How the TRPA can get tree-killer's attention

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency deals with issues that most of us don't have to think about. This time, though, it's a case rare even for the TRPA.

A Lake Tahoe homeowner named John R. Fitzhenry, who bought his house on Dollar Point in 2004 for $2.4 million, stands accused of killing trees.

According to TRPA staff, Fitzhenry has admitted to drilling holes in bases of three large Jeffrey pines and applying Roundup Ready in an plot to improve his view of the lake. The staff found out when he applied for a tree-removal permit.

Killing trees is a violation of TRPA rules, as well it should be. Between Fitzhenry's attorney and the TRPA, a settlement was reached in which he would pay a $17,000 fine.

To most of us, $17,000 is an attention-getter. But to folks who can afford $2.4 million for a home at Lake Tahoe, it's more like a cost of doing business.

That's how TRPA governors saw it too. They not only were outraged that someone would kill trees, they didn't see a $17,000 fine as much of a deterrent.

According to a report in our sister newspaper, the Tahoe Daily Tribune, no board member thought $17,000 was sufficient. They made suggestions from doubling the fine to raising it enough to equal the increase in property value.

Others said the real point was not the money at all. It was simply a lack of appreciation for what the trees mean at Lake Tahoe, and not enough was being done to create a lakewide ethic of responsibility.

The answer seems clear to us. Community service.

Let the fine stand, because the money can be used to fund a program that would supply the materials necessary to improve the scenery of the lake.

Money may not be an object for people like Fitzhenry, who is vice president of human relations for Altera Corp., a computer chipmaker, but time certainly is.

We think 120 hours - 40 hours for each offense - of digging holes and planting trees would give anyone a new perspective on the work Mother Nature does so effortlessly.


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