Friday, March 23 , 2018, 6:21 am | Fair 49º


Randy Alcorn: Tree-mendous Little Tyrants Have Taken Root

Santa Barbara's tree ordinance a reminder of the presence of cancerous busybodies

Railing against the petty tyrannies of local governments here in America seems insignificant compared to the stirring efforts of the Arab world’s oppressed masses to bring down tyrannical governments there and to win freedom, civil rights and justice. But, just as having a little cancer cannot be ignored, neither can little tyrannies be ignored. Both will grow more severe, pervasive and eventually metastasize.

Ultimately, freedom, civil rights and justice are about personal choice and expression that does no real harm to others. Tyranny is about elitism, greed and self-certain opinion that insists others live their lives and make personal choices within the confines of that opinion. Those who choose otherwise are condemned as outlaws subject to punishment. Human history reveals that while freedom is almost universally desired, it is constantly under assault by competing desires for order and security. Most democracies have not been long lived, eventually eroding into some form of authoritarianism.

This process of erosion is occurring here in America where all levels of government — federal, state and local — steadily corrode constitutional rights and accrue more power, and wealth, unto themselves. Their justification for this is that the general welfare is threatened by some external or internal force, or that the general welfare can be improved by imposing restrictions on personal freedom — the busybody factor. Terrorism is an example of an external threat justification. It has given us the insidious Patriot Act and TSA muggings. The war on drugs is an example of the internal. It has given us a virtual police state with home invasions, property confiscations and massive incarcerations for victimless personal choice.

The busybody factor is often found at the local level. The city of Santa Barbara provides some of the more illustrative examples of that. This narcissistic seaside town is recognized as one of the planet’s most beautiful places. Some say it is the best place on earth. So, imagine the pressure that elected officials and the self-anointed community stewards have to conserve and polish the “best place on earth.” It is a busybody’s paradise because the justifications for meddling are ostensibly so noble and altruistic.

Nevertheless, abrogation of victimless personal choice is tyranny no matter what the justification for meddling. The lifestyle preferences, even of the majority, are not sufficient rationale to subvert the freedom of the individual. But, that is what official Santa Barbara does so well with its labyrinth of commissions, committees and boards enforcing volumes of prescriptive municipal ordinances.

One of the most egregiously intrusive of these is the city’s tree ordinance, which prohibits property owners from removing or extensively trimming their own trees that are within 30 feet of the city’s streets. The city does not own these trees. It did not buy them or pay for their nurturing and maintenance, but with this ordinance it has effectively confiscated them. The justification for this usurpation of personal freedom is that the city’s “urban forest” is an essential element of the city’s aesthetics that benefits the entire community. The individual property owner’s rights and gardening preferences are forfeit to the majority’s alleged preferences as articulated through the city’s busybodies.

If a citizen loses his or her view, or suffers falling litter, or critter infestation from his or her tree, too bad. If a citizen wants to rearrange his or her garden and remove a tree, too bad. If the busybody autocracy can impose this proscription, it can also dictate what color you must paint your house or that you must paint your house, or what kind of hedge you can plant — all justified by protecting notions of community aesthetics.

If all politics are indeed local, we can start there to stop petty tyrannies from becoming cancerous.

— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >