TreePAC 2017 Seattle Candidate Questionnaire
Jenny Durkan for Mayor
Urban Forest & Green Space
Tree and urban forestry issues currently involve:
1) Tree, canopy and open space lost due to development
2) Need for stronger regulation to reduce tree loss and increase replacement
3) Increased funding for tree maintenance, new plantings, and community education.
1. Loss of trees and open space with development
BACKGROUND – Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. New apartment buildings are often replacing single family homes resulting in a loss of both trees and open space. The Seattle Times recently noted that “the city is on pace to see more apartments built this decade than the previous 50 years.”
QUESTION – What do you propose the city should do to maintain and increase its tree canopy and open space to accommodate the needs of an increased population as Seattle grows and densifies?
Our city is growing rapidly, and our natural environment is one of the reasons that Seattle is a desirable place to live. Our parks, open spaces and tree canopy add great value to our neighborhoods and business districts. I support a strong municipal focus on enhancing our access to urban parks and the benefits that trees bring to our community.
It is a good environmental trend that people are moving to our urban centers. We need to accommodate this growth with a commitment to building upon our environmental assets. I support the Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan and it’s goal to achieve a 30% canopy cover in Seattle.
2. Consolidate urban forestry in one city department or agency
BACKGROUND – Currently trees and urban forest maintenance and protection is overseen by 8 different City Departments, with frequently conflicting missions. The City Auditor in 2009 stated that the “City’s current approach to trees lacks top leadership.” Unifying “all City Departments behind a single vision through clear and demonstrated leadership of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE)” was recommended.
QUESTION – Would you support unifying tree and urban forest management under a single department or agency like OSE or a City Forestry Department that does not have a conflict of interest in protecting trees as, for example, DCI does?
I would have to understand better how each department interfaces in this important area before knowing if we needed one City Forestry Department. I strongly favor a
coordinated approach among the various departments responsible for tree health, maintenance, expansion and regulation.
The Office of Sustainability and Environment is a good agency for coordination. I will ensure that the OSE Director has a strong mandate from the Mayor’s office to make progress on our Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan.
3. Updating Seattle’s 2009 “interim” tree ordinance
BACKGROUND – While other cities around the country have been updating their tree ordinances through an open public process to protect their urban forests, Seattle turned to one city department, DCI, to do so. It has been 8 years since the Seattle City Council passed an interim tree ordinance. They directed the Department of Construction and Inspections (DCI) to come up with a new ordinance draft under Council Resolution 31138. To date no new ordinance has been passed.
QUESTION – Would you support the Mayor and City Council adopting a more open and inclusive process to finally come up with a comprehensive urban forestry ordinance? One example would be appoint a citizens committee to prepare a draft urban forest ordinance, like the Seattle Parks Legacy and Green Spaces Citizens Advisory Committees did. How do you envision this process would move forward?
The Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan is scheduled to be updated next year. I will direct OSE and the appropriate departments to engage Seattle residents in this process. Urban Forestry is multifaceted and requires engagement from a wide array of Seattle residents. I will also insist upon input from neighborhoods which have less tree canopy, like Ballard and the Greater Duwamish, as well as lower-income neighborhoods which have a statistically significant dearth of tree canopy.
4. Protect tree groves BACKGROUND: Seattle’s interim tree ordinance protects existing groves of trees (group of 8 or more trees 12” in diameter) but DCI has proposed removing this protection in the past.
QUESTION – Do you support continuing the current policy of protecting tree groves to conserve habitat and canopy cover?
Yes, I do support protecting existing groves of trees. Groves provide important habitat and resiliency. There are circumstances where desired or permitted development will displace or impact such trees. In such cases appropriate mitigation is important. I am not familiar with DCI’s proposal, so I cannot comment specifically on that.
5. Better protection of heritage and exceptional trees
BACKGROUND – Larger trees, (especially conifers in winter months) provide tremendous ecological value to Seattle’s green infrastructure, by reducing storm water runoff, cleaning pollutants from the
air, and providing animal habitat. Like Portland and other fast growing cities, we continue to lose our magnificent trees across the city, with no end in stop.
QUESTION – Do you support giving greater protection to large trees like Heritage Trees and Exceptional trees? How would you provide this protection?
Exceptional trees are just that–exceptional. We owe it to current and future generations to protect them. I support the Exceptional Tree protections in our city regulations to restrict any damage to exceptional and heritage trees. There are circumstances where such trees can threaten habitat, parks or homes because of their condition and placement. When any such trees are impacted, there should be significant mitigation.
6. Tree removal permits, notice, and replacement required
BACKGROUND – Cities like Portland, Oregon; Lake Forest Park, WA; Vancouver BC and Atlanta, GA have passed much stronger urban tree ordinances requiring private landowners to do things like obtaining permits to remove trees, with a 2 week street posting of permits before trees can be removed, and either replacement on- site, or paying into a Tree Fund to maintain and replace the trees off-site. As SDOT already does this for street trees, there is already an established and approved processes in place for all city agencies and entities to adopt if they chose.
QUESTION – Would you support a permit process for tree removal on private property in Seattle, including posted notice and replacement on or off site for trees removed to help stem the loss of trees in our city?
I would explore the impacts that a permit process like this will have. It should certainly be taken into account as our city becomes more dense and new growth increases the potential loss of trees in our city.
7. Funding for public tree maintenance
BACKGROUND – Deferred maintenance results in the costly loss and replacement of trees and landscapes, and slope failures in critical areas are very expensive to repair.
QUESTION – Do you support dedicated funding for the maintenance of public greenspaces, including increased funding for the Green Seattle Partnership so that the goals to restore our parklands, greenbelts, and critical areas can be met? If so, how would you act to address these goals?
Trees need maintenance, and we cannot achieve our urban tree canopy goal without it. Ivy and other weeds can have catastrophic impacts on our urban forests. I will support funding for tree and greenspace maintenance. I will also look to leverage public funding with exceptional programs like the Green Seattle Partnership. GSP organizes tens of thousands of volunteer hours each year to improve the health of our urban forests. It allows us to stretch our public resources while achieving our environmental goals.
8. Fruit trees special maintenance funding
BACKGROUND – Seattle is one of the very few urban environments that still boasts an extensive and diverse urban fruit tree canopy. Last year, over 36,247 pounds of fruit was gleaned by City Fruit from public and private property, and donated into the emergency food system.
QUESTION – Do you support funding to continue the maintenance of fruit trees on public land and harvesting fruit from private property for food?
Yes. This is an excellent example of how the city can collaborate with non-profit organizations for the benefit of its residents. Not only does the work of City Fruit help with maintaining fruit trees on public lands, the donation of harvested fruit helps those dependent on the emergency food system.
9. Surplus city property preserved as new public open space
BACKGROUND – The Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan removed a previous city goal to maintain the current level of park acreage per person. That goal would have required the addition of 1400 acres of open space by 2035 to accommodate population growth. The city is currently selling surplus property to the highest bidder rather than adding it to open space for Seattle residents. A recent commentary in the Seattle Times noted that “Seattle decided a long time ago that it wouldn’t require growth to pay for growth with impact fees. At least 80 cities in Washington think otherwise, including all the big eastside cities, and impose impact fees.”
QUESTION – Would you support the use of impact fees on developers to help pay for both surplus city property and other property to purchase open space and parkland to help maintain public access for recreation and green space as our population grows?
I support appropriate targets for open space as our city grows. As I’ve said, the environment in Seattle is one of our greatest assets. There are many ways the City can pay for open space and parkland–the Parks District, REET funding and general fund allocations. I will explore these funding sources and determine if other sources are necessary.
10. Increase canopy cover goal to 40% and add metrics to assess canopy vol. and urban forestry health
BACKGROUND – Seattle currently has a 28 percent 2 dimensional area canopy cover according to a 2016 City study of trees 8 feet tall or higher. The Seattle’s Urban Forest Stewardship Plan’s goal was set 10 years ago at 30 % canopy cover by 2037. The Seattle Comprehensive Plan targeted a long term 40% goal, as recommended by the American Forestry Association.
QUESTION – Do you support raising Seattle’s 2037 area canopy goal to 40% and increasing measured
data to include 3-dimensional canopy analysis and forest health?
I support the 30% tree canopy goal, and will focus on achieving that. My understanding is that we are at 28% coverage now, and may be slipping. I will direct OSE to work with the appropriate agencies to make progress on our 30% canopy goal.
11. Measuring canopy changes with each development permit
BACKGROUND – In 2015 the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission recommended that DCI do a detailed Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment (UFCIA) for all properties undergoing development, providing information on all trees >6” DBH both before and after development. Yet, to date they have not responded.
QUESTION – Would you implement such a requirement?
This is a topic I would look closely at as mayor, including estimates of the number of trees affected on each parcel. It is important for the city to have the best possible information available as part of its planning process, so more information is better. I would examine the costs and benefits of such a program, both for the city and the property owners.
12. Tree canopy replacement fund
BACKGROUND – During development is when most trees are lost in the city. Currently there is no requirement during development for ‘no net loss of canopy’ for new or existing property development.
QUESTION – Would you support developers being required to replace either on-site or off-site a canopy equivalent for trees removed, by either planting new trees or paying into a City Tree Fund to compensate for ecological value lost by the trees being removed?
As we monitor our progress towards our canopy goal, I will be interesting in evaluating a host of strategies, including regulatory initiatives such as this. I would also like to explore opportunities for incentives for developers who incorporate more trees and landscaping in their projects in order to help the city achieve its canopy goals.
13. Incentives for private property owners to plant trees
According to the 2016 Seattle Tree Canopy Assessment, a significant amount of the city’s urban forest is situated on single family and multi-family residences-which contributes to 72% of the city’s overall canopy cover.
QUESTION – What suite of community incentives and/or policies would you propose that will
encourage private landowners to plant native trees to reduce storm water impacts, improve air quality and sequester carbon, as well as to provide habitat for urban birds and other wildlife?
I support the Trees for Neighborhoods program which has been successful in planting over 7,000 trees for Seattle residents.
14. Race and social justice initiative The 2016 Seattle Tree Canopy Assessment found there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between tree canopy and both people of color and people within 200% of the poverty level. The report found that in Census tracts with lower amounts of tree canopy more of the population tends to be people of color and have lower incomes.
QUESTION – Given this relationship, how can the city work to identify opportunities to work with underserved communities in order to facilitate increased forest canopy.
I support Mayor Murray’s Equity and Environment Agenda and will work with the Community Partners Steering Committee to continue pursuing these goals. The people most impacted by environmental degradation must be the leaders in developing environmental solutions. Not only must we engage people of color in designing our city’s approach to improving environmental justice; we must also ensure that people of color are evaluating City environmental programs and crafting solutions that work best for their own communities. I will rely on the leadership within the Department of Neighborhoods’ “Community Involvement Committee (CIC)” to identify opportunities to engage communities of color in many different programs and policies to make sure their voice is heard in the planning process.
Planning for green belts, new parks, and green spaces must take into account racial and economic equity to ensure underserved areas of the city are benefiting from our efforts to increase the urban forest canopy. Equitable locations for green spaces and parks naturally follows my support for the HALA recommendations to concentrate affordable housing in downtown and urban villages.
15. Your personal story of a tree
BACKGROUND – Trees and open space offer a number of community benefits – increased housing values, decreased rates of crime, offering protection against climate change, reducing air pollution that contributes to health problems like asthma, filtering and reducing storm water runoff, habitat for wildlife and quality of life for communities. Trees (especially older, larger, mature trees and forest canopy) are a significant factor in helping to reduce carbon emissions on an ongoing basis.
QUESTION: Share with us your favorite tree or urban forest memory and why you support continued investment in trees as a community resource.
I grew up in Issaquah, when it was farm and country. Our house backed up to a forest of hundreds of acres of trees, creek and meadows. I spent endless hours playing in the woods, building forts and tracking animals. I climbed every kind of tree, to see how high
I could get. Whenever I needed to escape my brothers and sisters, I would find a quiet, hidden spot in the woods by the “crick”. Today, the smells and sounds of the woods is still very calming.
Please add any clarifications or comments you would like to convey to us regarding the questions above, or on protecting trees and the urban forest and open space in general.
Thank you for your participation! Please return the questionnaire by email by July 14, 2017 to Steve Zemke, Chair of TreePAC at firstname.lastname@example.org . Questionnaires will be posted at www.TreePAC.org,