

An opinion piece in today's Houston Chronicle reports some potential back-tracking on efforts to save the live oaks--this time by the City Council's Quality of Life Committee, no less--and urges the citizenry to oppose it.

What's new is proposed revisions to Houston's tree and shrub ordinance after so many trees broke power lines during Hurricane Ike. The column points out, however, that no one has documented power-line damage by any live oak tree--because all of the damage was done by higher-growing, less flexible trees, such as tall pines, water willows, red oaks and post oaks.

For this reason, the advisory committee that recommended the ordinance changes did not prohibit live oaks under power lines. But after receiving the advisory committee's report, the Quality of Life Committee inserted the words "small tree" in the power line section, expressly to include live oaks. The council committee did this without telling the advisory committee, and the advisory committee has cried foul.

The author of the opinion piece appears to know what he's talking about: Hugh Rice Kelly is a retired executive vice president and general counsel for Houston's Reliant Energy! He says the real reason the Quality of Life Committee now wants to authorize destruction of live oak trees under power lines is that CenterPoint Energy is "tired of spending money to trim trees." Its previous tactics have included "a new kind of Texas chain-saw massacre: Mangle people's live oaks badly enough and maybe they will just give up and plant little bushes that don't hide the power line."

Kelly says people plant the live oaks because the power lines are ugly and the trees do the best job of hiding them. He urges the public to pressure the Houston City Council to back-off more live-oak destruction. The trees are worth a lot more to the region than the electric providers' bottom lines.

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