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Additional Comments to Urban Forestry Commission – regarding Seattle DPD’s latest draft tree ordinance updates

July 18, 2012

Steve Zemke Chair-Save the Trees- Seattle

 

Are DPD’s proposed revisions to our tree code the best we can do? It is important to compare them with what others are doing and one example is the new ordinance passed by Portland, Oregon last year.  Portland’s adopted code is much stronger than that proposed by DPD for Seattle.

On April 13, 2011 Portland, Oregon adopted much stronger tree protection regulations to protect their urban forest. The ordinance became effective May 13, 2011 and the actual regulations go into effect on Feb 1, 2011.  You can see the ordinance here:

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/index.cfm?&a=3457132 page summary
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/350786?&login=1Title 11 Trees Portland, Oregon

Portland currently has about a 26% canopy cover and has a goal of reaching 33%.

Their new ordinance consolidates tree rules under one title.

It addresses both public and private trees, both during development and outside development.

A City Forester is responsible for trees outside the development process and acts as a consultant during the development process with their development agency and also with a “responsible Engineer” overseeing utility, street trees and other public trees.

A two tier permit system to remove trees is established, applications being in writing or online.

Prior exemption for single family lots removed because of confusion.

It applies to street and city trees 3” or larger in diameter and private trees 12” or larger in diameter

private trees in some special zones 6” or larger also covered

Tree for tree replacement required for most permits, with inch for inch replacement or mitigation on 20 “‘ or larger trees.

A fee is assessed to process applications.

Tree permits must be posted on site.

Applicants can appeal city decisions on tree permits.  Public can appeal decisions on trees 20” or greater or more than 4 trees per year 12” or larger.

Development process focuses on saving large healthy trees, native trees and groves.

Building permits require 1/3 of trees on site 12” or larger to be retained or mitigated.

Building permits require meeting tree density standards and achieving baseline canopy goals.

These are a few of the provisions in Portland’s tree ordinance. It is important to note that this ordinance was developed in a much more open and public process than DPD’ has used. We ask again that DPD post all meetings open to the public on their website so that citizens in Seattle can find opportunities to listen to the discussion and give feedback to the City.  We also ask that DPD publicly post all comments submitted on their website, like Shoreline recently did, and like what is happening currently on comments on the Urban Forest Management Plan Update.

for ezrlier comments see:

http://www.majorityrules.org/2012/07/seattle-dpds-latest-draft-tree-ordinance-needs-strengthening-part-1.html

The following comments were submitted by Save the Trees – Seattle to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission regarding the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s latest draft Tree Ordinace. You can see the draft proposal here: www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/trees

Preliminary Comments to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission –

regarding latest DPD draft of tree ordinance

July 18, 2012

Save the Trees-Seattle

Our initial observations: This draft is a disappointment but not unexpected considering DPD’s previous proposal. DPD spends the bulk of the 56 page draft ordinance on specific provisions regarding sites where they are issuing building permits and very little on protecting trees outside the development process.

While there are some good additions, like requiring all projects to add street trees, this provision already exists in most zones. They are adding it for Single Family Residential and Institutions. And while it appears they are now requiring permits to remove exceptional trees which they define as over 24″ in diameter, at the same time they remove any limitations on removing any trees smaller than this and also remove protections for tree groves. Brennan Staley made the comment at the UFC that one analysis showed that only 14% of the trees in the city were over 24″ dbh, meaning that 86% of the trees could be removed outside the development process with no limitations.

Their old definition for removing trees was that they would be saved unless they limit the development potential of a lot. They are now saying an exceptional tree will be saved “unless the location of proposed principle (sic) structure would not allow an adequate tree protection area…” It’s just a different way of saying the sane thing.

By simplifying their definition of an exceptional tree to one 24″ in diameter they are removing protections for many trees that the Director’s Rule 16-2008 on Designation of Exceptional Trees classified as exceptional with a much smaller dbh depending on the tree species. Madrona trees for example were classified as exceptional at 6″ dbh and Quacking aspen at 12″ and Pacific dogwood at 6″. They would no longer be exceptional under DPD’s new proposal.

Currently people are able to remove 3 trees a year from their property. This is way too many but DPD removes all protections for trees less than 24″ in diameter . The current system is not acceptable because the number needs to be less and because we need a permit system to track loss and hopefully slow loss by educating people on the value of our trees. Vancouver, BC, eg, limits removal to 1 per year. Shoreline’s recently passed ordinance varies the number based on lot size.

DPD does nothing to mitigate loss of non-exceptional trees. The problem remains that tree protection should not be under DPD. It should be administered by a department that has a vested interest in saving trees and can be an advocate for doing that, not a Department whose main mission is to help people develop their property and find ways to make it easier for them to remove trees. Possible Departments with more of a mission to save trees include Seattle Public Utilities, Office of Sustainability and Environment and the Parks Department. DPD could still oversee the process of tree protection during development but not over private trees outside development.

Some good things in the draft:

1. Adding single family homes and institutions undergoing development to list of zones that must add street trees.

2. Requiring an online permit to remove trees larger than 24″ dbh.

3. Implementing tree removal application fee for exceptional trees to help cover cost and evaluation

4. Removing single family home lots smaller than 5000 sf from not being covered by new ordinance.

5. Higher credit given for evergreens saved or planted during development

What is missing from this draft:

1. Protection of tree groves

2. Protection of trees smaller than 24″ dbh, including trees previously classified as exceptional

3. A permit system for trees smaller than 24″dbh

4. Extending the permit system for exceptional trees to include public trees

5. Consolidating oversight, regulation and enforcement in a Department without a conflict of interest like DPD has.

6. licensing and training for arborists and tree removal companies

7. posting completed tree removal applications on line and posting of property

8. requiring disclosure of exceptional trees on property by real estate agents when property is sold

9. incentives to save trees like utility rebates

10. replacement of trees removed so there is no net loss of canopy over time, except some during development for not meeting credits

11 requirement to id all trees on property in development plans.

12. more emphasis on native trees and habitat values in tree plantings and preservation

It is important to note that Portland has approved a much more far reaching ordinance last year to protect their trees citywide that goes into effect in 2013.

At the last Urban Forestry Commission meeting Brennon Staley, the DPD lead for the new draft tree ordinance, asserted that if his version is enacted we would have the strongest tree ordinance of any large NW city. I do not agree.

I forwarded this post last September to the UFC noting that Portland has made significant moves in their urban forestry protection efforts, including protections for private trees on single family lots.

http://www.majorityrules.org/2011/09/portland-oregon-leads-the-way-in-protecting-its-trees-seattle-needs-to-follow.html

Here are the two pertinent links in that post, You’ll have to log in to the city website to access them. Because the bulk of the new tree ordinance does not go into effect until next year (2013) it appears the new ordinance does not come up easily in a Google search of Portland’s tree policies. This may be the result of an effort by Portland to not confuse the public as to what they are currently required to do.

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/index.cfm?&a=345713 2 page summary

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/350786?&login=1 Title 11 Trees Portland, Oregon

I will be providing more detail on Portland’s law in my public comments later but wanted to give UFC members a chance to check out the links before today’s meeting. We can do a lot more to protect private trees than DPD’s current draft proposes.

Steve Zemke
Chair – Save the Trees -Seattle
stevezemke@msn.com

To Shoreline City Council

June 18, 2012

Regarding Amendments to Code regarding Trees

Dear City Council and Mayor:

I want to urge your support for Ordinance No 640 as in Attachment A-1 as recommended by the Planning Commission.

While I do not believe the amendments go very far in terms of protecting trees in the future, they are a step in the right direction.  The proposals from staff labeled as Attachment A-2 in the May 21st Council memo for Agenda item 8(a) at your June 18, 2012 meeting  do not take into account future development or the lack of precision in your canopy calculations in your March 2011 Canopy Assessment. That study noted that it has a 2 foot resolution and the earlier study had a 90 foot resolution.  The earlier data are called approximations – I could not find what the range of accuracy was. The study does note that a “1% increase would take approximately 6000 trees with a mature crown diameter of 30 feet”.  Thus if the earlier value was 32% or 33% canopy cover you’re talking about 6000 to 12,000 trees being removed.

If you do not require some type of tracking of trees being removed you have no good way of tracking your success and how many trees you need to replace just to keep at the same level of canopy.  This is why a tree removal permit would help.  And a requirement that trees being removed be replaced either on or off site would help you to maintain canopy.  But saying you can remove 6 trees in 3 years and not be required to replace them says you are going to lose canopy over time.

I find the most recent comments by the Innis Arden Club as not credible.  They are arguing for being able to remove trees with no regard for the impact on storm water runoff, habitat value, noise screening, air pollution reduction as biased by their position that “ view” trumps all other considerations.  Innis Arden is only one area of Shoreline and they need to join the rest of the Community of Shoreline in working to protect the common urban forest and the values it provides to urban living.

One example of their lack of scientific credibility is their statement that there is no justification for protecting 30”DBH trees.  Tree Services magazine for example notes that:

One hot issue in cities now is managing storm water. Only the big trees have the capacity to intercept about 80 percent of a 1-inch rainfall, compared to small trees, which intercept only 16 percent. “To a storm water engineer, a large tree is the perfect management system,” said Kirwan.

Large trees in urban areas, however, are on the decline—about 25 percent of city tree canopy has disappeared in the past 30 years according to a satellite image analysis conducted by American Forests (www.americanforests.org), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group. The organization estimates that 634,407,719 trees are currently missing from metropolitan areas across the United States as a result of urban (and suburban) development.

In terms of pollution, big trees are sorely being missed in cities. They remove 60 to 70 percent more pollution than small trees, and they can also absorb more than 1,500 gallons of water a year. They also keep temperatures down. In Atlanta, Ga., for example, where 380,000 acres of trees have been cut down in the city and surrounding areas in the past 30 years, the average temperature is 5 to 8 degrees higher than surrounding woodlands. “http://www.treeservicesmagazine.com/article-1300.aspx

This is just one example of why big trees need to be protected and why you need to put in place measures to maintain or increase canopy and trees in Shoreline.

So I urge you to consider these issues carefully and realize that pressures to remove the urban forest trees will only increase.  Now is the time to act to put in place to protect trees, not keep the status quo or weaken  protections that will cause more problems and costs for future citizens living in Shoreline .

 

Steve Zemke

Chair – Save the Trees – Seattle

Note added:

On June 18, 2012 the Shoreline City Council by a vote of 4 to 3 did approve most of the recommendations of their Planning Commission, including reducing the numbers of trees that could be removed in a 3 year period from 6 on all lots to a variable 3-6 depending on lot size.  They also required a permit to remove trees over 30 inches in diameter at breast height.

for more information see – Of Paramount Importance – “Shoreline’s Trees: A triumph of Hope Over Fear”

June 11, 2012

To the Shoreline City Council

Regarding your proposed Tree Code Amendments, I wish to express my concern that they appear to do little to add tree protection to Shoreline.  My wife and I have owned a rental house in Shoreline for about 15 years.  My observation has been that trees continue to come down and replacement trees are not planted. One neighbor next door removed an evergreen tree taller than their house and a mature Mountain ash.  No replacement trees were planted. Several older Douglas firs have also been cut on other properties in the neighborhood and these are only ones I saw cut down and had firsthand knowledge of.

These first hand observations lend concern to your Urban Tree Canopy Assessment of March 2011. While the accuracy of evaluating canopy area has significantly improved by the 2009 study, I find it difficult to accept any statement that canopy cover is about the same as in 1992 and 2001.  As the study acknowledges the earlier studies are “rough estimates of canopy and impervious land cover based on coarse 30 meter resolution land use data “.  30 meters is over 90 feet or about a third of the length of a football field. Later it says that the 30% values for canopy “are approximates” and “This data is generalized and therefore not to be compared to the more detailed CITYgreen data.”

What this says to me is that you have a much more detailed and more accurate analysis based on the 2009 data that indicates a present value of about 30.6% canopy. This is below your stated goal of 35%. What you do not have are reliable comparison points because of the lack of resolution of the previous studies. You also state a goal of not losing more canopy.

Besides reducing the number of trees that can be removed over a three year period based on lot size you are really not increasing tree protection in my view.  This is particularly true when one considers that removing the prohibition on removing trees from undeveloped lots will increase the probability of more trees being removed. This is a step backwards and increases the probability of trees in remaining groves being reduced.

You put in place no mechanism for tracking trees being removed which is what a permit system does.  Requiring permits for trees over 30 inches to be removed only deals with one segment of the trees in the city. A 30 inch Douglas fir is going to be about 75 years old and 100 feet tall.  One problem here is that by only giving some protection to the oldest trees you allow younger replacement trees to be cut.  What happens when the old trees die if you do not have replacement trees to take their place. A healthy urban forest needs a range of tree ages and sizes for both replacement as old trees die and also for varied habitat for birds and insects. Bird species typically stratify in trees such that older Douglas firs for example actually have 3 different vertical layers of bird habitat.

I believe a permit system is the best way to track tree loss and also understand the health of your urban forest. It also functions to educate people about the value of trees. Such a system is important in maintaining a diverse habitat for wildlife and replacement. Such a permit system does not have to be cost prohibitive but can be set up as an online system with approval given online. Google street maps for example have street views which can be used to visually see things from a street level as well as Google maps viewing from space.

It also seems imperative if you don’t want to lose canopy and trees that you must require replacement of equivalent trees either on site or off site. While canopy may increase due to existing tree growth, without replacement you are decreasing the absolute number of trees as well as the potential diversity of trees.  From a stormwater runoff sense coniferous trees provide value year round.  Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall.  They provide little help in the winter. This is another reason to track tree loss, to see which species and what size trees are being cut down.

Another issue that needs to be considered is the use of native trees for replacement trees.  Native trees are supportive of native insect and bird species as well as adapted to climate and rain conditions in the NW.

Tree canopy as defined in your 2009 study is also only two dimensional whereas the value and worth of canopy to the urban forest is also based on canopy volume.  Cutting tall old conifer trees and replacing them with small trees like street trees are not an equivalence in value to the city in terms of the benefits different size and species of trees provide to the city and its residents.

Something Shoreline should look into is setting up a tree wiki like San Francisco and Philadelphia have.  It is an excellent tracking tool for change and a great educational tool for citizens, students, community groups and others.  You can check these out at these two links:

http://urbanforestmap.org/  and http://phillytreemap.org/

Seattle Audubon currently has a grant to start up a tree map wiki in Seattle. Joining this effort by adding Shoreline would be a great asset for both cites in trying to evaluate and protect the urban forest resources both have. I urge you look into this.

Steve Zemke

Chair – Save the Trees – Seattle

Note added for update:

On June 18, 2012 the Shoreline City Council by a vote of 4 to 3 did approve most of the recommendations of their Planning Commission, including reducing the numbers of trees that could be removed in a 3 year period from 6 on all lots to a variable 3-6 depending on lot size.  They also required a permit to remove trees over 30 inches in diameter at breast height.

for more information see – Of Paramount Importance - “Shoreline’s Trees: A triumph of Hope Over Fear”

Trees removed from Ingraham High School in 2011

 

Trees being cut at Ingraham High School in 2011

Citizens file public records request for Mayor McGinn and DPD to disclose who is involved in drafting legislation to significantly reduce protection for trees in Seattle

On Friday, May 25, 2012 Save the Trees-Seattle filed public records requests with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and with the Office of the Mayor regarding their roles in implementing and carrying out the directives in Seattle City Council Resolution 31138 and to find out who else is involved.

Resolution 31138 passed August 3 2009 and requested “that the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) submit legislation by May 2010 to establish a comprehensive set of regulations and incentives to limit the removal of trees and promote the retention and addition of trees within the City of Seattle on both private and public property, including city park land. DPD shall consult with all city departments that own lands that will be affected by these regulations or incentives.”

However in response to this resolution DPD submitted a scoping document in 2011 that mostly ignored the issues and direction that the Seattle City Council asked to be considered. Instead they  proposed dropping all existing regulations to protect significant trees and tree groves in Seattle. saying that all that was needed were incentives and education. This is contrary to the direction most other cities are moving.

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission and tree advocates strongly objected to last year’s scoping document’s conclusions and the flawed public review process that DPD held. When asked, DPD’s representative on several occasions publicly stated that they did not have to tell the public where and when public meetings were being held where people could give input. They would not post on the city’s website the places and times publicly paid city workers were discussing the proposed ordinance. They then tried to claim that they sought public input.

Unlike Shoreline which last year conducted a public process to receive citizen input on their proposed tree ordinance and posted citizen comment on the website, DPD only “summarized” what input they received and did not release or post what citizens and others actually submitted. They did not as far as we could tell record most public comments at meetings we attended or have a form for people to respond to nor did they take notes of most comments. In other words we did not really see a public record being kept of public input.

A DPD representative who is the point person to the Urban Forestry Commission informed the Urban Forestry Commission earlier this month that DPD has now drafted a new proposed tree ordinance. This was news to the Urban Forestry Commission as none of them appeared to have been involved in reviewing or writing this new proposed ordinance even though there are many experts on the Urban Forestry Commission.

Who drafted this proposed ordinance which we are told will be released in July for public comment? The recent article in the Seattle Times entitled “Developer interests guide mayor Mayor’s growth proposals” seems to answer the question – Mayor McGinn’s shadow government which is operating out of the public eye. No one in the urban forestry and tree protection community was involved to our knowledge.

This secretive cabal of special interest adviser’s to McGinn is operating outside the public eye and without public scrutiny. Yet DPD’s Head – Diane Sugimura is involved and that probably explains how last year’s flawed tree protection proposal supposedly written by DPD and that represents the developer’s position and would have removed protection for most trees in Seattle and that opposed a tree permit system to remove trees,  came to be the exact opposite of what the Seattle City Council requested. DPD’s proposal pushed for deregulation rather than protection for trees and Seattle’s urban forest.

There will always be differences of opinion on proposed legislation but a process that is a sham and shuts out the public, but listens to special interests, has no place in Seattle. It has no credibility. That is why we are seeking information so that the public knows who is driving this effort to deregulate tree protection in Seattle.  We believe the City Council needs to remove the drafting of a new tree ordinance from DPD which has a conflict of interest in representing development interests and not tree protection. They get revenue from issuing building permits, not saving trees.

Seattle Public Utilities or the Office of Sustainability and the Environment would be better city Departments to propose draft legislation and oversee such legislation. Nine city Departments deal with tree issues.   A combination of the Urban Forestry Commission, the Planning Commission and the Parks Commission would not have a conflict of interest  in overseeing a public review process of proposed legislation. DPD did a terribly flawed process and is not to be trusted.

This flawed DPD faux public process is in danger of being repeated again. This is the wrong way to draft legislation. Seattle should look to Portland as an example where a public process involved public meetings conducted jointly by their Urban Forestry Commission and their Planning Commission and received strong public support.

Legislation crafted by special interests behind closed doors has no place in Seattle and needs to be rejected. It’s up to the City Council to step in to change this flawed process. DPD and their developer interests have a conflict of interest in drafting a tree protection ordinance and should not be in charge of doing so.

There is some exciting news out of Portland, Oregon. Earlier this year they completed a lengthy several year process to enact a new Urban Forest Ordinance to significantly increase protection for trees and tree groves in their city. It has incorporated many of the features tree advocates have been asking for here in Seattle, including a requirement for tree permits to remove trees on both public and private property, tree replacement required for trees removed on private property and shifting most or all of tree oversight out of DPD (Department of Planning and Development).

Portland removes tree oversight, except during development on private property, out of their Development Agency to their City Forester.They developed their new ordinance through their “Citywide Tree Policy Review and Regulatory Project“. As noted on their 2 page summary sheet, their involvement and collaboration involved “more than 1000 hours with their stakeholder group, 250 meetings in the community, two sets of open houses, five-month joint Planning Commission/Urban Forestry Commission hearing process and ongoing collaboration between six City Bureaus“.
Portland has slightly less population than Seattle, has a larger area and is striving for 33% canopy cover. (Seattle current goal is 30% in the Urban Forest Management Plan)

What is significant about Portland’s proposal is that Portland is doing a lot of what DPD says we can’t do here or doesn’t want to do. Portland is expanding their permit system to include both public and private trees.  They are requiring permits (which are a way of tracking tree loss and gain) for public trees 3 inches and larger in diameter and for private trees 12 inches and larger in diameter with some overlay areas using 6 inches and larger diameter.

They are requiring tree for tree replacement for most permits, with inch for inch replacement on larger trees and groves. Seattle currently has no such replacement requirements for most trees removed on private property which makes it difficult to comply with the City Comprehensive Plan which actually calls for no net loss of canopy and increasing our tree canopy to 40%.

Portland divides their tree protection process oversight by allowing their Development arm to oversee tree protection during development and their City Forester to oversee all other tree protection. This would make sense also in Seattle as DPD is only involved with about 1% of the city’s land in any given year that is being developed. As the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission noted in their review of DPD’s proposed tree regulation changes earlier this year, DPD did not address protection for 99% of the city’s land in any given year.

Portland has taken the regional lead in setting the new standard for comprehensive urban forestry protection and Seattle needs to look closely at what Portland has done and the public process they used to arrive at their new ordinance. It is a very different model than DPD has proposed. Portland’s new ordinance is the way many other cities in our region are moving in increasing protection of trees and their urban forest. It is the way Seattle needs to move.

Links to new Portland, Oregon tree regulations:

summary of new tree regulations adopted 2011
text of new tree regulations adopted 2011

The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is continuing a rigged phony public involvement process in seeking comment on its proposed plan  to deregulate tree protection in Seattle.  DPD’s  posting of a “Summary of Comments Received on DPD Tree Regulations” does little if anything  to clarify the issues involved in trying to protect trees in Seattle or help in drafting real urban forestry and tree protection legislation.

The problem starts with the fact that the very people who produced the summary are opposed to tree regulations and proposed to deregulate all tree protection for the City in their draft document. They ignored the Seattle City Council’s resolution #31138 urging development of a proposal to increase tree protection and chose to propose the opposite by wiping out the existing protections for mature trees and tree groves and proposing instead to “provide incentives and educate people to save trees”.  They cited no examples of where this has worked elsewhere.

Now, rather than publishing the actual letters and comments of those that gave input on their proposal, like other cities have done (eg see Shoreline’s public comments on their tree protection proposal here) , DPD  choose instead to anonymously publish what seems to be their edited “notes” of so called public meeting comments and and written comments.

At least two separate DPD personnel were probably involved in this so called summation. Without any written record being presented we are expected to accept DPD’s version of feedback made in some instances by “numerous commenters”, while other comments are attributed to a single person or a group. A summation is fine if one can refer to the original comments but all that is available on the Internet by DPD is their version of what was said. Unfortunately many comments are missing fronm their summation or were edited by DPD.

Having attended 7 of these community sessions, I noted that no audio or video recording was made at any of these meetings, no one was visibly taking notes most of the time and response forms were maybe present once or twice but otherwise no record seemed to be kept of individual meetings or comments.  The summary is not attributed to any author or staff person but was probably done by DPD staffer  Brennon Staley since he did many of the meetings mentioned.

At the Save the Trees meeting, e.g. to which Brennon Staley was invited, we spent an hour discussing issues. We presented a written 10 point plan on what we felt should be in a good urban forestry protection law. When asked how he was recording our discussion he indicated he was taking “notes”, although I saw little note taking.

So in the DPD summary a specific written comment from our handout like “Consolidate oversight, regulation and enforcement in an independent department other than DPD, that does not have a conflict of interest.” became “Consider consolidating all regulations, permits and staff dealing with trees into a single Department.” This is the type of editorial revision that takes place in the summary. Other specific comments like”2 week posting of permits on the Internet and visible sign on the site” are likewise abbreviated and reworded.

A comment supposedly attributed to me (my name is misspelled) says “Requirements shouldn’t be based on development potential; they should be based on the existing conditions on a lot” is not how I would have expressed this idea. My comment related to requiring consideration of building within the existing environment, rather than ignoring it, which is what currently policy seems to do.

Another comment also attributed to Save the Trees says, “Lots without trees could have their property tax increased.” This is not a Save the Trees position and to attribute a comment supposedly made by an individual in a discussion as from Save the Trees is a misuse and misrepresentation of the organization’s name and position.

We submitted an official statement to DPD as to our position and I think it is unprofessional and unethical to ignore those comments and instead allow one or two staff members from DPD to interpret and put in their own words what “the public said”.

This is all the continuation of a biased process, driven by interests within DPD that want to deregulate tree protection and have basically done so in their permitting process based on their history. DPD is trying to put in law what they have been doing for years, basically saying they are all for protecting trees “unless it limits the development potential of a lot.”

As neighbors learned in the Ingraham appeal process, DPD instructs its people not to put their policy considerations used to arrive at a decision in writing, so that they cannot be required to be produced and challenged in Court.

The same thing  has happened in the development of the proposed DPD tree regulations. Internally, the urban forest contingent from the different City Departments has been told not to keep notes of any of their discussions and deliberations. While taxpayers pay their salaries, we are not allowed access to their deliberations. There are no notes kept of meetings according to those we have talked to.

So the summary follows a similar process and DPD seemingly thinks this is acceptable and normal procedure for a public process. Don’t publish what people actually wrote or record what they said but “summarize” it and interpret it and emphasize what you want and ignore what you don’t want. It becomes a very subjective evaluation based on the summarizer’s memory and focus and DPD’s  politics and bias.

This is an attempt to control the dialogue and information flow and discussion. In politics this is called spin. Rather than let the public see the actual comments as written or hear them on an audio or video recording like the City Council does, DPD states that “numerous commenter’s” said such and such and equates many comments as numerous. But what is numerous. Anything more than 1 person, 2, 5 or 10 or more than one group? What did they actually say?

The whole  process was actually not a very public process besides the Sept. open house, since no other meetings were publicly announced or posted on the City’s website. Although DPD speakers were being paid with tax dollars to basically promote DPD’s tree deregulation proposal, Brennon Staley refused several public requests from me to say where they were speaking.

He said he did not have to tell us.He stated this in two separate public meetings.  He refused to post any of these taxpayer paid speaking engagements on the website for public outreach. Without any basis, he insinuated that “we would come and disrupt” the meetings.

And efforts by us and others to get public input in, when they were excluding public participation at meetings they were speaking at, are labeled as “Organized participation (including letter writing campaigns) by advocacy groups predominantly supported stronger tree protections.”  The allusion is that this is not good. I did not know this was something bad, to ask people to respond, when DPD was doing little to invite public involvement or comment. Would this same comment have been made if we were urging people to say we liked DPD’s proposal?

All in all, I think DPD’s summary of comments is of limited value except to say there is a diversity of viewpoints out there. DPD has used the summation process to selectively pick certain comments to print, to put their interpretation on them by paraphrasing as best they can remember them without any recording and to exclude other comments. The summary presents a smattering of ideas but equates many as equal by calling them all either numerous or only citing one commenter making it. It’s all political spin by DPD to control the process rather than open the process up for public dialogue.

All in all, DPD is trying to create the illusion of public input, while tightly trying to limit and spin to their advantage what the public said. Without recorded comments or  producing the written record, we only have DPD’s version of events.  And that is not very credible.

Steve Zemke

Chair Save the Trees-Seattle

NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School  Northwest Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

The Seattle School District is going to cut down 27 trees tomorrow Friday Jan 28, 2011 (about one quarter of the NW Grove) at Ingraham High School. For several days the School District has been assembling equipment and preparing to cut down the trees. Tomorrow students have the day off.

Tonight just before dark I went over to check things out once again and asked a worker in a hardhat when they were going to cut the trees down.  His response was that “tomorrow the trees would be screaming“. It’s strange but I could not think of a more apt response for the trees.

If Seattle Mayor McGinn has his way, no trees in Seattle will be protected from destruction. Ingraham is only a precursor to many more trees being lost because Mayor McGinn is proposing to deregulate all tree protection in the city. Strange that someone who supposedly ran with a label as an environmentalist has no love for protecting Seattle’s green infrastructure. When we tried to talk to McGinn and his staff about saving the Ingraham trees he choose to ignore us and wouldn’t even schedule an opportunity for us to discuss the situation with him.

McGinn instead has signed off on an initial draft proposal by his Department of Planning and Development to literally remove all protections for trees in Seattle, including tree groves and exceptional trees. The proposal claims that it increases tree protection when it would take us back to before we had any laws to protect trees. The proposal says that instead of laws to protect trees we should trust that education and incentives will protect trees. As if that worked to convince the Seattle School District to save the Ingraham trees. Meanwhile other cities like Lake Forest Park and Kirkland and Issaquah have moved to strengthen their tree ordinances in recent years.

Unfortunately, even with current regulations,trees already have no standing in Seattle and no voice because DPD (Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development) gives priority to helping people build whatever they want rather than saving trees and green space. The benefits of trees to clean the air and provide oxygen and reduce storm water runoff and provide habitat to animals and screen noise and pollutants and provide visual delight is given no value when DPD says that trees can be saved except when they limit the development potential of a lot.

DPD has a conflict of interest in both trying to help people develop their lots and save trees. Trees almost always lose because DPD assigns them no economic valve despite the services they provide the city. Trees need a voice of their own and should be protected by assigning tree regulatory authority to another city department like Seattle Public Utilities which sees their value in dealing with storm water runoff. They know that as we lose trees we increase man made infrastructure costs to make up for the lost services of our urban forest trees.

. Neighbors and others who want to keep our city green with trees must become a more vocal advocate for trees. Save the Trees – Seattle is working with a city wide  group of tree advocates called “Save Our Urban Forest Infrastructure” to enact stronger protections for trees and our urban forest so we don’t become the Emerald City in legend only.

Of course the School District has been quiet on specifically when they were going to cut the trees down. At 9:37 PM tonight I got an e-mail from School Board member Sherry Carr in which she said she was just told by facilities that the trees would probably be cut down tomorrow.

One of our members, an arborist, told us that the trees can probably be cut down in 2 hours or so. After 70 years of life and good service to the City of Seattle, it’s weird and sad how quickly it can all so needlessly end.  The Seattle School District had prepared an Ingraham Master Plan showing they could build the addition on the open lawn on the North side without having to remove any of the tree grove.

Yet the School Administration under Superintendent Goodloe Johnson and the Seattle School Board has turned a blind eye to environmental issues, choosing not to help increase Seattle’s tree canopy but instead gouge a chunk out of it by removing some of the city’s oldest trees. What a great lesson for Seattle students about how to live in a world where we are increasing threatened with drastic climate change and environmental degradation as our population and use of the world’s resources increases to have an ever expanding economy based on consumption.

Steve Zemke
Chair, Save the Trees – Seattle

NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

It is with sadness that we (Save the Trees – Seattle) announce that we have reached the end of our efforts to save some 29 mature Douglas fir, western red cedar and madrone trees at Ingraham High School. We recently lost our appeal before King County Superior Court Judge Teresa Doyle and are unable to continue with an appeal to the Appellate Court because of the cost and potential liability if we lose on continued appeal.

Save the Trees – Seattle has succeeded in reducing the trees to be cut in the NW Grove from an initial 70 to less than 30. The 29 trees to be cut down represent about one quarter of the trees in the NW Grove. We also succeed in saving a mixed conifer madrone grove of the trees on the east side of the school that had been protected for 50 years in an agreement with the Parks Department but which the Seattle School District had targeted for a parking lot.

Our efforts to save the NW Tree Grove helped to get the City to pass a stronger interim tree protection law which currently protects tree groves from future development. We also originated the idea and worked to pass legislation to create the current Urban Forestry Commission. And we are working now to fight the proposal by the Mayor and his Department of Planning and Development to deregulate tree protection in the city that would send us back to the roar of chainsaws clearcutting what trees remain in Seattle’s reduced tree canopy which has been reduced by half since the 1970′s.

The time to appeal expires as of Dec 9th so we expect the Seattle School District to rev up their chainsaws and cut the trees down as early as this weekend. We urge you to stop by and say good-by to the 29 trees condemned to die because of the City’s and the Seattle School District’s blindness to environmental and ecological values.

If the trees are gone when you come by, we urge you to pay homage to the 70 plus years of service they provided the city by reducing stormwater runoff, cleaning our city’s air, producing oxygen for us to breathe, providing a park area for the school and the neighborhood, providing habitat for birds and squirrels and insects and other animals and plant life, for being part of the last 50 plus acres of an uncommon plant habitat in Seattle (a conifer madrone forest), and for just being there for their beauty and serenity.

This Sunday (Dec 12, 2010) at 10 AM we will hold a Citizen’s Memorial Service on the North side of the tree grove to honor the trees for their 70 years of service to our neighborhood and city and to say good -by.

The street is N 135th between Ashworth Ave N and Meridian Ave N. Please come by and bring something in writing or a sign or flowers or something to post on the wire fence circling the grove. Bring a poem or words or a picture to share with others as we grieve for this unnecessary loss of part of our city and our neighborhood and our green urban forest infrastructure.

And vow to write to the Mayor and the Seattle City Council, urging them to reject efforts to eliminate all protections for existing trees as the Mayor proposes. Urge that they strengthen our tree laws to protect trees like those being cut down at Ingraham High School.

And if you are able to – please donate to Save the Trees to help pay off our legal bills and support our efforts needed over the next year to get a much stronger tree protection law passed. Contributions can be sent to Save the Trees-Seattle, c/o Steve Zemke, 2131 N 132nd St, Seattle, WA 98133. If you have questions or would like to help in our fight, you can contact us at stevezemke@msn.com or call 206-366-0811.

We want to thank everyone who has helped over the last three years. Your support has keep us going. While we have not saved all of the NW Grove, we have reduced the impact and loss overall. We as a group are dedicating ourselves to strengthening our City’s tree laws so that other trees in our city can avoid the fate facing those trees being cut down at Ingraham High School with taxpayer dollars. On Sunday we will pay homage to those trees that are dying an unnatural death despite their long service of 70 years to our city. We hope you will join us in saying thanks on Sunday.

Steve Zemke
Chair – Save the Trees-Seattle

PS – Come by and see the trees and post something on the fence or leave something when you can. As I noted, there is no guarantee that the trees won’t be cut down before Sunday. The 29 trees to be cut down are those closest to the west side of the Ingraham High School Building.

E-mails for the Seattle City Council are:
tim.burgess@seattle.gov

sally.clark@seattle.gov

richard.conlin@seattle.gov

sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov

jean.godden@seattle.gov

mike.obrien@seattle.gov

nick.licata@seattle.gov

bruce.harrell@seattle.gov

tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov

Also send a letter to: Mayor McGinn, Seattle City Hall 7th floor, 600 Fourth Avenue, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749

PPS: Please forward this to others as time is short. Let neighbors and others know and come on Sunday.

Resolution of the battle to save the Ingraham Tree Grove is moving forward. On Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle turned down the Seattle School District’s petition to remove the Court Injunction put in place by Judge Erlick two years ago to prevent the Seattle School District from cutting 70 trees in the grove to end further environmental review.

Judge Doyle also denied the Seattle School District’s request for a $187,000 bond. It should be noted that Save the Trees-Seattle has in fact lowered the cost of whatever is built at Ingraham, not increased the cost. The bid, eg, for the compressed west addition came in at $6.5 million dollars. That’s $3.5 million less than the original estimated cost by the Seattle School District.

Save the Trees-Seattle agreed to consolidate the two cases before the court. The original case was an appeal of the School District’s Hearing Examiner process arguing that an EIS should have been performed and that a DNS was not appropriate.

The second case was an appeal of the City of Seattle inadequate mitigation of the Project. City law calls for giving a priority to protecting rare and uncommon plant and animal habitat. The City Hearing Examiner agreed the NW Tree Grove was an uncommon plant habitat in Seattle but did not require the Seattle School District to move the Project to another site on the campus.

Save the Trees- Seattle argued that moving the project to save the NW Tree Grove was one of the legal mitigation options the City had but did not exercise, despite the fact that the School District’s BEX Project manager agreed under oath that the Seattle School District could build the Project on the open North Lawn and not have to cut down any mature trees.

The Seattle School District continued to deny that the North Lawn was feasible to build on until forced to acknowledge while under oath the existence of an internal e-mail obtained through public records disclosure that the North Lawn Area was actually considered a future building site for a 2 story addition to the school. Save the Trees – Seattle argues that the School District should build there now and save the NW Grove from being cut down or diminished in size needlessly.

The consolidated case is now scheduled to be heard before King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle on Nov.5, 2010 at 11 AM. Save the Trees- Seattle has been working now for almost 3 years, trying to save the NW Grove.

NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School Before Fence Was Put Up

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