Members of the City Council
601 Fifth Avenue, 2nd floor
P. O. Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025
Mayor Mike McGinn
601 Fifth Avenue, 7th floor
P. O. Box 94749
Seattle, WA 98124-4749
Diane Sugimura, Director
Dept. of Planning and Development
701 Fifth Avenue, #2000
PO Box 34019
Seattle, WA 98124-4019
Dept. of Planning and Development
700 5th Ave, Suite 2000
P.O. Box 34019
Seattle, WA 98124
Thursday, October 4, 2012
SEATTLE COMMUNITY COUNCIL FEDERATION
October 3, 2012
RE: July 11, 2012 Draft of the Proposed Tree Regulations Ordinance
To the Mayor, City Council, and DPD:
Trees make Seattle a livable city. The Seattle Community Council Federation supports strong legislation to protect Seattle’s urban forest. While we applaud the Department of Planning and Development for eliminating some weaknesses in an earlier draft of the proposed tree regulations ordinance, the draft that was released on July 11, 2012 has failed to address some important concerns raised by the public about the earlier draft, and we urge that the proposal be strengthened before it is presented for consideration by the City Council.
We represent a diversity of neighborhood and community interests across the city that supports the goal of increasing Seattle’s urban forestry canopy to 30% from our current approximately 23% cover. We expressed support for these goals when we commented on the previous proposal. Here are specific comments regarding the current proposal:
The current proposal actually eliminates some important protections in the interim tree ordinance, such as the protection of tree groves. These provide habitat value for wildlife that individual trees do not. Patch size is important for maintaining a diversity of bird species and other wildlife. This is well documented in the scientific literature.
We applaud DPD’s recognition in the July 11 draft that a permit system is needed for removal of trees over 24 inches in diameter. Large trees provide many more infrastructure benefits to the city, like removing carbon dioxide and other air pollutants and reducing storm water runoff. We also support the requirement that removal of such trees involve a finding that the tree is hazardous.
However, we urge that the proposed tree ordinance be revised to provide better protection for trees under 24 inches in diameter. As was noted at SCCF’s Sept. 25, 2012 meeting where DPD’s Brennon Staley was present, 24 inch diameter trees only represent about 14% of Seattle’s tree population. Allowing the removal of an unlimited number of trees less than 24 inches sends the wrong message to the public about the value of trees. It is a retreat from the current position of not removing from each lot more than 3 trees per year (an amount which is already quite generous). We suggest that the allowed removal be 3 trees in any three year period.
We also oppose the removal of protection of exceptional trees less than 24 inches in diameter. The current Director’s Rule 16-2008 protects a number of trees that never will reach 24 inches in diameter, even at maturity. Of 28 native tree species currently protected as exceptional, only 7 would still be protected under the 24 inch threshold. The language in the July 11 draft ordinance is a complete reversal from the interim ordinance, and backs away from efforts to maintain a diversity of tree species. We support having a two tiered permit system that includes trees down to 8 or 10 inches in diameter. To track tree loss or gain citywide, we need to know what is happening to the majority of our trees, not just 14%. If adopted, the July 11 ordinance proposal would open the city up to significant tree loss from disease or insect infestations as our mix of tree species becomes less diverse.
If we want the public to support tree protection we need to communicate to city residents that all trees are valuable and that diversity is important. A healthy urban forest has a diversity of tree sizes and ages. There is a need to say that trees less than 24 inches in diameter have value, including replacement for large trees that die.
Having to get a permit to remove trees, even if it is free, is a great educational tool to let citizens know that trees have value. Removing limits on the number of trees less than 24 inches in diameter and the lack of a permit to remove smaller trees is reducing protection of our trees, sends the wrong message to the public and is contrary to the national trend for increasing protection of urban trees through clear regulations and limits on tree removal.
The current City Comprehensive Plan promises no net loss of tree canopy and a goal of 40% ultimately. Without a strong tree regulations ordinance, this promise cannot be fulfilled. We must require replacement of trees removed, either on or off site. Other cities, like Portland, have adopted a replacement policy for trees removed.
We support two-week posting of property where trees are to be removed, just as SDOT posts its plans to remove street trees. SDOT also has a permit system to prune or remove street trees that has been working for a number of years. The tree regulations ordinance should draw upon this experience in requiring a permit for removal of trees on private land. The City needs to provide notice and disclosure to homeowners so they can understand what is expected of them in helping to maintain Seattle’s tree canopy. A key place for this disclosure is when property changes hands via real estate transactions.
Another way to help educate the public and insure compliance with the tree code is that all arborists operating in the city should be licensed and trained. In most cases it is the arborist that will deal with applying for city permits to remove trees, just as contractors (not the homeowner) now get building permits to do electrical work. This arrangement eliminates the problem mentioned by DPD that homeowners would find it difficult to identify tree species or size or to define a tree grove is. Professionals would be making these determinations.
Safety is another reason for certifying arborists. Having a licensed arborist remove large trees would put the burden on them to understand the law and also do the job safely. The arborist, not just the homeowner, would be accountable for any code violations. This is how it works now with homeowners who hire contractors for construction work that requires city permits.
In protecting trees during construction and at other times, we believe there is great value in protecting native tree species, especially conifers. Our northwest rain occurs mainly in the winter yet this is when deciduous trees lose their leaves, shedding more rain and clogging up drains. Conifers provide the most value in reducing storm water runoff and drainage problems for the city.
We support continued efforts to educate people about the value of retaining and planting trees and looking for incentives to save trees. However, we do not believe these educational efforts will work in the long run without an expanded tree permit and tracking system. This need for regulation has been borne out by other cities which have concluded for rigorous regulations including permit systems.
Please revise the July 11 draft tree regulations ordinance to strengthen protections for our urban forest. Otherwise, this draft will go backwards in removing some protections in the interim ordinance. Our Emerald City urban forest is a unique treasure and needs our best efforts to protect and enhance it for future generations that come after us. Thank you for considering the views of the Seattle Community Council Federation.
Jeannie Hale, President
3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE
Seattle, Washington 98105
206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631
cc: Urban Forestry Commission, Sandra Pinto de Bader, Coordinator