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Reporter’s Notebook: ICE, ghosts and trees

Monday, February 13, 2017 by Austin Monitor

ICE in Austin… Over the weekend, protests dominated the local news as Austinites grappled with how to react to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that began on Thursday. Meanwhile, public officials and agencies worked to come up with their own responses. District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar was one of the first to issue a statement. That statement, released Friday, was followed by a press conference and read, in part, “I believe ICE is out in public arresting people in order to retaliate against our community for standing up for our values against people like (Gov. Greg) Abbott and (President Donald) Trump. … ICE actions like these are beyond reprehensible. They instill fear in the community, and they make everyday people fear for their lives. Trump and his allies will do everything they can to divide Americans, invoke fear in vulnerable neighborhoods, and demonize an entire community of people. Undoubtedly, ICE officials will attempt to justify themselves by holding up the actions of a few people to imply that all undocumented immigrants are criminals. This is disturbing and morally wrong.” And, on Sunday, Mayor Steve Adler appeared on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition to explain what is going on, saying that, in his estimation, the raids were making people less safe and also “undermining a lot of the trust relationship that had been built up with our public safety officials over time.” Adler concluded the interview by saying, “I think our community does feel targeted. And what we’re understanding is that the activity in Austin may very well be greater and more intense than is happening in other places.” And, from the Austin Independent School District, Superintendent Paul Cruz sent a message to the community listing resources for refugee and immigrant students, saying, “At Austin ISD, we are committed to the emotional and physical safety and well-being of all our students, families, teachers and staff. We know our schools are safe, welcoming spaces and we value our diversity. Please know that every day, we strive to ensure we are creating positive learning environments for all of our students.”

Lege targets tree protections…As reported by the Austin American-Statesman on Sunday, the Texas State Legislature isn’t solely focused on banning “sanctuary cities”; they’ve also found some time to go after tree protections like the ones found in Austin’s Heritage Tree Ordinance. Senate Bill 782 (which can be read online here) was filed last week by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels). The bill says that trees are, by default, owned by the person who owns the land on which they grow, and governmental entities cannot prohibit landowners (aka tree owners) from trimming or removing them. Under the bill, local governments could assess mitigation fees, but those fees would also be limited and landowners would have the option “to plant a replacement tree at the landowner’s expense instead of paying a mitigation fee. A landowner who chooses to plant a replacement tree is not required to plant a number of replacement trees whose total girth is greater than the total girth of all the mature trees to which the mitigation fee would have applied.” Two similar bills were also filed last week – SB 744 from Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which focuses on mitigation for removed trees, and HB 1572 from state Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin), which for the most part zeros in on the right to remove hazardous or diseased trees and clarifies that “no restrictions may be made on the ability to remove a mesquite (genus Prosopis), juniper (genus Juniperus), salt cedar (genus Tamarix) or hackberry (genus Celtis) tree, regardless of size,” which might even garner some support from liberals who have had experience with those kinds of trees.

The ghost of Zimmerman… It is hard to find two politicians less alike than City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan and the man he beat to earn his spot on the dais, former Council Member Don Zimmerman. And yet, when taking a roll-call vote Thursday, Adler attributed Flannigan’s vote to his predecessor, “Mr. Zimmerman.” After the roars of laughter subsided, Adler seemed to hint that the mistake didn’t make sense, since Flannigan, perhaps unlike the stubborn former District 6 Council member, had been “incredibly constructive on this,” he explained.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook items come from the notebooks of Elizabeth Pagano and Jack Craver.

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