James Smith has a viewpoint on the private tree bylaw – he rants.

By James Smith.

BURLINGTON, ON. July 8, 2013. 

James Smith usually goes on about transit or waxes eloquently about the Freeman Station which he is in the process of saving.  Over the weekend he apparently stumbled across a city staff report about trees and – well he kind of lost it.

Guelph has one.

So does Oakville. 

Toronto? Check.

Burlington? Nope.

 I could be speaking about any number of things like reliable, well-funded Transit but in this case it looks like we won’t be getting a Private Tree Bylaw either if one reads the Private Tree By Law feasibility study about to go to council. Burlington it seems is keeping to its long and proud tradition as depicted on our Coat of Arms 

This tree canopy on Belvinia in the Roseland community is a large part of what the older part of the city is all about. Beautifully shaded streets with trees that add value to every house on the street.  Most of these trees are on city owned property.

 To be fair, council has started, if it’s not too much of a bother, the process of maybe, possibly, sometime looking at a private Tree bylaw. Rather than ask staff to craft a tree by-law Council asked for a feasibility study, and in May they told City Staff “no recommendations”, instead we get “options”.   The report spills a lot of ink on background, you know, like why trees are important, applicable statues, methodology, numbers of trees cut down every year by Arborists, (about 1,800) and the results of surveys and consultation. Oh, we’ve been consulted, we’ve been telephoned and online surveyed, research firms hired, and public meetings held. City staff tell us they have 71,571 “Touch Points” (- frankly I don’t like the sound of that term at all). 71,571 sounds like a big number until you read that 68,000 of these “Touch Points” come from  the City’s version of Pravda- AKA- City Talk- the thing that only wonks like me, & high school civics students (reluctantly) read. 

 City staff tell us they have 71,571 \"Touch Points\" Did I mention consultants? Burlington LOVES her consultants, Forum Research provided 31 pages of survey data that supports the community’s view that Trees are important!!  Fifty Nine percent suggested more needs to be done to protect trees. A one page spread sheet and four paragraphs are included in City Staff’s portion of this feasibility study that superficially addresses what other  cities do and do not do to protect trees on private property. What towns  have them, number of times amended, number of annual infractions, fines,  staff required,  number of permits issued and fees, exemptions and a one word answer if the by law is effective.

Did I say we had meetings? Burlington city hall loves its meetings almost as much as it loves its consultants. Burlington carries on its proud tradition of meetings.  Talking and meetings,  give the impression that work is actually being done. One may point to all the meeting minutes, and reports and addenda produced from which a report is dutifully presented. It all looks like an issue is being tackled, decisions being formulated, and our staff resources put to good use. 


 Here are City Staff’s Options:

Decide against implementing a Private Tree Bylaw

Direct Staff to Draft a Private Tree Bylaw

Increase Public Education and Awareness

Enhance public Participation and Involvement

Identify Partnerships with the community to Enhance Tree Planting Programs.

Delegate Responsibility for the protection of woodlots between 0.5 ha and 1.0 ha to Halton Region.

 Wow,  what did this cost in staff time and consultants? Furthermore, staff recommends all of these options, with the notable exception of actually crafting a tree by-law. Really. Burllingtonians, 59% of us want more tree protection, but City staff who were specifically asked not to included recommendations, opine that they don’t support a Private Tree By-Law! Out of whole cloth and with little or no back-up this statement heading appears: ” Support for a bylaw regulating trees on private property is low”  In my book 59% is still pretty good, given that Don’t Support, and Don’t Know/Don’t Care are about equal.

Every tree on this street is on private property. Every property owner has the rigght to cut down the tree on their property. If one comes down – so what? If five come down will those five people have lessened the value of the properties on the street? If they all come down – would anyone want to buy property on this street. That’s what a Private Tree Bylaw is about.

 So where does this statement come from? Could it be the many members of vested interests who made their way into the public meeting on the subject? Could it be the way the on-line questions were asked to give a desired result? One example: The on-line survey did not ask WOULD YOU SUPPORT A PRIVATE TREE BY-LAW  but rather cunningly asked: “If the city of Burlington was considering a household tax increase to preserve and protect the urban forest, for which of the following initiatives would you like to see the funds allocated?” and seven choices were presented. Funnily enough, 47% replied they will not support a tax increase for any reason. I wonder how these folks feel about the $300,000 for taking the memorial out of Joe Brant?

 Burlington City council once again is set to live up to their tradition by abandoning anything close to a vision of what kind of city we should build.Lets look at this a little more critically, the city of Oakville have staff of exactly one person to run the tree by-law, Guelph has 4.  if part of the reason staff have drawn the conclusions they have is a result of little support for taxes increased  to be spent on one position,  can we not find the money in existing programmes? What about permits and fines? Surely this can be a self funding office,! I would argue it could generate a surplus to fund some of the other wacky stuff city staff actually want  to do. My conclusion is, for some reason, city staff don’t want the headache of an office that actually does stuff, but would rather play with Adobe Suite making marketing plans that the people of this town really don’t give a squirrel’s tail about. Otherwise why would they have devised a process designed to produce these results?  Make no mistake, one just has to make it through the report and read how the on-line questions have been asked, to come to the same conclusion. It is either that or one must ask if city staff is up to the task.

 After who knows how many staff hours, and work by well paid consultants,  Burlington City council once again is set to live up to their tradition by abandoning anything close to a vision of what kind of city we should build. Heck, we can’t even follow good examples from other cities in the GTHA. Meanwhile mature trees are set to be cut down trees on Ghent Avenue, and through out the city. 

 Oh, and Burlington’s Coat of Arms? Why by now you should know that our Motto below the Shield reads:  STAND BY

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4 comments to James Smith has a viewpoint on the private tree bylaw – he rants.

  • J J

    If we have a bylaw, then they are not private trees anymore.
    We don’t need to regulate peoples yards. yes trees get cut down, but they also get planted. Overall we are not “loosing trees”. Sometimes they are in the way, but a bylaw will insure people do not plant. But that was not discussed, was it….

  • Dr. Emil Zmenak

    I attended the Tree By Law meeting Mr. Smith is talking and I to was was struck by the nature of some of the questions that were asked. It my was my clear impression that they were heavily slanted towards painting a picture of some pressing need for a call to action to save the trees of Burlington. The table of 8 persons I sat at was populated by a city arborist and a city planner. Big surprise – they were in favour a by law and and directed the conversation in that direction. Each table had at least one staff person at it. Many of the questions asked by the consultants were like asking if you were in favour of apple pie and ice cream. The Staff Reports that presented the findings to date mentioned that there were 1,800 trees cut down last
    year – over 75 % 0f the trees that were removed were diseased. This would suggest that 450 healthy trees were cut down on private property each year. The city’s own finding indicate that there are more than 70,000 trees on city property alone and 2 to 3 times that many on private property for a total of more than 200,000. The ” lost trees” thus represent one fifth of one percent of all the trees in Burlington. Oddly they reported on how many trees were cut down but not how many were planted by the city or privately planted. I would suspect that if we checked with the local nurseries we might find that more than 1,800 were planted. In a conversation with the mayor I asked what prompted this study. His response was that there were approximately 20 complaints in the last year regarding removal of trees. Were a tree by law to be passed, the city would of course require at least one arborist plus a secretary and office space – for a total cost of least $120,000 per year to ‘service” 20 complaints or $6,000 per complaint.
    Surely the taxpayers money could better spent elsewhere

  • MNBennett

    BurlingtonGreen will be at City Hall tonight standing up for protecting all of Burlington’s trees regardless of ownership.

    You can help Celebrate Burlington’s Trees by entering a photo contest and help create a win-win for you and Burlington’s trees. Contest will run from July 8 – 29. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151712365109785&set=pb.104991874784.-2207520000.1373302118.&type=3&theater

    If City Council can be convinced to vote in favour of a private tree by-law wouldn’t it be nice to upgrade that to win-win-win.

  • James, as you’ll recall (since you and I were part of this survey), BurlingtonGreen asked candidates for City Council in 2010 if they support a private tree by-law.

    Answers from the current Mayor and 6 Councillors: 3 said “Yes”, 2 said “No”, 2 said “Maybe” or “Yes-No”.

    Mayor Goldring was in the “Yes” camp, with Councillors Craven and Meed-Ward. Councillors Taylor and Lancaster comprised the “No” votes. Councillors Sharman and Dennison sat on the fence (perhaps waiting to find out which way the political winds blow on this issue?).

    Here’s the link for their reasons…


    If history is any kind of guide – and election promises may not be much of one – the option to proceed with drafting a by-law could rest with 2 Councillors now. In terms of having a clear vision for the future, it would be unfortunate if they can’t see our beautiful urban forest for the trees.