City takes years to fell trouble tree

“If God works in mysterious ways,” the He doesn’t have a patch on Cape Town, which is why Fred Fruchtl why it took the municipality two years to remove a tree that his Rontree Avenue neighbour planted illegally on the pavement, blocking the Fruchtls’ access to their front garden.

The Camps Bay resident first complained in September 2018.

Two years later when Parks and Recreation eventually visited the house, they decided the tree wasn’t blocking access to the driveway. They looked at the wrong tree.

Officials couldn’t say why they didn’t enforce the first notice ordering the neighbour to remove the tree; or why they ignored a request for an explanation from the City’s media department as well as one from Greg Wagner, mayor Dan Plato’s spokesperson.

Mr Fruchtl said: “We spoke to Bianca Bernardo about the tree and she sent an email to Justin Andrews and Ashwin at the mayor’s office and copied to us. There was no response so we contacted her again; and on November 19 2018, she emailed Veronique Hartnick and Nangamso Maqina and copied us, again without acknowledgement; we emailed the mayor’s office on December 13 and it was sent to Konanani Phadziri who forwarded it to Keith Hartnick and copied to us; on February 14 2019 we sent an email to the director, Vincent Botto, and another one to him on March 7. None was acknowledged; on March 18, Mr Phadziri sent an email to Keith Hartnick, which was copied to Pauline McConney, Veronique Hartnick, and Ashwin, and us, and it went in to a black hole. We phoned Ashwin who told us he had not received an answer since December 2018,” Mr Fruchtl said.

That’s why the City moves so ponderously. Their bureaucrats have mastered the art of passing the buck to the nth degree.

Mr Fruchtl asked me in May 2019 to intervene when nobody offered him any help.

“As far as we know it is illegal to plant trees on pavements without council approval in writing, and if they did approve it, surely not in front of a garden gate. This is the only access to our garden and braai area. The tree has grown considerably since it was planted and the neighbour elevated the ground around it causing water run-off into our property and making it impossible for us to finish off the pavement,” said Mr Fruchtl.

This happened while the Fruchtls were abroad and the neighbour was doing renovations.

“We did try to talk to him once but he told us to speak to our lawyer and he swore at my wife” Mr Fruchtl claimed.

It took weeks to elicit a response. Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, confirmed that the tree was planted on council land in front of Mr Fruchtl’s property without the approval by the City or Mr Fruchtl’s consent.

“The tree is not blocking any views or the entrance gate of the property,” Dr Badroodien said.

Which is incorrect as Mr Fruchtl pointed out, “The tree is in front of our garden gate, not our driveway.”

Dr Badroodien said the neighbour has been given the opportunity to remove and replant the tree.

“Should this not happen, the City will remove it,” he said.

However, the neighbour ignored the first order as he did the second notice.

Then on December 20 2019, area head for horticulture, Pauline McConney, emailed Mr Fruchtl: “I have a few site visits today in the Sea Point area, and may not be able to come today. Please send me your contact number in order to phone and advise you before my visit.” She didn’t.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Fruchtls received a reply from Keith Hartnick, Recreation and Parks, who said, “A letter was handed over to your neighbour on February 5 to remove the tree; given a time, and the option to relocate it himself”.

Mr Hartnick knew about the tree that was causing all the trouble on November 20, 2018, as did Ms McConney who sent him another message on March 18 2019.

After a visit to the site on January 23, this year, the first time he had been there, Mr Hartnick told the Fruchtls, “I will order a suitable tree from our nursery and plant it on the sidewalk in front of your premises which you undertook to water and care for. This process should take approximately 10 working days.”

Ten days is not long considering that the Fruchtls have been waiting two years for some action.

On Friday March 6 2020, Mr Fruchtl wrote: “Congratulations on your success. The council arrived this morning, dug up the tree and loaded it on to a truck. We had zero response from the council and this tree would have lived in front of our gate forever if you had not sorted it out. Sincere thanks for your help.”

Dr Badroodien said: “If the tree is not removed the City will remove it. Law Enforcement ensured that the resident signed for the letter on February 4 2020 when officials visited the property on January 23 and it was agreed that the neighbour would be granted the opportunity to remove and replant the palm tree by March 5.”

He didn’t so the City did.

*God works in mysterious ways because He doesn’t want you to know the answer, according to some Biblical opinions.