Public opinion regarding cutting down trees in Vancouver is pretty clear cut
There are plenty of sins that if you get caught will damage your personal reputation. But in Vancouver there is one deadly sin that will quickly garner you more shame than anything else – chopping down trees.
GlobalTV's Marisa Thomas is known for her hard-hitting and tenacious style of reporting. Whether it's politicians or members of BC's elite, I've never seen her pull her punches. This week Thomas reported that organic breakfast mogul Arran Stephens and his wife Ratana hired a Bobcat operator, who proceeded to chop down a swath of 25 trees on a West Point Grey property they bought for their daughter.
Arran and Ratana Stephens, who just built a massive 20+ room house for themselves in another part of the city, are incredibly successful business people. They also recently threw a very lavish wedding ceremony for their son. Getting caught chopping down a bunch of trees may result in a hefty fine for the Stephens, but at their pay scale it might sting no more than a parking ticket for most of us.
The message coming from Arran is a mixed one. He says that it was all an accident, and – I always love this – he blamed the clearcut on the over-zealousness of the Bobcat operator. Hmm. Has anyone been able to talk to that Bobcat operator since?
In a follow-up report with Thomas he showed the reporter a plan for a lot of immaculate landscaping, but signs of trees were hard to see. It did strike me as odd that on the one hand he sounded contrite, and on the other Stephens seemed to be quite willing to open his wallet to pay the fine.
We've seen this movie in Vancouver before, of course. Many will remember the story of Beach Avenue resident June Matheson, who hired someone to poison trees along English Bay beach so her view from the apartment she owned wouldn't be obstructed. 72-year old Matheson, a high-end furniture retailer, was publicly humiliated, went to court and offered a massive mea culpa for her actions.
Then there was socialite Jacqui Cohen's tree-cutting incident, also way out at West Point Grey. Cohen hired a cocaine addict way back in 1997 to quietly damage trees that were obstructing the view of her then home facing west out to Georgia Strait. It was a hugely embarrassing affair for Cohen that has defined her image with the general public ever since.
One of the bizarre aspects of this recent tree-cutting affair is the curious links back to Mayor Gregor Robertson. Arran Stephens and his wife Ratana are both featured on the website of Renewal Partners, the single largest donor to Vision Vancouver, and the single largest business donor to municipal politics in recent years. Renewal Partners CEO Joel Solomon is Gregor Robertson's key financial backer and advisor.
In fact, in a story for the Vancouver Courier by Naoibh O'Connor, Arran Stephens says that he's...
written to the mayor acknowledging he’s guilty of not applying for a permit and that he should be fined for any trees cut down in violation of the bylaw.
So Stephens is going right to the top to clear up this mess.
Interestingly, the actions of the Mayor himself may end up costing Stephens even more. As we reported a year ago, the Vision council stiffened fines for cutting trees as part of the Greenest City Action Team agenda.
The original tree protection by-law was established in 1994 by the NPA government led by new Mayor Philip Owen. At the time it was quite controversial. Some land owners said this type of legislation was an invasion on their private property rights, while others saw it as an attack on new immigrants. There were also many people who saw this as a positive step in favour of protecting the city's environment.
As for Arran Stephens, you can bet you know he understands how bad it looks for a greeny like him to be seen as potentially a hypocrite. The tone of his comments to O'Connor makes it sound like he's talking with the school principal after getting caught smoking in the boy's room.
He’s worried his reputation and all the work he’s done for sustainability has been compromised. He added that the family is committed to sustainability and they contributed $3 million to charity last year.
“It’s kind of sad that all the good that a person does is overshadowed by one stupid mistake,” Stephens said.
A word of advice to Vancouver's horsey set. When it comes to trees, you'd be best to follow the rules like the rest of us.
- post by Mike