The following are comments presented to the Seattle City Council’s Committee on Regional Development and Sustainability on June 4, 2010 by Steve Zemke, the Chairperson of Save the Trees – Seattle
“I want to again commend the Council for their action last year in recognizing the importance of Seattle’s urban forest to the infrastructure and well being of our city through their actions to create the Urban Forestry Commission and set a task of revising and strengthening our tree and urban forestry ordinances.
The 9 member Urban Forestry Commission has been meeting since January and has been busy coming to grips with the multitude of issues dealing with trees in the city. I have been impressed with the commitment and level of thought and experience the Commissioners have brought to the table to assist the Mayor and City Council in their efforts to protect trees and reach the goal of significantly increasing Seattle’s urban forest and canopy.
I think if anything the Commission has been faced with too many issues and need now to refocus their efforts by doing a long range work plan. I believe their main priority should be to focus in on helping you draft and evaluate provisions as proposed for a revised tree and urban forestry ordinance in Council Resolution Number 31138 passed last August 3, 2009, the same day you created the urban forestry commission.
Trees continue to be lost every day in the city. Rumor circulating among city departments dealing with trees has it that a figure of 17,000 trees a year are lost in Seattle. We need to deal with this loss by among other things setting up an expanded permit system to remove any tree over 6 inches on both private and public property. Other cities do this and successfully. They are placing a much higher priority on having a green city than Seattle is.
Permits are already required before someone can remove a street tree.
In addition all persons performing tree trimming and removal should be required to get a business license from the city before they can remove trees in the city as a business. Our current system of protecting exceptional trees is complaint based. By the time anyone in the city receives a complaint the trees are gone.
Rather than requiring property owners to understand all the in and outs of complex tree regulations thoroughly, put the burden on those who profit by illegally cutting down trees in our city. Severe penalties and loss or suspension of a business license would go a long way to end illegal tree cutting. Educating several hundred people engaged as arborists or other tree service people in city laws to protect trees is a lot easier than trying to reach some 600,000 or so city residents.
The city needs to move now to tighten our urban forestry protections. Please urge the Urban Forestry Commission to focus their energies on helping you fulfill the directives given in Resolution 31138.”
Seattle’s City Auditor today released a report today entitled “Management of City Trees Can be Improved.” A year in the making, one could argue that this report’s title is a classic example of understatement.
Citizens have been complaining for quite a few years that Seattle City Government has been avoiding acting to seriously save Seattle’s urban forest from both neglect and development. The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) for years has been giving developers thumbs up to cut down trees rather than finding ways to incorporate trees into the building process and landscaping.
The DPD Director’s Rule 6-2001 only classified about 1% of Seattle’s trees as significant and worthy of being saved. An updated version of this Director’s Rule 16-2008 revised the threshold to now classify a whopping 5% of Seattle trees as significant.
Unfortunately being classified as significant is not the same as “do not cut”. Instead it only means that more emphasis is put on requiring replacement trees. But cutting a 75 year old Douglas fir and replacing it with 2 saplings is hardly is any kind of equivalence.
So if Seattle’s urban canopy is now 18% and only 5% of those trees have a chance of being classified as significant, please tell me how Mayor Nickels plans to increase our tree canopy 30% in 30 year’s when 3/4′s of Seattle’s trees are on private property subject to development or redevelopment?
While Seattle has an Urban Forestry Management Plan written in 2007 that outlines a plan to increase our tree canopy, the Seattle City Auditor today in a briefing before the Seattle City Council noted that it has never been adopted by the Seattle City Council. And he noted that tree management responsibilities are scattered across 9 Seattle City Departments without any clear authority residing anywhere for overall management responsibility.
The Auditor’s report came up with 6 major findings:
1. Implementing new regulations is an important next step for tree preservation.
2. Funding issues are pivotal for implementing the Urban Forest management Plan.
3. Shared responsibilities place a premium on effective cooperation and coordination
4. The Urban Forest Management Plan’s education and outreach program is still in it’s preliminary stage.
5. A complete tree inventory has not been conducted.
6. The City’s management framework for implementing the Urban Forest Management Plan can be strengthened.
The Auditor’s report notes that “Most of Seattle’s trees are on private property and the greatest potential for planting new trees is also on private property. Hence, public outreach and education to promote proper management of privately owned trees and to encourage new tree planting are paramount in the City’s effort to sustain and expand the tree canopy.
Council President Richard Conlin in a press release on the Auditor’s Report state’s his belief that the city must “do a better job of providing incentives to landowners. Instead of removing tress to make development less expensive, the city should be helping developers actively trying to build in a way that maintains mature trees – which is in the property owners’ best interests. Right now the City does not provide that incentive.”
Maybe the incentive is as simple as reminding builders that mature trees can add as much as 7 to 19% to a property’s value. That seems like a good profit margin right there. Seven per cent on a $400,000 house is $28,000. That’s no small change.
Public testimony by Steve Zemke
Re: Ingraham High School Renovation
April 9, 2008
We think it is a flawed process that is in fact offending the neighborhood and the taxpayers in the city that voted to provide the $20 million dollars to add new classrooms to replace the portables. If the public had been told upfront before they voted on the bond issue what you intended to do, we don’t believe you ever would have gotten the bonds approved.
And now citizens of Seattle and taxpayers who voted to pay for the new classrooms are outraged. They are incredulous. They are in disbelief. You have lost credibility in the eyes of the public. They can’t believe you are proposing to cut down 100 foot tall trees that are 40 to 50 years old when alternative sites exist to build the new classrooms. In particular there is a large open area on the north side of the school where an addition can be built with a courtyard and probably more lighting available to the classrooms than the proposed addition.
Cutting down 2/3 of the grove of trees goes against what Mayor Nickels is asking the city to do – preserve existing trees and add significantly more new trees to re-green the city. It goes against what the State Legislature just passed in the urban forestry bill which called for preserving existing trees and planting more trees.
While no budget figures have been made available to the public and we’ve asked for the budget and for copies of alternatives that were looked at and their costs and have not gotten them, the school district has quoted to the media a figure of $1 million dollars more to move the building to the north side. For 66 trees that means you have assigned them a value of $15,000 per tree.
Meanwhile the City of Seattle is paying $9 million for 3 ½ acres to buy the North park and ride lot at Northgate and make it a park. They paid $3 million to buy a 39,000 sq foot lot in Ballard for a Park. Have you ever thought of selling the trees to the City of Seattle? They seem to be willing to pay a lot for asphalt parking lots for parks and here you have a mature forested area you’re gung ho to cut down.
Tonight we’re delivering to you signed petitions collected by Ingraham High School neighbors who got other neighbors to sign asking that you develop an alternative design for Ingraham High School that does not require the cutting down of any large old trees in the grove on the west side of the school.
More than 650 citizens and Seattle neighbors signed the petition urging you to save the trees at Ingraham. Signers of the petition include King County Executive Ron Sims; State Senators Ed Murray and Ken Jacobsen; and State Representatives Mary Lou Dickerson and Phyllis Kenney.
We urge that you set an example for the students the public has entrusted to your care for their education by stepping back and showing wise environmental stewardship. Protect the tress at Ingraham High School and don’t cut them down.
Work with the neighborhood and Seattle taxpayers and Mayor Nickels and the Seattle City Council and the state legislature. Pick another site and design a building we can be proud of and that educates all of us in the possibility of living in harmony with our natural environment without destroying it.
Living in harmony with our environment is a priceless lesson. You can set no better example for students than to show we can do better than those in the past have and that we can live in a sustainable healthy urban environment without cutting down our green heritage.
Steve Zemke for
Save the Trees!
2131 N 132nd St
Seattle, WA 98133
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