Seattle School District Works Overtime to Silence Critics



Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

Opponents to the Seattle School District’s clearcutting of half a grove of old evergreen trees at Ingraham High School got slapped with two motions over the weekend to silence their criticism.

Both seem petty and ill advised from a public relations sense yet the Seattle School District seems impervious to listening to the public.

One motion was to try to silence a quiet mannered public citizen who seems to have devoted most of his breathing time in recent years to trying to make Seattle Schools better. He is present at most of the school district’s meetings regarding all manner of things and presents thoughtful researched input into the public process that seems to have few Seattle citizens participating.

His name is Chris Jackins and he represents a broad base of Seattle citizens concerned about school issues under his Seattle Committee to Save Schools. Our family is a member of his group as are other neighbors. Yet the Seattle School District has filed a motion to dismiss him and his committee from the appeal tomorrow on the School District’s Determination of Nonsignificance for the Ingraham High School renovation project.

The motion was filed by G. Richard Hill a special attorney paid for by our tax dollars to try to push through the Seattle School District’s opinion that cutting down up to 90 old Douglas fir, western red cedar and madrone trees that have existed on the Ingraham High School campus even before the school was build in 1959 is not significant. The trees are over 75 years old and 100 feet or more tall.

According to Mr Hill, Chris Jackins is not an aggrieved person and as such can not file an appeal. By definition all of Seattle residents are aggrieved persons because they are taxpayers who are paying to clearcut trees at Ingraham if the Seattle School District continues with its ill advised anti- environmental stance that cutting down 90 old evergreen trees in a park like setting on the west side of Ingraham High School is not significant.

Hill says that ” a person is aggrieved only when the following conditions are present (a) the interest that the person is seeking to protect is within the zone of interests that are protected or regulated by SEPA; and(b) the person has alleged “injury in fact” ie, that he or she will be specifically and perceptibly harmed” by the proposed action.”

Chris Jackins and his committee are aggrieved by the proposed actions of the School Board as are most other Seattle residents and should be commended for taking the time to be involved as a citizen activist, not told to put a muzzle on.

Ingraham High School is a International Baccalaureate school that is trying to attract students from all over the city. As such families across the city have an interest in what happens at Ingraham. And if Ingraham diminishes the urban forest habitat by its actions it affects all Seattle residents. Ingraham is not an island unto itself.

The Seattle School District does not need to cut down any large trees to build the addition at Ingraham High School. The North side of Ingraham High School has an open grassy lawn that the school district has actually identified as a future building site in their master plan for Ingraham High School. Considering the magnitude of the impact on the current site that clear cuts 2/3 of a magnificent grove of trees, most reasonable persons would scratch their heads and ask, “Why don’t you build the proposed addition there and save the trees?”

The problem is that the Seattle School District and the Ingraham School Design Team made their decision as to where to build in private without public involvement. And that is one of the reasons they have filed their second motion – which is to quash any discussion of their secret process and lack of consideration of alternatives to the present site. They gave lip service to public involvement but unless you were personally selected by Ingraham High School’s Principal Martin Floe to come to the unpublicized Ingraham School Design Team meetings you had no way of participating.

The second motion is to dismiss appellants claims regarding alternatives. They argue that since they have “mitigated ” their determination of nonsignificance that we can not discuss the fact that other potential building sites like the North side of the school do not require any old trees to be cut down. Yet they make a number of references in the Environmental checklist as to why specific alternative sites won’t work as well discuss them in the latest letter of determination of nonsignificance. But the Seattle School District is now trying to say that while it was OK for them to discuss them, we can not do the same.

The Seattle School District is trying to say that its proposal is not environmentally significant because it is going to plant more trees than it takes out. The problem with this argument is that they can not replace old large coniferous trees with small deciduous street trees and claim they are making up for the irreversible loss of a park like grove of 75 year old by planting a bunch of 1 or 2 year old deciduous street trees and some small conifers elsewhere on the campus. This is like telling season ticket holders of the Seahawks that the team has been replaced with two teams of junior high school football players and if we wait long enough they will be able to play against the New England Patriots or the NY Giants. Just have patience.

Seattle School students can certainly get a good lesson in how democracy and the law really works by watching the attempts of the District to silence its critics. Repeated requests to get specific information on alternative designs and budgets from the School District and information on the basis on which it decided to make its decision that the trees were not significant have met with minimal response. This lack of timely and specific response to these public information requests for records leads me to the conclusion that the Seattle School District is a closed bureaucracy that does not feel it needs to involve the public in its decision making It would prefer to do it business behind closed doors out of the public limelight and doesn’t feel it needs to be accoutable for its actions.

The hearing on the appeal of the SEPA determination of nonsignificance for the Ingraham High School renovation that will result in clearcutting trees on the site will start tomorrow at 9 AM at Ingraham High School in North Seattle in the school library. The hearing is open to the public and media.

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