Maybe it’s time to check if Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn is still carrying his Sierra Club Card. His Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has issued a controversial draft proposal, entitled City of Seattle Proposed Tree Regulations Dated July 14, 2010.

Unfortunately the proposal represents a complete reversal of recent tree protection legislation passed by the Seattle City Council and signed by McGinn’s predecessor, Mayor Greg Nickels. The proposal calls for ending all protection for mature trees in Seattle. It would rescind Director’s Rules 16-2008 which protects exceptional trees in Seattle.

It would also repeal the interim tree ordinance passed last year by the City Council which among other things protected tree groves and limited the number of trees which could be cut down in any given year. DPD’s proposal runs counter to Resolution 31138, passed by the Seattle City Council last year calling for strengthening trees protections, not weakening them. And it ignores most of the problems identified by the City Auditor in 2009 entitled “Management of City’s Trees Can be Improved.”

Seattle’s urban forest and trees comprise an important component of Seattle’s green infrastructure. Our urban forest reduces costs to taxpayers by reducing storm water runoff and cleaning pollutants from the air we breathe. It provides habitat for wildlife, screens noise and reduces weather impacts. Seattle’s urban forest has been in decline in recent decades, losing canopy and mature trees.

The report was prepared in secret without a public process and is being marketed by DPD as the best way to increase our urban forest canopy. Comments will be accepted until Oct 31, 2010. The report proposes that instead of regulation, the city rely on education and incentives to protect trees. Unfortunately there are no good examples of places where this approach has worked.

Other cities are strengthening their tree regulations rather than proposing eliminating them. Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission has reviewed the preliminary draft report and does not support the approach being proposed by DPD. They note that the proposed DPD framework would eliminate protections for trees on 99.5% of Seattle’s property and only apply to the .5% of property being developed each year. Once a building site is complete, there would be no ongoing protections for trees under DPD’s proposal.

DPD is presenting their draft proposal to the Regional Development and Sustainability Committee of the Seattle City Council this afternoon, August 17, 2010 from 2 PM to 4 PM. The Urban Forestry Commission will also be discussing at this meeting their problems with the proposal. They have prepared a written response to DPD’s proposal.

Neighborhood and environmental activists across the City are outraged by the proposal. They held a public meeting at the Broadview Library on August 8, 2010 and decided to organize a Coalition effort to draft a citizen’s alternative to DPD’s proposal. The consensus of the meeting was that the DPD proposal was so extreme and contrary to public opinion and went in the opposite direction from that which other cities are moving; that DPD could not be trusted to prepare a forward looking and comprehensive proposal that addressed the need of the city to protect and expand our our urban forest and trees.

The organizations and community representatives meeting decided to consolidate and focus their efforts to enact a strong urban forestry ordinance under one umbrella group. The group agreed to organize under the auspices of Save the Trees-Seattle which has been fighting to save the old trees at Ingraham High School for the last two and one half years. Save the Trees-Seattle also came up with the idea of Seattle having an Urban Forestry Commission based on science. The City Council created the Urban Forestry Commission last year and they have been meeting since January. Save the Trees – Seattle also worked to pass the interim tree ordinance enacted last year.

The new coaltion under the name Save the Trees – Seattle established a legislative committee which will be putting together a citizen’s draft ordinance. They will be seeking public input and welcome tree advocates and others from around the city to participate in the process. They will send their draft proposal to various groups and organizations around the city for review and will be speaking before interested organizations, seeking public feedback.

Coalition members of Save the Trees –Seattle have agreed on some preliminary proposals that they believe should be incorporated in any comprehensive urban forestry and tree ordinance. These include:

1. Maintain and expand protection for exceptional trees and tree groves

2. Expand current permit system for street trees to include all trees over 6 inches in diameter on public and private property; 2 week posting of permits on internet and visible sign on site, appeal process

3. Comprehensive regulations that cover both public and private sectors

4. Consolidate oversight, regulation and enforcement in an independent department other than DPD, that does not have a conflict of interest

5. License and train all arborists and tree cutting operations; with fines and suspension for violations of law

6. Give priority to native trees and vegetation to help preserve native plants and animals

7. Emphasis on habitat and ecological processes and soil as part of urban forestry

8. All real estate sales to require disclosure of exceptional trees on property or all trees requiring a permit to remove

9. Define canopy cover in terms of volume and area

10. Rebate on utility bills based on exceptional trees (or all trees over 6 inches in diameter) on property; property owners file to get rebate like they file for senior’s property tax exemption

11. Meaningful and descriptive site plans that show existing and proposed trees to scale.

The coalition will meet again on August 29, 2010 at the Broadview Public Library from 1:30 to 4:30 PM.

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