January 7, 2019

Vancouver Views, Entitled Homeowners and the Trees that Got in the Way


There is now a three part trilogy in Vancouver where a valued public resource~public trees~have been hacked or poisoned on public lands. Two of the previous public tree mutilations were performed to improve private views. You may have read the latest in the Vancouver Sun where after the December windstorm Park Board staff discovered  at Spanish Banks near Tolmie Street a group of conifer trees had been delimbed and their tops sawed off.

And it wasn’t someone looking for a quick fix to grabbing a Christmas tree, as the  tops and limbs were found in the park. How could someone have done this without anyone seeing? And why has this happened? Howard Norman of the Parks Board minced no words saying “In my experience, this is strictly view-related. That’s the only rational reason I can think of.

The trees were partially sawed through and were then broken in windstorms. The trees will continue to develop, but their  canopies will be significantly altered, suggesting  the involvement of a  nearby view property owner that may not know the wrath of Vancouverites when public trees are sullied. The Park Board is working with the Vancouver Police to ascertain who the culprit is, but finger-pointing is already focused upon the exclusive hilly view properties across from the beach.

There have been two other outrageous tree desecrations on public land. In 1997  29 maple trees and five cherry trees on ocean view property owned by Metro Vancouver were sawed down near the University Endowment Land  view home of Jacqueline Cohen. It turned out that despite denying it, Ms. Cohen had indeed hired someone to cut the trees down, and forgot to pay that person, who told his story. A settlement of $50,000 was reached with Metro Vancouver as well as an apology given.

There was also the case of interior designer June Matheson who lived at 2015 Beach Avenue on English Bay. Five large public trees on city land in front of her second floor beach facing condo had been drilled into and poison sourced from the United States injected. Called the “Tree Assassin” at the time, Ms. Matheson avoided jail time but did have to pay $50,000 to have trees replanted at this location and also in Stanley Park. Ms. Matheson’s lawyer said she  had to sell her view condo after being charged  because  “people were throwing rocks, eggs and even bags they used to clean up after their dogs at her apartment balcony. My 70-something client is now the object, truly, of feces and abuse.”

As the judge in the Matheson case observed “The resulting attention and harassment forced her to sell the two things she loved most, her apartment and her business. Ms. Matheson has demonstrated genuine contrition for her involvement.”

That is why the altering of the public trees at Spanish Banks is so alarming. It is not only the replacement of trees which may have some difficulty growing in those sandy soils, but also the misunderstanding of how close Vancouverites hold the value of the public realm and of trees in parks. Whoever cut those trees misjudged the importance of public trees to Vancouverites. As Ms. Matheson told the judge in her tree poisoning court case “”I had to sell my home that I love because of endless harassment. I now have a home with no view. My health has been affected and I’ve had death threats made against me.”

cnewsfototree-vandalImage: Bigwnews.com

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  1. This story reminds me of the Southlands owner who paid a fine after a Google Street View camera caught the chainsaws in progress. (Links to save screen captures below, sorry, I don’t know if it is possible to post images here)

    News stories:



  2. Shouldn’t be too hard to send cops door to door and ch close and see which homes benefitted most. Will also have the added benefit of scaring the bejeezus out of any offshore owner who equates a police visit as a prelude to a trip to the gulag. $50k isn’t anywhere near a large enough fine to deter the wealthy, how about civil forefeiture?!

  3. A hundred year old novel quote on the behaviour of the monied:

    “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

    And still as true as the day it was written. We haven’t learned much have we?

  4. Some sober second thoughts due here.

    First, if these trees will survive these cuts, who cares if the tops are less than pristine? This case doesn’t seem comparable to the case of the more public, visible and appreciated trees in the West End.

    Second, how do homeowners all over this region deal with the inevitable growth of some trees into their sun access for gardens/patios, or their views? Do shady-side or uphill neighbours have any rights if hedges or trees grow up to block their sunlight or view?

    Are all public trees sacrosanct for all time until they fall over? (Like the one that recently smashed through my friend’s roof)

    Is permission to trim possible? Is getting permission too difficult to be worth doing?

    Editor’s note: https://www.goskagit.com/news/the-trouble-with-tree-topping/article_fa9b7e38-3d83-11e1-8443-001871e3ce6c.html

    1. The linked article from the Editor is very important. Topping trees to limit their height is akin to decapitating children in the mistaken belief their growth will slow. It is the most damaging thing you can do to a tree next to chopping it down. The tree will essentially rot from the top down in our rainy climate and dense clouds of fungi spores. The cut will stimulate multiple branches to sprout that are far weaker and subject to breaking off and conking someone on the head. Parks departments all over are continually removing hazardous trees with these traits. It is as much about public safety and liability as anything else.

      One can judiciously prune a tree by removing selective rounds of branches and create “windows” that would frame a view. And if one is really smart, one would plant the appropriate species of tree being mindful of its mature size: Smaller on some streets and yards in growing urban areas; and larger species concentrated in parks. With a densifying city, one also needs to consider that fewer trees can be accommodated on smaller private lots, and that’s why a healthy urban forest needs to be maintained and cultivated on boulevards and parks. If there is already a veteran tree or grove, developers and home owners need to be encouraged to retain it and work around it, hopefully with some flexibility shown by the city regarding the spatial constraints placed on the remaining parts of the property.

      Under no circumstances should anyone get away with cutting down or vandalizing trees on someone else’s property.

    2. Indeed select trimming or tree removals ought to be normal. In many areas a small or medium tree is nice, but a large or very large one poses a problem, both from a shade, view or risk point of view.

      More common sense please.

      Not this “Though shalt never cut any tree, ever” approach !

  5. “how do homeowners all over this region deal with the inevitable growth of some trees into their sun access for gardens/patios, or their views?”

    Inevitable is the operative word. One shouldn’t be surprised by a tree getting taller. If the rules are too restrictive, surely there is no cohort in our region with more opportunity to wield clout, money, and influence toward a more equitable system, than the homeowners of water view property on the West Side.

    What’s the difference between a homeowner vandalizing public property for a better view and a graffiti artist tagging a public building for their amusement? I would suggest the former gets more empathy for less reason.

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