1. Opinion

Cut down trees? Pay up, Tampa says. Good. | Editorial

The Florida Legislature made it easier for residents to cut down trees without permission from local government. Now everybody wants to do it.
Nearly three dozen trees were cut down at a half-abandoned trailer park along Gandy Boulevard in August, enraging tree advocates and sparking another battle between the city of Tampa and a new state law that removes local government authority over tree removal. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
Published Sep. 18

The city of Tampa has sent exactly the right message by imposing the largest fine possible for the destruction of dozens of trees on Gandy Boulevard. This is what happens when state lawmakers intrude into local territory with a needless, sloppily written law that all but bars cities and counties from preventing the wholesale clear-cutting of trees. Tampa should aggressively defend its tree protections and work with other local governments to halt this abuse.

As the Tampa Bay Times’ Charlie Frago reported Wednesday, tree advocates protested last month when loggers chainsawed more than two dozen trees at a dilapidated trailer park in South Tampa. A new state law that took effect July 1 bars local governments from requiring an application, permit or fee for the removal of a dangerous tree on residential property. But this week, the city served notice it is seeking $420,000 in fines from the property owner, Life O’Reilly MHP, LLC, and an equal amount from Miller & Sons, LLC, the company whose arborists signed off on the tree clearing at 3011 W. Gandy Blvd. The combined fine of $840,000 is believed to be the largest for tree cutting in the city’s history.

An attorney for the property owner said the tree-cutting is legal because people have resided on the site for decades. But City Attorney Gina Grimes said the owner and arborist “exploited the statutory preemption for their own private gain to clear-cut the site for commercial re-development.” The new law applies only to residential property. But the Gandy site is zoned commercial general - not residential - and has no homestead exemption, according to Hillsborough County property and tax records. “The city of Tampa has one of the largest tree canopies in the world and arborists and developers should not take that for granted,” Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement. “We are closely monitoring this egregious violation and will fine those violating our policies aggressively moving forward.''

Of course, this is the predictable result of the Legislature’s insistence at meddling in local issues. While lawmakers claimed they were responding to inflexible rules by local governments, the reality is that cities statewide, including Tampa and St. Petersburg, have managed to balance property rights with reasonable tree protections. The new law tilts the scale almost entirely to property owners and their hired arborists to determine which trees present “a danger to persons or property" and can be removed. The law doesn’t even bother to define what a “danger” is or means.

Local governments across Florida are grappling with ways to salvage their tree ordinances in the face of this blanket assault. The Tampa case goes to a magistrate in October. The Castor administration should be commended for strongly defending a natural resource that provides shade, cleaner air and flood protection. Cities and counties need to hold property owners to the letter of this bad law. And they need to compile their horror stories for the next legislative session. The new state law is an invitation to scar every Florida community and should be repealed.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news


  1.  Bill Day --
  2. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Even Oklahoma, a state not famous for progressive reform, has done more than Florida to fix sentencing inequities, Carl Hiaasen writes.
  3. In this photo from June 28, 2019, a Coalition for Life St. Louis member waves to a Planned Parenthood staff member. ROBERT COHEN  |  AP
    Florida law already requires that parents be notified prior to an abortion, writes senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida.
  4. Students say the Pledge of Allegiance as thousands gather at a candlelight vigil for several students killed in the Saugus High School shooting in Central Park, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif. CAROLYN COLE  |  AP
    We doctors treat diseases, but what of the epidemic of gun violence, writes a St. Petersburg doctor.
  5. Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association members protest outside of the school board building in Tampa in December 2017. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  6. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what is believed to be a former African-American cemetery next to the parking lot of Frank Crum Staffing located at 100 S. Missouri Ave. in Clearwater.  The empty lot is part of the former Clearwater Heights neighborhood which featured Bethany CME church and Williams Elementary School.   Photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.  JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times
    Tampa Bay’s lost cemeteries are part of our collective history.
  7. A business man and woman holding a sign depicting their political party preference. SHARON DOMINICK  |
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s letters to the editor.
  8. Leonard Pitts undefined
    Don’t wall ourselves off from contradictory opinions, writes Leonard Pitts.
  9. President Donald Trump, right, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani pose for photographs as Giuliani arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Nov. 2016 in Bedminster, N.J.
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  10. (left to right) Nupar Godbole, medical student at USF, and Tiffany Damm, medical student at UCF, take part in a papaya workshop at the University of South Florida Medical Students for Choice Second Annual Florida Regional Conference held in the Morsani College of Medicine on February 24, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Some of the instruments used in abortions, like the manual vacuum aspirator, are used in an exercise with a papaya, to simulate an abortion. MONICA HERNDON  |  Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.