shade trees before and after cutting

Why does the internet love tree law so much? | TechCrunch

Image credits: @lacontroller on Twitter

It was day 76 of the Hollywood writers’ strike, and once again, comedian Chris Stephens went to the picket line. But when he arrived in front of Universal Studios, he noticed something strange. The trees outside the studio, which offer a rare bit of shade from the brutal Los Angeles sun, have been lopped nearly bare.

A quick shout out to the good folks at @UniversalPics for cutting down the trees that shaded our picket line right before a 90+ degree week, Stephens tweeted.

It’s a historic moment in Hollywood, as as of last week the actors’ and writers’ unions united for the first double strike since 1960. While it’s not conclusively proven that Universal is responsible, the timing seemed ominous to the striking entertainers.

Of course, I can’t say there’s a bunch of people smoking cigars in a room going, ‘Oh, let’s burn ’em all on the sidewalk,’ Stephens told TechCrunch. But the moment everyone on the picket line saw that those trees had been cut down, it seemed intentional.

Universal did not respond to a request for comment.

Stephens’ tweet went viral in part because it’s ludicrous to imagine that a huge studio could have cut down trees in an act of union disruption, but also because there’s apparently a dedicated corner of the internet that’s obsessed with tree law.

Tree Law is what it sounds like: Tree Law. There is a Reddit community, r/treelaw, which has over 77,000 members. Not everyone is an expert on hyperspecific local tree laws. They find this esoteric branch of the law neat, especially when it comes up in extraordinarily specific and bizarre scenarios.

One of Reddit’s most popular communities is r/AmITheAsshole (also known as AITA), where people share the drama going on in their personal lives and ask Reddits to fight over who in the situation is the asshole. Tree Law scratches the same itch as AITA, but it’s weirder, because any situation where trees are involved in a lawsuit is probably a little more niche than a story about a bad breakup.

It’s strange how often tree law comes out online and something of a fandom has formed around it. Like writer Jenna Routenberg explained, I think the basis of the meme is that the story usually goes that some rich asshole hurts trees for his own convenience/aesthetics/property value, and some brave lawyer nails them to some shady statute, and they get fined like crazy.

This appears to be the case with an ongoing dispute, in which a New Jersey homeowner cut down 32 trees on a neighbor’s property, ostensibly to get a better view of New York City, but according to tree law, there is a $1,000 fine for each tree that is cut down without permission. Twitter user @SamAsIAm posted on the incident, which he heard about from a municipal arborist friend. The arborist has discovered that there is a provision requiring mature trees to be replanted, but the area where the trees were cut down is on a mountain that is inaccessible by car, so now the owner who cut down the trees could be accused of paying to build a road. AND replant trees. And because these trees were so old, it will be very difficult and expensive to replace them.

To rephrase this as an AITA post: Am I the asshole if I cut down 32 trees on my neighbors’ property, but instead of charging me a $32,000 fine, they’ll now make me build a road and find equally mature transplanted trees to replant?

Like the situation at Universal, this incident went viral, and when a pretrial hearing took place in June, 200 people tried to join Zoom’s public call.

Of course, the combination of large corporations (supposedly) misbehaving and tree law created a perfect storm for Internet virality. Stephens’ tweet was even spotted by Los Angeles City Comptroller Kenneth Mejia, who investigated the situation.

After consulting with the Bureau of Street Services, Mejia found that the city has not issued any permits to allow these trees to be pruned, nor has any permit been issued in the past three years. Whoever is held responsible for this unbeleafcapable behavior will be charged an administration fee starting at $250, but Stephens says it’s not about the money. When incidents like this go viral among writers and actor strikes, it can help turn the public narrative against the studios. This is a resource writers didn’t have in 2008, when TikTok didn’t exist and Twitter was two years old.

What [studios] I can’t afford it, but it’s priceless, it’s outrage, she said. These are the people who watch their shows and subscribe to their streaming services. They clearly care when people are angry.




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