Saturday, March 01, 2014

Extra Local Vegas - The Battle for the Trees

It’s sad to see so many beautiful pine trees marked for removal on the Peccole Ranch Greenbelt, but it’s not the first time the Greenbelt’s trees have suffered a mass removal. Ten years ago, Peccole Ranch cut down almost 1,000 cottonwood trees. 

When I first moved to Peccole Ranch, it was because of the trees.

You have to understand that I grew up in a Las Vegas that was without water worries. Just outside the city, the world’s largest man-made lake offered a seemingly endless supply of water. My childhood home had a big, grassy front yard with two huge elm trees and a backyard filled with grass and trees, including a fig tree that bore prodigious amounts of fruit (that our Italian neighbor turned into impressive amounts of jelly).

That’s a far cry from today’s Las Vegas, where the reality of our water situation means that grassy, lush landscaping is scarce.

When my husband and I discovered Peccole in 1998, it felt like Old Vegas, like home, like golf courses, like the Las Vegas of my childhood that was filled with patches of lavishly over-watered, non-native greenery.
An Easter Sunday in my backyard when the cottonwoods were still standing.
A home owners’ association governs Peccole Ranch, a development known largely for its Greenbelt (or “paseo”), the walking path/flood channel that meanders throughout the community. The Greenbelt was built by a group out of Minnesota, Triple 5 (the same people who built the Mall of America). Water consumption was not a consideration. Pines, cottonwoods, and fruitless plums dominated the area.

And it was gorgeous.

In 2004, I was appalled when I found out that the Peccole HOA intended on removing the giant cottonwood trees in back of the home I owned at that time. The trees were easily 50 feet tall, gracing our backyard with both privacy and shade. It was idyllic. 

The cottonwoods in back of my neighbor's backyard.
Although I loved the cottonwoods, they posed a major problem: their invasive roots and water-hungry ways were damaging property and costing the Peccole HOA a lot of money. After years of expensive repairs (and I would imagine ridiculous water bills), the Peccole HOA had had enough. The cottonwoods were marked for removal throughout the Greenbelt, including the stand behind my house.

To say I was distraught would be like saying that Las Vegas gets warm in July.

I wrote letters. I made calls. I read the law to try to understand how a major component of the community could be altered so radically. I canvassed my neighborhood to talk to everyone living along the Greenbelt. I posted flyers. I caused Peccole to put “cc: Counsel” in their letters back to me. (At that time, I didn’t know that any time you mention NRS codes, people freak out.)

I called the State of Nevada HOA Ombudsman, who, I must tell you, was the epitome of useless.

“What I’m trying to understand is whether or not the NRS allows the HOA to do whatever it wants,” I told the man. I just wanted to know if there was anything I could do to save the beautiful green giants living behind my house that made sounds like the ocean when the wind rustled their leaves.

“I can’t give you legal advice,” he said.

“I’m not asking for legal advice. I’m just asking if it’s okay for the HOA to do whatever they want with the community landscaping.”

“You’ll have to contact a lawyer for legal advice. I can’t give legal advice.”

“OK, what DO you do, then?”

His voice brightened at the idea of a question he could answer. “We explain the NRS and help people solve problems with their HOAs….” 

Just think: they paid this guy with my (and your) tax dollars.

Eventually, the Peccole people answered my questions (after they stopped freaking out, they were very helpful), and here’s the bottom line:

HOAs get to do whatever they want with the landscaping.

You can object, you can rally your neighbors, you can attend meetings and lodge complaints, but in the end, they get to do whatever they want. You, as a homeowner, have no say in what they deem to be in the best financial interests of the community.

The cottonwoods behind my house came down, their trunks sawed almost completely through before they were pulled down with ropes. I watched my trees crack and crash to the ground, and when they were gone, the Greenbelt looked shockingly barren.

Peccole planted trees to replace the cottonwoods: scrawny, drought-tolerant varieties, many of which have lovely flowers in spring and summer. Ten years later, they’re still skinny trees, but they’re very pretty. In another ten or twenty years, they might offer shade.

When I recently found ominous orange dots on the trunks of mature pines throughout the Greenbelt, I knew it was fruitless to campaign to save them.

I can see why they’re targeted for removal. Many of them lean at incredible angles or are beautifully (and unstably) twisted in interesting ways. Not all of them are going, but it looks like a quite a few are. The pines provide most of the shade on the Greenbelt and help keep the temperatures cool enough for walking in summer, but that won’t save them, of course. Pines are unstable and can easily tip over in storms. I’d bet they’ve cost Peccole some money in damages, and who knows how water-hungry they are.

You might think there’s a valid argument that the beauty and shade they offer offset some higher costs—but in my experience, that’s not the case. It’s all about the bottom line, which means the Greenbelt is about to get another serious makeover.


Do you use the Greenbelt in Peccole? Have you seen the pines marked with orange dots throughout Peccole (including along Grand Canyon)?

Post Script: I sent an email to Peccole to ask if they were going to replant any trees to take the place of the pines coming out. As of today’s date, I haven’t received a response.

Update 3/4/14:

I heard from the Peccole Association and they say that the trees are marked "to be thinned, not cut down." I've never seen the orange dots used that way, but hey, I'm not a landscaper. Either way, the Association confirmed that it replants one of a variety trees whenever it removes a tree--maybe not in the exact spot, but in the general area.
I've always understood this to be the "Bye-Bye Tree" mark.

Update 12/1/14:

The Greenbelt has indeed had a make-over, and I was surprised at how little grass was removed. The tree above, by the way, is still there, although many of the others I saw marked are gone. Here's what the Greenbelt looked right after it was re-done:

A section of the Greenbelt along Apple Street is now being renovated. In addition to removing some grass and trees, the sprinklers are also being replaced. The new sprinklers spray away from the pedestrian walkway, which is a terrific improvement. 

1 comment:

My Name Is Llanes said...

Save the trees! Lord knows we need the shade.