Tuesday, June 26, 2012

If a tree is felled in the forest...

...would the current claimant of the land upon which it sat even be aware of the noise it was capable of making?!

This is one of those rare times when I feel the need to depart from my passive "lifestyle" blog format in order to make comment on a controversial public development.   Please excuse my terse tone in this post below, but I get really, really tired of seeing people publicly belittled as "activists" for simply drawing attention to the laws that are on the books.

I think it's worth reading this Galveston County Daily News article about Star Toyota's allegedly-unauthorized removal of those oak trees from the location near the IH-45 and League City Parkway intersection.  Worth reading because this issue contains opportunity for good lesson-learning from a number of different perspectives. 
Aerial view of the north side of the dealership, while the trees were still in place, with most of them having been north of the existing parking areas.  Centerpointe is located a bit beyond the photo frame to the north.
Screengrabbed from Googlemaps.
The ugly evidence, partial screengrab courtesy of Galveston County Daily News.
For the record, nobody in my family was the "activist in the community" (to quote GCDN) who called the City to report this activity.  But being one of the local people who drive by this dealership almost daily, my mouth hung open in disbelief when I saw those trees being cut down.  How on earth did they get permission to do that?! I wondered.  They got permission to simply destroy those things right at the very point when greater Houston in its entirety was following the story of the City spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to move the Ghirardi oak?!  I mean, that event wasn't just covered in our smaller local rags such as GCDN and Bay Area News - Houston Chronicle ran progress updates for days!  And so did KTRK and KHOU and Channel 2 and local bloggers and who knows who else - the story probably showed up on some news wire in China.
As the entire local area watched:
Screengrab from a Google search, showing some of the successive entries for GCDN.
And then - this just boggles my imagination even further - Star Toyota makes a bad situation worse by completely blowing the entire concept of public relations (PR) straight out of the water. 

PR is that kind of activity that you do when you've screwed up and you're making your best effort to set things right again, but - let's also look at the practical side - you also engage in PR to save your own face in the process. 

Rule number one of PR:  Be aware of your larger public contexts - all of them. 
Rule number two of PR:  Don't ever let anyone else represent you in the PR process unless they are verifiably trained and competent. 

Rather than being sensitive to their appearances within the context of the simultaneous high-profile Ghirardi proceedings, and rather deploying proper PR in the context of their own behalves, what kind of a retort gets issued by representatives of Star Toyota to the press because of this allegedly-unpermitted tree-cutting??

Leblanc [a contractor representative responsible for the removals] said he felt the city was trying to exercise too much control.


"I don’t understand why the city can tell you what to do on your own property,” Leblanc said. 

(excerpted from http://galvestondailynews.com/story/324354)

Mr. Leblanc, for crying out loud - were you born under a rock?!  YES, as a matter of fact, they CAN tell your clients what to do!  Big newsflash here: operators need environmental permits to conduct business on their own property!  It doesn't matter whether those permits are municipal (city) environmental permits, or state environmental permits, or federal spill prevention plans that address operational contingencies for devices such as aboveground fuel storage tanks - an operator can't undertake lawful commerce without getting those permits, registrations, and plans and then abiding by them. 

In case anyone is still unconvinced of this basic fact, here is a screengrab of Star Toyota's partial current state environmental permit and registration roster as reflected in the database maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). This is information which is immediately accessible to any member of the public with an internet connection:
Two screengrabs from the TCEQ Central Registry.  If you'd like to see this entry online, you can try this link or, if that fails because of the dynamic nature of the database, go to the main Central Registry search page and input Star Toyota as the search term.
Take a look at all those different permissions for activites conducted on this property!  And that isn't even a complete list as far as environmental issues go - that's just one agency and one database! 

If anyone does not like any of these existing laws, state, federal, or municipal, here's the best recourse: exercise your right to vote. 


Anyway, in sum, I do hope that this improper tree removal allegation can be resolved promptly, correctly, and in a way that reflects the best interest of the public. 

And I do hope that, one day, we can vacate this nasty polarizing practice of referring to lawfully-minded individuals as "activists".  There's simply nothing useful to be gained by trying to shoot the messenger and shooting yourself in the foot all in one tree-felling swoop.

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