The City of Jacksonville has long-recognized that it has a duty to protect and conserve our tree canopy, in recognition of the fact that doing so enhances our air and water quality, reduces carbon dioxide, maintains property values, and contributes to the overall quality of life. In 1986 the City of Jacksonville went so far as to pass Ordinance 88-668-397, commonly known as the “tree ordinance,” to promote the health, safety, and welfare of the current and future residents of Jacksonville by establishing minimum standards for the protection of our tree canopy.
However, soon after the tree ordinance was passed, the City of Jacksonville adopted an interpretation of the tree ordinance that allowed developers to claim an exemption under the tree ordinance, which resulted in the cutting down of thousands of trees with no replacement or mitigation.
In 2000 this loophole was thought to have been closed with the passing of Article 25, an amendment to the City’s Charter. Since 2000, it has been assumed by many that together, the tree ordinance and the charter amendment, have been serving to collect millions of dollars from permits and fines following the cutting down of protected trees, and pooling that money into a single trust fund which was to be used exclusively for the “planting or replanting of mitigation trees, and for their maintenance.”
But, according to City officials, over the course of four months from 2014-2015, that trust fund has been depleted by $6,000,000, even though there were no official requests to withdraw this money as required by the tree ordinance and the charter amendment.
Moreover, since the inception of the charter amendment in 2000, there have been numerous withdrawals from this trust fund for projects that do not further the goals of these tree protection rules, and that instead range from paying for grant writing fees to constructions fees to television series to the installation of concrete. What is more, the City of Jacksonville has already decided on at least two future projects that would also take money from the trust fund that was originally designed to plant trees, and will instead be used to fund projects that include reconstructing intersections.
For these reasons the Public Trust has filed a lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville, seeking a full accounting of all tree protection funds collected and spent since 2000 by the City of Jacksonville, and an order from the court that would force the City of Jacksonville to fully comply with the expenditure and enforcement provisions of the Charter Amendment.
The Public Trust has brought this lawsuit on behalf of its members, and also on behalf of several concerned citizens throughout Jacksonville.
Link To The Complaint