White Rock residents bring branches and blossoms from a flowering plum tree that was cut down by the city in the middle of night Thursday.

White Rock residents bring branches and blossoms from a flowering plum tree that was cut down by the city in the middle of night Thursday.

No olive branch, as trimmings brought to White Rock City Hall

The City of White Rock’s Policy 611 is being reviewed – but that didn’t save a flowering plum on city property in the 15100-block of Royal Avenue.

All that remained of the tree Thursday morning was sawn trunk sections and bunches of blossom-laden branches.

Neighbour Paul Wilkes, who had been one of those guarding the tree during working hours, said city workers must have come during the night to cut it down  – an action that resident Karen Ellerbeck, whose property abuts the contentious area, termed “cowardly.”

“They didn’t want to see the little old ladies who were sitting protecting the tree in the daytime,” she said.

Shortly afterwards, some 16 residents, bearing the remaining branches and blossoms, marched on city hall and stormed into the office of city manager Peggy Clark to voice their dismay.

City manager Peggy Clark gets visitorsClark, who told the residents that the city’s tree bylaw will increase the tree canopy in the long term, later told Peace Arch News that, under it, the city will be planting two trees somewhere in the city – as yet undetermined.

A bylaw-mandated tree bank will enable the planting of some 40 new trees this spring, she added.

The felled tree was one of three on the narrow hillside strip of city land that have been the centre of controversy since council voted in January to allow their removal as they were deemed to interfere with residents’ views of the bay.

Ellerbeck said she and her husband, Doug – who live on the south side of Royal – had maintained and pruned the trees for the some 24 years they had lived on the hillside; however, demands from neighbours in large houses and condos on the north side of the street – who wanted the trees removed – had been heeded by council, in spite of opposition by other residents.

Clark noted removal of the tree was part of a compromise agreed to by the Ellerbecks, in which a cedar and the flowering plum would be removed and a weeping cherry tree would remain on the property.

“That was the ultimatum I received – one tree or nothing,” Ellerbeck said.

“These trees aren’t my trees and they aren’t the city’s trees – they belong to everybody in White Rock. Three families have stolen them from the rest of White Rock.”

Not all residents were supportive of the protesters. A man standing on a Royal Avenue balcony with a camera shouted jeers at them as they made their way up the hill toward city hall.

Clark said following the confrontation in her office that she realizes the protesting residents are “very passionate people.”

“I understand that and respect that,” she said.

But while Policy 611 is under review, it is still in effect, Clark said, adding that city workers, still under the direction of council, had been forced to cut the tree down in the early hours of Thursday morning due to earlier “interference at the work site.”

Resident Susan Watkin told Clark she believes the policy is in contravention of White Rock’s Integrated Stormwater Management Plan and Environmental Strategic Plan.

“If we can’t rely on our governments to stand by their laws, we’re all going to be treated the same way,” she said after the protest, in which she also pleaded with city office staff for their support.

“This is a slippery slope. There should have been an opportunity to mediate this and bring it to a higher level, which would have inspired many people in the community to work together.”

Coun. Helen Fathers, who recently split with the Citizens For Positive Renewal-endorsed majority on council over this and other issues, reiterated to Peace Arch News that she opposes the “cutting of trees to create views.”

“I’m not proud to be a councillor in the City of White Rock today,” she said. “Policy 611 is divisive and it doesn’t take into consideration the whole of the community, which is greater than the sum of its parts.

“We have no obligation whatever to create a view for anyone.”