Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 21, 2006

Government and ivy: Both need pruning

When I close my eyes, I see ivy roots. The red-brown roots twist and turn on a black-brown background of soil. This is a result of spending most of my daylight-hours spare time removing ivy from my back yard.

So far, by my rough estimate, I’ve removed 180 square feet of ivy. I started at the sunny end of the yard, where we didn’t plant ivy, but where it has crept over several years, and I’m working my way toward the shady end, where the ivy was planted.

Although it was several years ago, I’m pretty sure that I was sold on ivy as a low-maintenance plant that cannot be killed.

Now the fact that you can’t kill it is its chief flaw.

My husband has tried spray-on herbicides, but they don’t penetrate the ivy’s waxy leaves.

So for the last few months, and especially during the last few weeks as my motivation and the weather cooperate, I’ve been removing the ivy by hand.

With hand pruners, I clip all the white-and-green leaves and stems. Then, with my garden-gloved hand, a hand trowel or a shovel, depending on the proximity of plants that I want to preserve, I dig out the roots, or at least as many as I can find.

It’s an illusion that ivy is a low-maintenance plant. With periodic attention from my pruning shears as the plant crept out of bounds, I would have had many fewer square feet of soil from which ivy roots needed to be removed.

As a result of weeks of wresting ivy roots out of the ground, I’m sore all over. Even my fingernail beds hurt. But dealing with the unintended ivy consequences has me thinking about something else that often has unintended consequences that are amplified by apathy: government.

Yes, I think about odd things while I’m digging in the soil. But stay with me on this one.

Locally, I’m reminded of all the taxes that will be on the ballot this summer and fall. We’re expecting to see a sales tax measure from the county to pay for regular county services like transportation projects and social services and another one from the Valley Transportation Authority to pay the always-increasing cost of extending BART to San Jose and a host of pot sweeteners to entice voters who won’t live anywhere near a BART station to go along. In Morgan Hill, we’re expecting to see a parcel tax from the school district and a city tax, perhaps a sales tax, to close a $1.5-million budget gap.

I’m not ready to take a position on any of these measures until they are written and endorsed by their respective agencies, although I’ve voiced serious concerns about extending BART from Fremont to San Jose.

But I do encourage voters to shed apathy, not so easy to do on some of these eye-glaze inducing topics. Get educated, consider the long-term consequences of approving or disapproving each tax, and then vote.

A couple of examples are in order. I voted to support the 1996 Measure A/B sales tax measure that funded widening US 101. And I’m very happy to have that project complete and saving lives of people traveling through South Valley. But an unintended consequence of that tax measure was putting the BART extension on the VTA’s to-do list. And removing it is harder than removing invasive ivy.

Another example: I support the Redevelopment Agency in Morgan Hill. It captures property tax dollars that would otherwise leave the city and keeps them in town for affordable housing and capital improvement projects. The downside is that it’s a lot easier to build facilities than to operate them in the black, and Morgan Hill is now facing a $1.5-million budget shortfall.

Nationally, we need to be aware of the unintended (or, cynics might say, intended) consequences of upsetting the checks and balances the framers of our Constitution so carefully crafted. Holding prisoners for years without trials, spying on U.S. citizens without warrants and more blur the lines between the executive branch and the judicial and legislative branches of government. When I hear the “but we’re at war with terrorists” excuses, I have two reactions: One, we’re always going to be at war with terrorists and I don’t want to permanently alter our civil liberties or system of government as a result; two, as I was often told in my fundamentalist Christian schools, the end never justifies the means.

Whether it’s local taxes or federal checks and balances, remember the lessons of apathy, invasiveness and creep that the ivy teaches.



  1. […] have guessed. I should be happy, it probably means the plant won’t become invasive like the ivy that preceded it. In any case, I’m happy to see it covered with coveted blue […]

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