Fined for clearing tornado debris without license

by Walter Olson on June 4, 2011

A volunteer clearing debris after the recent tornado in north Minneapolis has been hit with a $275 fine for tree trimming without a license [Star-Tribune via Coyote]

More: In other legal news of tree-trimming, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has settled a battle with San Francisco neighbors over charges that the growth of their trees was spoiling his view [WSJ, more] And the city of Charlotte, N.C., has fined a local church $4,000, or $100 a branch, for excessively trimming crape myrtle trees on its own property under a city tree ordinance [Brittany Penland, Charlotte Observer via Amy Alkon]

{ 16 comments }

1 VMS 06.05.11 at 2:22 pm

Someone should have some brains here, and they are misusing the statute for unlicensed contractors for their own agenda, even if they have a good argument that this volunteer should not have been cutting down trees in that specific area at that time.

If there were a law that prohibited trespassing in declared “disaster zones” (except in truly exigent circumstances where a person’s life was at stake) before the area was declared safe (no falling debris, ruptured gas lines, utility power turned off etc.) , then I’d say the government has a point. But…this is not that situation.

2 gitarcarver 06.05.11 at 9:45 pm

On the crepe myrtle issue, the statute states that the tree owner has to get a permit to trim any tree with a diameter of over 2″. The permit is free, but some one from the city will come out to your property, tell you how to trim the tree, where to trim the tree, how much you can trim the tree, and then recommend tree trimmers that can do the work for you (at a fee of course.)

If you don’t follow the rules on this, the city can require you to replace the tree or be fined daily. (The term “specimen tree” came to mind.)

For over 200 years Charlotte managed to scrape by without this ordinance and the trees flourished. Since 1978, the ordinance has been on the books and was revised in September of 2010.

After all, in September, the city had nothing else pressing to do other than worry about people trimming their own trees.

3 DensityDuck 06.06.11 at 2:28 pm

This is one of those situations where there’s actually some useful truth behind what seems, at first, a pointless and stupid regulation.

In the first place, badly-pruned trees can be harmed or even killed by the process, leaving a massive chunk of dead wood that’s at risk of falling over due to weather. If some yahoos strip the trunk off the overgrown weed in their church parking lot and the mess crushes your car next winter, the fact that government was not involved will hardly be a consolation.

In the second, improper pruning leaves an unsightly mess even when it doesn’t kill the tree. Pruning means more than “hire two Mexicans, give them chainsaws, and tell them to cut all the branches off”. This is the typical California way to do it, called “tree topping”, and the results are shockingly ugly (both right after it happens, and in the future as the tree forms massive, deformed, rotten lumps of scar tissue around the old branch sites.)

And, finally, this regulation is a “fence”, in the “good ones make good neighbors” sense. There are any number of nasty disputes between property owners over who did what to whose trees. Having an inspection bureau at least requires a prospective trimmer to verify that yes, those are indeed his trees, and he is allowed to trim them.

******

On the other hand, at least owners are allowed to deal with the trees themselves. Here in San Jose we have situations where the city planted a bunch of trees in the code-required setbacks, and then declared that the trees were the property owner’s responsibility to maintain, including city-mandated trimming–and replacement if the tree died! “Oh, but at least the owners can get the fruit from the trees, right?” No; since the trees are technically city property, owners can’t restrict access to them, so people can strip all the fruit off and you can’t say “boo”.

4 gitarcarver 06.06.11 at 4:22 pm

In the first place, badly-pruned trees can be harmed or even killed by the process, leaving a massive chunk of dead wood that’s at risk of falling over due to weather.

I am not sure I see the point here. The government can prevent a tree from falling over? That trees don’t die unless the government approves of their death?

In the second, improper pruning leaves an unsightly mess even when it doesn’t kill the tree.

I am sorry, but if my tree is cut the way I want it to be cut in my yard, then why does the idea of “unsightly mess” enter in to it? I think certain cars are ugly. Does that mean I have the right to say that you can’t keep a Prius in your driveway? Should people be able to say that curtains of a certain color seen from the street be banned?

At what point in time do I have the right to not conform with what people believe to be “beautiful?”

Having an inspection bureau at least requires a prospective trimmer to verify that yes, those are indeed his trees, and he is allowed to trim them.

The ordinance does provide for a land survey. It only looks at the tree.

On the other hand, at least owners are allowed to deal with the trees themselves.

That is my objection as well. If a person wants a tree shaped a certain way, why don’t they have the right to do so? Putting in the “shapping police” would effectively outlaw topiary and banzai trees because they are not trimmed according to “regulations.”

At some point we have to say that enough is enough.

5 DensityDuck 06.07.11 at 3:23 pm

“I am not sure I see the point here. The government can prevent a tree from falling over? ”

It can prevent people from hacking the tree to pieces so that it dies and falls over unnaturally. If I dig a hole and someone falls in it, can I claim that the existence of gravity absolves me of responsibility?

“At what point in time do I have the right to not conform with what people believe to be “beautiful?” ”

If you honestly believe that the world is better off with cheap-arse homeowners hiring Jorge and Manuel to cut all the limbs off their trees and leave something that looks like a crooked telephone pole, then I guess there’s not really much room for us to have a conversation.

6 DensityDuck 06.07.11 at 3:43 pm

Incidentally, I’ll agree that this story is ridiculous–this tornado-devastated area is so dangerous that you need special permission to enter, and yet they have work inspectors running around watching the place and they can spare enough cops to give this guy a police escort out of town? Whatever.

But it’s not like arborist licenses or tree-trimming permits are pointless bureaucratism.

7 gitarcarver 06.07.11 at 9:19 pm

If you honestly believe that the world is better off with cheap-arse homeowners hiring Jorge and Manuel to cut all the limbs off their trees and leave something that looks like a crooked telephone pole, then I guess there’s not really much room for us to have a conversation.

This is going to sound harsh, but please believe me it isn’t.

If you believe that your sensibilities are more important than my property, my trees and the way I like them to look…..
….. then there really isn’t much room for conversation.

But it’s not like arborist licenses or tree-trimming permits are pointless bureaucratism.

Sure they are. They don’t do anything other than enrich the coffers of the bureaucracy. If a person wants to hire an unlicensed arborist, what compelling interest does the state have to prevent that?

8 DensityDuck 06.08.11 at 3:19 pm

So–I just want to make sure we all agree, here, to make sure we all understand the situation–you think that the tree shown here is an attractively-pruned tree which was done in a tasteful manner by professionals, and is exactly how you think that the trees on your property should look.

I mean, we both know you’ll say “yes” just to be an asshole. But I want you to stand up and actually say it.

9 Crabtree 06.08.11 at 5:35 pm

No, it looks horrible, but who are you to say I can’t do that to a tree ON MY OWN PROPERTY? That’s the point of gitacarver’s argument.

10 gitarcarver 06.08.11 at 8:44 pm

I mean, we both know you’ll say “yes” just to be an asshole. But I want you to stand up and actually say it.

Whether the tree is “beautiful” or not is a subjective matter. Whether I think it is attractive or not is immaterial because it is not my tree on my property.

So–I just want to make sure we all agree, here, to make sure we all understand the situation

And clearly you do not understand the situation. What gives you or the state the right to determine what is “beautiful” on my property? What gives anyone the right to tell me that absent of a violation of someone elses rights that I can’t trim a tree on my property?

Your argument seems to be that you and the state can apply some subjective standard of what is “beautiful.”

If that is the case, can we tell you what color to paint your house? What car you can drive (darn Prius’ are so ugly)? Can we tell you that your dog is ugly and you have to get rid of it? What happens when you plant a tress or a shrub that the rest of the world thinks is ugly. Can we demand you remove it?

When you can answer those questions, then and only then will you “understand the situation.”

11 Bob Lipton 06.09.11 at 8:02 am

Clearly this is a situation in which the only sensible course of action is to cover the entire property in cement. Beautiful, beautiful cement.

Bob

12 E Garland 06.09.11 at 11:10 am

RE: Bob Lipton’s Comment…

Cement is ecologically incorrect – both hard on children and non-porous to rain – obviously, a foot or so of shredded rubber is more suitable…

13 Bob Lipton 06.09.11 at 1:30 pm

If I can’t trim my tree without being tossed in jail, then it’s cement for me. Ecologically correct cement, since it contains only natural ingredients. None of your synthetic rubber.

Bob

14 gitarcarver 06.09.11 at 3:04 pm

If I can’t trim my tree without being tossed in jail, then it’s cement for me.

Funny that you should mention that Bob. When I first moved here, there was a major flap with a couple that was concerned about the eco-system. They ripped up the green grass of their lawn and planted natural, drought tolerant plants and trees. They had taken a plan for their yard from a plan offered by the University of Florida that was represented as water saving and a look at how Florida was before people moved here.

Someone complained to the city that they didn’t like the way the yard looked. Because some of the ground cover grew to over 6 inches tall, they were cited for code violations.

While I understand Duck’s concerns, at some point we have to realize that this is not about trees. We can “cure” bad tree trimming with education. This is about power and the authority to control and rule a person’s property.

15 DensityDuck 06.09.11 at 3:05 pm

“What gives you or the state the right to determine what is “beautiful” on my property?”

How sad to hear that you’re legally prevented from selling your house and moving, and therefore cannot find a community that better suits your viewpoint.

I mean, that must be the case, right? It can’t possibly be true that you’d voluntarily stay in a place so strongly restrictive of your fundamental rights!

PS I like how you’ve totally given up on the public-safety argument. Point to me, it appears.

16 gitarcarver 06.09.11 at 4:26 pm

How sad to hear that you’re legally prevented from selling your house and moving, and therefore cannot find a community that better suits your viewpoint.

Are you really saying that I should be forced to sell my property because you don’t like the way it looks? Is that really what you mean? You can’t be serious.

I mean, that must be the case, right? It can’t possibly be true that you’d voluntarily stay in a place so strongly restrictive of your fundamental rights!

At least you are agreeing that this is a restriction on fundamental rights.

So tell me Duck, why do you support the restrictions of people’s rights based on aesthetic reasons? Tell me why a person should suffer a restriction of rights when there is no threat to other people’s rights?

You haven’t answered that, so I guess that is a couple points to me.

I like how you’ve totally given up on the public-safety argument. Point to me, it appears.

It was only an issue in your mind, Duck. Your premise seems to be that every tree that is trimmed improperly dies. That is factually false. Perhaps you believe that a dead tree means the owner is not liable for the damage if the owner knows the tree is dead. That is factually wrong. Or perhaps you believe that only dead trees or trees that have been improperly pruned fall to some unknown fate during weather events. That is factually false as well.

“Safety issue,” “it’s not about the money,” and “it’s for the kids” are all arguments from the same pile of manure.

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