Pattaya residents rightly have a lot of reasons to complain these days, but beachfront trees aren’t one of them.
A long-planned beachfront facelift got underway Sunday – and was halted Monday – by protests both on- and off-line about the cutting of shady trees lining Beach Road, as well as the timing of a revamp in the middle of a pandemic.
While the optics of launching a 166-million-baht landscaping project, even as thousands of Pattaya residents are queuing daily for free-food handouts, are terrible, complaining about cutting and uprooting common sea almond trees is just stupid.
Even Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome seemed mystified Tuesday by the online uproar by anonymous keyboard warriors and the objections raised by a handful of protestors Monday. With the exception of maybe one, none of the trees to be removed is special and most of them weren’t even in the ground eight years ago.
The moaners obviously have a short memory: Large numbers of trees were removed in 2013 when Beach Road was widened during one of the many Pattaya Beach facelifts in the past 20 years.
Then, just as now, trees were replanted and all the shade return, allowing people to escape the sun and hookers and ladyboys to lie in wait. But eight years ago, 3.5 meters of foliage was taken out to add a lane to Beach Road. No one complains about that now, of course.
Kvetching is nothing new for the Thai Visa – sorry, “ASEAN Now” – crowd of bitter old Yanks and Eurotrash. Plenty of them got hot and bothered when Nong Nooch Landscape & Garden Design Co. – the lead contractor on the Pattaya Beach project – began hacking and pulling out even older and larger trees on Jomtien Beach as it began a 550-million-baht facelift there.
Just as in Pattaya two years before that, all new trees were added and the completed Jomtien Beach landscaping work is widely seen as a glowing success.
Sonthaya, speaking to the media, rightly pointed out that sea almonds are common soft woods that grow like weeds. They are not unique or highly prized.
The soft wood, however, is easily broken during any high wind or storm. Branches even snap under the weight of coconuts. The falling wood and fruit pose constant danger to beach vendors and users, Sonthaya said.
The trees will be replaced with harder wood that provides as much, if not more, shade, he said.
None of this should be news to Pattaya’s residents, Sonthaya observed: The project has been in the works since 2019 and had been detailed in public hearings. No doubt the Facebook bitchers never bothered to go to one.
As for the price tag and timing, that’s a different matter. But, again, Pattaya and its mayor are on sound ground. All the grousing about spending 166 million baht now, as the city’s economy crumbles, is based on ignorance and false assumption.
The new beach facelift had been planned ever since work to widen the beach to 35 meters was completed in 2018. It was officially proposed to the Pattaya City Council last year and the first installment of funding was approved by the Interior Ministry for the fiscal 2020-21 budget, which began in October.
During that time, Pattaya was fully open, Covid-19 was in remission and planning for a post-pandemic world was in full swing.
The revamp, Sonthaya argued at the time, was aimed squarely at Thai tourists on which Pattaya would rely until foreign tourists returned in large numbers. Thais need parking and the new plan calls for 700 new spaces. Eveyrone needs restrooms, and the plan includes three of them.
Pattaya Beach always has lost business to Bangsaen, Bang Saray and even Jomtien Beach because of its lack of parking and faciliites. If Pattaya Beach and the hundreds of vendors that work it and downtown businesses that depend on it hoped to be competitive after the pandemic ends, the overhaul was needed.
It still is. None of those reasons has been negated just because the government botched its vaccination campaign and allowed Covid-19 to burn through society in 2021.
So, even though it looks bad, Pattaya had no choice but to begin the renovation now. The money had already been disbursed and the city legally cannot reallocate to the 166 million to coronavirus relief or anything else.
It’s “use it or lose it”: Pattaya must spend the money before Sept. 30 or it reverts to the Finance Ministry and the entire project gets delayed by at least 14 months. By that time, tourists would be back, but have nowhere park or pee.