On March 6 the residents of South Pasadena will speak out on a topic that is being debated at all levels of government, worldwide. The decision to be made impacts our natural environment. "Do you want to repeal the city's mangrove protection ordinance?" is the question being asked on the ballot. In 1986 the City Commission unanimously adopted an ordinance prohibiting the cutting of mangroves without special permission from the city. South Pasadena is the site of most of the remaining mangroves surrounding Boca Ciega Bay; over 86 percent of the mangrove trees that once edged the bay have been lost to human activities so the commission's action was laudable. During the intervening years one request to trim was made and permission was granted to trim a small portion of the trees.
Last year a group of residents gathered the signatures of the required 10 percent of the city's voters and forced the placement of the question of repeal on the ballot when the City Commission chose not to repeal the protective ordinance. So the decision now rests with the voters of South Pasadena. People rarely get to speak decisively on an issue so basic. I believe they will make the right choice if given all the information.
There can be little doubt that these trees play a keystone role in the coastal chain of life; we learn more each day about their position in nature's delicate balance. Any change at all to mangroves is felt by the birds that use them as feeding, roosting and nesting sites; certain larger shore birds nest only in the top branches of the larger trees. The fish breed and feed around their roots and the trees themselves are affected by alteration in ways we are only just learning.
"Does it hurt the environment if we trim the trees just a little?" people have asked me. I answer, "the ordinance we now have allows the trees to be trimmed a little." If the ordinance is repealed 25 percent, or one quarter, of every tree in town can be cut away every year, with no city supervision. That is much more than "just a little."
If concern for the environment, alone, does not move people to support the mangrove protection ordinance then self-interest should. Property in a natural setting commands higher prices than that in the traditional paved scene. People are willing to pay for the sight of the birds, the opportunity to catch fish and a view of the clean, sparkling water that results from nature's protection.
Though the existing ordinance undoubtedly can be improved, both city attorneys have pronounced the law sound and enforceable. And, although the city has made a loosely worded commitment to the state to protect the mangroves, the city can modify that commitment if the people clearly express the desire, by a vote of the electorate, not to include such an ordinance among its laws. Some people have implied that another protective ordinance would be enacted even if the voters do repeal the present law. I would view that as an act undermining the expressed will of the people and, even though I would be saddened by the loss of the ordinance, I do not believe reasonable, responsible elected officials could blatantly ignore a referendum vote.
There is no reason of law to repeal the ordinance in question. The only question is, "Shall the city of South Pasadena have a law that regulates the cutting of mangroves and have the authority to enforce that law?" That question must be answered by each individual voter March 6.
Unfortunately, the query on the ballot is not worded quite so clearly. The question asks, "Do you want to repeal the ordinance?" So many people may be confused. A "No" vote will be a vote to keep the mangrove protection ordinance in force, it will be a vote NOT to repeal.
I encourage my fellow community members to vote "No" on the last ballot item, not just for ourselves, but to send a message to all those who doubtthat we really care about the world we share. I want to say, to elected officials and government leaders on all levels, that even a small, urban community like ours will act on behalf of a larger concern. I want to say we are thoughtful and responsible people, willing to shoulder our fair share of the burden of protecting and enhancing the world that has been entrusted to us. I realize there are more pressing environmental concerns in our headlines, ozone depletion, global warming, climatic impacts of deforestation, the loss of species to extinction and the list goes on, but this is something we can effect. We can do something! We can protect what we have the best way we can.
Please join me on election day by voting "No" on the last referendum question. To me, this is the most important question we have to answer. The answer we give will have a lasting impact on our community. We, in South Pasadena, have a rare opportunity to set a precedent, countywide and statewide, when we make the choice between two clearly defined positions _ to have an ordinance that protects the natural environment or to repeal that ordinance.
Send a message that says, "I do care about my world and all that lives in it." Vote NO!