The Tree-Killing Poet of Santa Cruz - Glendale City and Santa Cruz Rob Locals of Their Green

This is a case of Xtreme Green PC fusing in a most horrific way with petty government bureaucracy to form a hybrid and ruthless monster that continues even now to oppress and frighten the California natives. Is this poetic justice? ... I have permission from THE POTOMAC to reprint this priceless piece written by the poet victim himself, Robert Sward.

THE KILLER OF KILLER TREES OUT ON A LIMB IN SANTA CRUZ -- so the headline read, but "Robert Sward, 68, of Santa Cruz, doesn't look, sound or act like a tree murderer."

The Sacramento Bee, after a few kind words about my poetry (“his verse, more lovely than any weed tree...”) went on, “One might suppose Robert would obey the city ordinance that protects heritage trees. Instead, he flings it down and dances upon it.”

The blue gum eucalyptus—or “gasoline tree,” as firefighters call it—is an invasive exotic from Australia that evolved with fire. Fire doesn’t kill blue gums. Instead, it clears out the competition and opens their seed pods.

After ten years of appealing to The City, I took the law into my own hands and murdered a tree. A few weeks later, I stood before Santa Cruz City Council, our lawyer present, facing a $9,000 fine. The tree resided in what PC officials choose to call a “grove.” The grove in question, four or five shallow-rooted, fire-prone monsters endangering our home, is situated on our property, on which we pay taxes.

Our property, our trees, our taxes.

Yes, I was once politically correct, a stoned, well-intended, holier-than-thou innocent. That was in the days before political correctness became a force that would determine the outcome of elections. That was back before I became “an enemy of the people.” That is, an enemy of the blue gum euc.

You don’t run for office, certainly not in this area, unless you’re PC and pro-euc. Hence the power of those who would fine us $9,000.

True, City Council later reduced the fine to $1,500, which our lawyer suggested we pay.
“All of which has Santa Cruz’s tree-killing poet [and his neighbors] bewildered,” said the Los Angeles Times in a Column One, front page feature. Yes, it’s true. I am bewildered.
“Sward doesn’t see the sense of it: These are his trees. This is his danger. “ There are some in Santa Cruz who believe the blue gum is more important than human life.” And that’s not an exaggeration. An esteemed arborist who himself works for the city told me, “There are people on Santa Cruz City Council who wouldn’t move a eucalyptus if it were lying across the body of a small child.”

And my problems are small compared to those of Ann Collard.

Back last November I picked up a copy of the Los Angeles Times. The headline: OUT ON A LIMB OVER A TRIMMING FIASCO. And the lead: “Everybody's got a horror story about a bureaucratic nightmare, but if you can top this one, call me collect at your earliest convenience.”

According to the Times: “. . . Ann Collard was seven months pregnant with her third child in June when an abatement notice came from the Glendale Fire Department. She and her husband, Mike, were ordered to clear some foliage and maintain 5 feet of 'vertical clearance between roof surfaces and overhanging portions of trees.' ”

The Collards knew their oaks and sycamores needed a trim. And so they talked to neighbors, did a little research and called a recommended tree trimmer based in Orange County. For $3,000, the guy said, he'd remove about 15% of the foliage and they'd be in the clear. The Collards asked if a permit was necessary. Not at all, said the licensed trimmer, who told the Collards he'd done lots of work in Glendale.

On the third day of the three-day job, the city's urban forester happened to be in the neighborhood, and noticed the tree trimmer doing his thing. “She saw what was happening and said, ‘Stop! Cease and desist!’” says Mike, a work-at-home software and computer guy.

Finally, a letter arrived. It was from Glendale's Neighborhood Services administrator. “Dear Owner,” it began. “The city of Glendale is committed to maintaining a community with quality streetscapes that include the care and well-being of protected indigenous trees.”

The letter informed them they had improperly pruned 13 trees, some of them on city property because they were near the street, and some on their own property. The fine was listed on Page 2, where the Collards were informed they would be charged “two times the value of the damaged tree(s).”

“Total: $347,600.”

The Collards hired an attorney who got hold of the arborist's report, which alleged they'd had up to 60% of the foliage whacked on some trees. The trimmer used spiked shoes, too. A no-no. But they dispute the 60% allegation and have before-and-after pictures to argue their point. The Collards then called City Hall repeatedly to see if someone might offer them an option other than robbing a bank. When they got no satisfaction, they started a website to lay out their case and call for revision of the tree-cutting ordinance.

The Collards soon found out they weren't the only victims of excessive fines.

One can't help but wonder if the city of Glendale wasn't waxing judgmental in order to conveniently pad the budget?


  1. This was so ludicrous a fine that I called the number on their website for the Glendale City Council and inquired. They admitted that they had sent the notice, but I was given the city manager to talk to who explained that they had since straightened out the matter and that they were only fined a couple of hundred dollars. Wow! Scary!