Pat Murakami for Seattle City Council
TreePAC 2017 Seattle City Council Candidate Questionnaire – 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?
We stopped requiring setbacks from the sidewalk on new construction. We need to reinstitute setbacks and require trees to be planted there. We must never allow lot-line to lot-line construction. All new construction should include a minimum required area of water permeable land, depending on the size of the project. We should require all new development to create planting strips along the perimeter of the new building; again, planting trees. ‘Living buildings’ should be truly living with planting that are maintained and not allowed to die from lack of water.
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?
Yes! It is simply wrong to allow DCI to have any authority over our urban forest.
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?
Yes. It is shameful that it has been nearly a decade and no action has been taken. We can ask for citizen volunteers to serve on a Seattle Urban Forest Advisory Commission and insist that the panel be formed with the authority to draft a tree ordinance within 60 days. What are we waiting for?
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?
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?
Yes. We should inventory the trees and perhaps install a marker at these trees, informing people of their importance.
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?
Yes. The only problem is SDOT doesn’t get back to you if you make a request to remove and replace a tree. I have a tree growing dangerously over the sidewalk and have tried for years to get permission to remove and replace it. Stoney silence is all I get in return.
7. FUNDING FOR PUBLIC TREE MAINTAINCE
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?
Yes. We need to ensure such a fund has citizen oversight and not controlled by the City Council like the Metropolitan Park District is. We need accountability and transparency for all special funds. Such a fund can be established through legislation. It can be funded by eliminating waste from our current bloated City budget.
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, provided we maintain an inventory of those trees and ensure fruit is harvested, rather than rotting on the ground to attract rodents, and provided it is done in cooperation with the private property owner (unless they are absentee and not maintaining their property).
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?
Yes, yes, yes! Impact fees must be charged so Seattle residents (this applies to both renters and homeowners) don’t have to pay for additional infrastructure required by the increase in population.
10. INCREASE CANOPY COVER GOAL TO 40% AND ADD METRICS TO ASSESS CANOPY VOLUME 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?
Yes. We are supposed to be the ‘Emerald City’ because of our tree canopy. Let’s honor that name and restore the green!
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?
Yes. This City belongs to its residents (renters and homeowners). Adequate tree canopy is in our best interest. We must hold DCI accountable.
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?
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 residencies-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?
First, we must make it a priority to preserve our single-family housing inventory. Secondly, we can offer trees at a discount to homeowners who will plant and care for them in their yards or on parking strips. The City could produce PSAs educating the public on the importance of planting more trees and encourage their participation in acquiring trees provided by the City.
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.
The City should offer free trees to underserved communities via a mailing offered in multiple languages. When trees are delivered (many people in these communities don’t have a vehicle so they can’t pick the trees up) the recipient should be given the instructions in their native language, if they aren’t English speakers, as to how to plant and care for the trees. We must require large developments, such as SHA’s New Holly or Rainier Vista, plant more trees in their open spaces. New subsidized housing developments should be required to have open spaces and trees on site.
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 have two stories. I still vividly remember driving down the long driveway to my grandparent’s farm as a young child, where Weeping Willow trees were planted on both sides of the drive. The branches hung down almost to the ground and brushed against the windshield as we drove to the house. It is always and pleasant and calming memory. Weeping Willows are still one of my favorite trees.
At my office in Georgetown, my landlord is a tree lover. We had an old-growth Oak (14’ trunk) in front of our office, which the City ordered to be removed because of a valid concern regarding it falling over during a wind storm. Three other very large Oaks had fallen on the next block in a recent wind storm, and fortunately no one was injured. The soil in Georgetown is very sandy and roots tend to be shallow. I miss that tree. It gave character to the building, it provided shade in the summer and kept our offices cooler, it was home to birds and provided food to the squirrels. All the tenants in our building mourned the loss of that Oak tree.
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 email@example.com . Questionnaires will be posted at www.TreePAC.org,