Readers: Comox fines too low for Garry Oak damages
From time to time, we get letters from our readers. Here are two we received questioning how the Town of Comox dealt with a homeowner who damaged a number of protected Garry Oak trees.
Comox: The lowest tree vandalism fine on record in North America
Not a week goes by that Comox residents rightly express their outrage at Comox Council. They may also want to consider whether council’s fining of Dr. Bill Toews’ tree pruning was fair to the community. The issue is not if Toews is a nice person, but whether Comox Council’s decision met North American municipal standards.
Judge for yourselves. A short survey of similar recorded cases tells us otherwise:
2003 (Seattle, 3 trees) $30,000 (US) = $40,000 CDN
2006 ( Ajax Ontario, 100 trees) $50,000. (Mayor and Council wanted $535,000)
2007 (Glendale, California, 13 trees) $347,600 (US) = $417,120 (CDN)
2012 (Surrey BC, 39 trees) $175,000
2015 (Atlanta, 2 oaks) $11,400 (US) = $14,250.(CDN)
2016 – October – (Toronto, 40 trees) $155,000 plus charges pending under the Municipal Code and Provincial Offences Act seeking $100,000 per tree. (replant 200 trees).
The average fine per tree is $9,389.76. The median is $4,487.18 Comox Council’s $10,000 fine for illegal “pruning” of 22 trees, is actually only $3,800. The balance of $6,200 is tax-deductible development expenses. So, that’s either $426 or $172 per tree depending on whether the real fine is taken to be $10,000 or $3,800.
Either way, this makes it the lowest recorded fine in North America.
These rates are not driven by extreme environmentalism. Toronto’s aptly named Mayor John Tory, is a well-known Progressive Conservative, who supports responsible community standards. Toronto protects its greenways and heritage at $3,875 per tree. Laws and standards are not written to favour special interests and friends, but enforced to protect community interests.
As pointed out in the Comox Valley Echo, Toews received “a sympathetic hearing from council.” Indeed, he should have from councillors and a mayor who recently willfully destroyed national heritage at Baybrook, to favour an exclusive group, in spite of pleas from Heritage BC and The National Trust. Institutional vandalism can only passively encourage more vandalism. This same council now persists in seeking to evade its responsibilities as community trustees, and has seemingly set the lowest community environmental tree standards in North America.
I should add: Garry oaks have a 75 percent mortality rate. Someone who damages one tree should replant four. Toews should have planted 88 trees, not the recommended eight.
And, that’s why at least 800 Comox voters long to turn over this council. This council’s acts and words only bring disrespect to the institution.
Protected Garry Oaks?
Bill Toews is fortunate to live in Comox. The rest of us are not. Toews destroyed Garry Oaks in a ‘Special Development Permit Area’ without permission. In Comox, if you are part of “the set,” it is much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Toews was issued what amounts to a ‘back dated development permit’ and has to replace some of the trees he destroyed and have some others monitored, as determined by the Town’s favourite “fix-it consultants.” Hardly worth the time it took council to decide the matter. Toews looked contrite as he came to the ‘sympathetic’ council meeting and received the proverbial ‘tap’ on the wrist.
What else could I expect from a council that in July of this year included additional properties containing Garry Oaks into a Special Development Permit area and, at the very same meeting, granted permission to Councillor Maureen Swift to cut down a mature Maple tree on her property because it impeded the view on her lot. At the same time the national press was reporting that Duncan residents were vigorously protesting the destruction of a similar tree.
The Town of Comox pays lip service to the environment but they don’t really know the meaning of the word. In their assessment of the Toews’ property, let’s hope that they at least signed of’ for possible future sluffing of the hillside into the estuary, now that more ‘vital landscaping’ has been removed. By then they hope that people will have forgotten, and they will dismiss reality with their familiar (as used with the Mack Laing monies) mantra: “that was then, this is now.”