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.
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.
Chair Save the Trees-Seattle
A new report released by Seattle Urban Nature finds that conifer forests are a vanishing resource in the Puget Sound region. Conifer trees are not regenerating in sufficient numbers to perpetuate healthy forests into the future. Instead, these forests are becoming dominated by English holly, sweet cherry, English ivy and other invasive species that are suppressing the growth of native plants. With less than 300 acres of conifer forests remaining on the 8000 acres of public lands within the City of Seattle, these forests urgently need our care and protection.
Seattle Urban Nature, a science focused non-profit organization dedicated to healthy urban forests, released this new report on the “State of Seattle’s Conifer Forests” as part of SUN’s on-going Seattle Citywide Habitat Assessment (CHA). This report provides a comprehensive independent analysis of the existing condition of conifer forested habitat in Seattle’s parks and open spaces, and can be applicable to other cities in Puget Sound region.
Less than 200 years ago, majestic conifer forests dominated the landscape of the Puget Sound region. As our region has grown in the past 100 years, Seattle’s forests have declined due to impacts from activities such as logging and urbanization. Conifer trees can live for more than a thousand years and are iconic symbols of the Pacific Northwest. Conifer forests provide people with important ecosystem services year-round. They improve our water and air quality, stabilize soils, slow and absorb storm-water and rain water, sequester large amounts of carbon, and provide beautiful places for urban residents to enjoy. They also provide vital habitat for native wildlife and birds.
According to Mark Mead, Senior Urban Forester with Seattle Parks, “The remaining coniferous forests of Seattle are under threat from invasive species and lack of direct action over the past 100 years. We (parks) appreciate SUN’s efforts to research this problem and provide more direct, applicable science to this effort. Through the Green Seattle Partnership (GSP), the City of Seattle is partnering with citizens and major non-profit organizations to take on the challenge of restoring over 2500 acres of forested areas to near native-like conditions in Seattle’s park lands. The GSP is focusing on the re-establishment of the native coniferous forests of the city.”
Unless we begin to actively manage these forests to reduce the impact of habitat loss, invasive species and other urban pressures, we stand to lose an incredibly valuable cultural and ecological resource. Seattle’s remaining conifer forests are in decline and places like Lincoln Park, Seward Park and Schmitz Park will no longer be the treasures that they are today. It’s up to the community at large to reverse these trends, and efforts like the GSP are helping. This information will help city managers, forest stewards and the general public to better understand our urban forests and support a sustained effort to restore and preserve these locally rare habitats.
Background and Methodology
In 2005, SUN launched a citywide forest monitoring program known as the Citywide Habitat Assessment (CHA) to monitor declines or improvements in the state of Seattle urban forests. This assessment builds on data collected during SUN’s 1999-2000 Seattle Public Lands Habitat Survey, which provided vegetation information for 8,000 acres of public lands throughout Seattle. Two previous reports from this effort have been published: Conifer/Deciduous Mixed Forests in Seattle, and The State of Seattle’s Madrone Forests, which are available on our website. Three additional habitat types, riparian, wetland and deciduous forests, still remain to be surveyed.
During 2008, SUN staff established 16 permanent monitoring plots in conifer forests throughout Seattle. These 1/10th acre plots were randomly chosen from all conifer forests on public lands identified during SUN’s 1999-2000 Seattle Public Lands Habitat Survey. Information gathered on the permanent plots included the species, diameter, height and density for all trees, including all non-native, invasive, tree-like shrubs such as English holly (Ilex aquifolium) and cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus). In addition, percent cover data for shrubs, vines and herbaceous species were recorded. Collected data were analyzed to gain an understanding of forest structure and composition as well as to identify threats to the health of these urban forests.
Funding for this project came from the Washington Department of Natural Resources Community Forestry Grant, the Bullitt Foundation, and individual donors.
Note: The above is copied from a press release by Sharon London of Seattle Urban Nature and is posted with their permission here to help publicize their efforts. I saw no reason to try to rewrite what they put together so well. They are doing a tremendous service to Seattle by making this information available to the public. Their efforts deserve our attention and support. Steve Zemke
On Monday, December 15, 2008 at 5:30 p.m., the Seattle City Council Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee will hold a public hearing at Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave, on an emergency tree protection ordinance for the City of Seattle. The proposal would provide for interim protection for most trees for a period of six months to a year while Seattle develops a long-range solution to increase the tree canopy and stop the loss of healthy, mature trees.
For more information, see the following links:
Your input is vital to helping to pass this interim piece of legislation to protect trees in the City of Seattle. This bill was drafted as the result of our efforts to protect the trees at Ingraham High School from being needlessly cut down when alternatives existed to the proposed construction site. When the Seattle School District withdrew their construction permits in August of 2008, we went to King County Superior Court and got an injunction to stop the trees from being cut down. The Seattle School District’s attempted clear cutting of the trees without further environmental review by the city of Seattle exposed a loophole in Seattle’s tree protection ordinances. Other tree battles like trying to save trees at Waldo Woods in North Seattle also are driving this legislation.
If you cannot attend the Hearing on Monday at 5:30 PM it is critical that you send emails to all the City Council members urging their support for Council bill 116404 to provide interim tree protection until strong permanent protections can be put in place.
You can write one e-mail and send copies to all the council members by cutting and pasting the e-mails below.
Emails are: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
This legislation is a first step towards strengthening tree protection laws in the City of Seattle. It is being attacked by so called “property rights advocates” who oppose efforts to protect trees. They are contacting members of the Seattle City Council with their opposition and we need to counter their efforts.
We need you to add your voice in support of the city stepping up and providing stronger protection for both individual trees and tree groves and our green urban habitat. Seattle’s urban tree canopy according to the city had decreased from 40% in 1973 to 18%. Unless we speak out our remaining urban trees are in danger of being lost because Seattle existing tree ordinance only provides protection to 1% total of all the trees through a very limited “exceptional tree” provision. Other cities in the region and in the US have much stronger protection measures.
Urge that the proposed legislation be amended to strengthen SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) provisions, that permits be required to cut down any tree over 6” in diameter, that tree grove protections are vital to protecting unique urban habitats and that the exemption for “additions to existing buildings” be dropped or clarified as limited to a certain size.
Passing Council bill 116404 is only a first step but we need to take it to protect trees while permanent legislation is being drafted up. We need to generate strong citizen support via e-mails and people attending the hearing on Monday as a show of support for protecting trees in Seattle. Please help. Thanks.
The Seattle City Council noted the following:
1. “The public hearing on the tree protections is taking place in the Seattle Council Chambers (one floor above the 5th Ave entrance to City Hall) on the second floor. A different hearing will be taking place at the same time in the Bertha Knight Landes room on the first floor of City Hall (one floor below Council Chambers). This hearing is on the Mayor’s proposed gun ban and also begins at 5:30. “
2.” The sign up sheet to make public comments will be available at 5:00 pm on the December 15, 2008 right outside of Council Chambers. People will be called in the order in which they sign up.”
3. The City Council also suggests that you provide “your comments in written form either to all Council members via email, in hard copy when you come to the hearing, or via the USPS. This is important because comments are normally limited to two minutes and many people have more than can be said in that time. Submitting your comments in writing will ensure that the Council hears what you have to say.”
It’s been a hectic couple of day here in Seattle battling to save the old trees at Ingraham High School! A somewhat ordinary environmental review process has turned into a battle to stop the chain saws as the Seattle School District has resorted to dirty developer tactics and an all out attempt to bully their way over the public by just cutting down the trees. On Thursday they withdrew their building permit applications with the City of Seattle, claiming that without the pending land use applications they could just cut down the trees. Neighbors and Seattle be damned they said! The School District said they plan to cut down the trees on August 15th and 16th .
Once the trees are cut down the Seattle School District plans to resubmit its plans to again add the building addition where the trees once were. Oh and don’t despair. They said you’ll be able to comment on their proposal again at that time. But this time there won’t be any trees in the way for angry neighbors and tree lovers and park lovers to complain about losing.
We urgently need the help of the public to stop them. This blatant evasion of the normal planning process is outrageous and a callous attempt to avoid environmental protection and land use laws. One might expect such arrogant bullying from a private developer but the Seattle Public Schools are owned by the taxpayers. Its our money and our schools. Please help now to save the trees at Ingraham.
Please note: It’s not a question of trees versus school renovation. It never has been. Save the Trees supports replacing the decaying portables with new classrooms. We support putting the new addition on the North side of the school on an open lawn area where no large trees have to be cut down. The Seattle School District, without seeking public input from neighbors and the community, chose to build the addition in a grove of 75 year old 100 foot tall Douglas fir, Pacific madrone and western red cedar trees. Some 68 trees would be unnecessarily cut down. They have long been are a neighborhood park. They also constitute a rare plant community in King County under the Washington State Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Program.
You can read our press release here on MajorityRulesBlog: http://www.majorityrules.org/blog/2008/08/seattle-school-district-seeks-to-avoid.html
There has been major coverage in both the print and broadcast media.
In the Seattle Times by Susan Gilmore http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008101880_ingraham09m.html
And a post by Lisa Stiffler. http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/environment/archives/145622.asp
A link to the KOMO site http://www.komonews.com/news/26442089.html
A link to the King 5 news story is here: http://www.king5.com/education/stories/NW_080808WAB_seattle_school_tree_controversy_TP.2a35ef0b.html#
Also you can find a series of blog posts on the Ingraham battle as it has evolved over the last several months at www.MajorityRules.org/blog
We need people to email or call Seattle City Council members, the Mayor’s office and Seattle School Board and the Seattle School’s Superintendent expressing outrage at the Seattle School District’s decision to evade environmental scrutiny by a developer’s loophole.
Urge the School District and Superintendent to continue the environmental review process in the Courts or just move the proposed addition to the North side of Ingraham High School where they could build without cutting down any large trees. Urge specifically they not cut down the trees.
Urge the Seattle City Council and Mayor to pass now a strong tree preservation ordinance to close this and other loopholes and give protection to saving and expanding tree cover in the city! Urge action now, not next year. If you are outraged by this slimy trick to evade environmental review tell the city council and mayor to end these developer loopholes.
Send a contribution made out to Save the Trees! to help pay legal expenses. Initial costs are several thousand dollars. More costs are anticipated if the School District digs in further. Send as generous a check as you can to “Save the Trees!” c/o Steve Zemke, 2131 N 132nd St, Seattle, WA 98133 206-366-0811
Efforts continue to save 62 old Douglas fir and western red cedar trees at Ingraham High School in North Seattle. The trees are in a grove of about 120 trees on the west side of the high school.
The Seattle School District decided to design a new classroom addition to replace old portables on the campus without involving neighbors or others in the community. Instead Ingraham High School Principal Martin Floe selected an in house group of administrators and teachers and other school affiliated people to come up with a design. No effort was made to reach out to neighbors or the local Haller Lake Community Club to let them know the design process was going on, to ask if anyone wanted to be involved or give input from the neighborhood.
It turns out that they never priced out or looked at any other designs besides the site the architect who designed the school in 1959 suggested in 1959. Since then a large grove of 120 some trees, including 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and madrone trees have thrived in the area and created a unique park like setting on the west side of the school.
Back on Arbor Day last month King 5 TV did a segment on the controversy. You can view it by going to KING 5 VIDEO.
Since the session aired the Seattle School District has withdrawn their original determination of non-significance and have completed a second draft of the Environmental Checklist. They will soon issue a revised draft for comment and this will represent another opportunity for neighbors and Seattle residents to question the need to cut down some 62 large Douglas fir and western red cedar trees when an alternative site exists on the North side of the school to build the new classrooms without cutting down any trees.
You can help to stop the destruction of these trees by sending an e-mail to the Seattle School Board members telling them you oppose cutting down the trees and that they should come up with an alternative design. Our tax dollars pay for the Seattle Public Schools. We have every right to demand that they spend them in an environmentally sound way and do it in a manner than protects our urban forested habitat.
In the last 30 years we have lost some 50% of our tree canopy in the city. It is absurd to keep cutting it. And the Seattle School District and Seattle School Board have a viable alternative to cutting the trees down. The Seattle School District actually shows the North site as available for possible future expansion. What a terrible lesson the Seattle School District is giving to our students.
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