Save Our Substations

S.O.S.-Save Our Substations-sites are listed at end

  • From cutting and clearing the trees and vegetation

  • From selling City land to developers

  • From doing expensive and unnecessary work

Seattle City Light wants to sell 35 surplus substations to the highest bidder.  They say they can’t give them to Seattle Parks or private greenspace foundations.  They have  cut and cleared the trees and vegetation from two of their West Seattle substations, They have routinely done this in the past.

They say they must sell the property because of property laws and must clean-up contaminated soil that remains from the 50’s and 60’s.

But must they?


From the New Scientist:

“Finding a practical way to clean up contaminated land is tricky.  Digging up soil and moving it elsewhere is no longer acceptable, sealing it in a landfill site is now illegal in the US, and heating it in massive kilns to burn off offending pesticides is expensive.”

From R.L.Chaney, PhD, USDA-ARS research scientist (private communication to Turnbull 1-28-14)

“Remediation can be achieved by removing the soil at great cost, typically about $1 million/acre-foot deep …

 If the site had trees or other established vegetation that one wishes to preserve, it is very difficult to remove contaminated soil and much more expensive …

Composts are often highly valuable in remediation of contaminated or disturbed/eroded soils. — It is called in situ  bioremediation in the industry.  SCL should try it.”


The SOS Position Paper outlines several ways that the substations could be legally kept as greenspaces, for free, for the City.  And it lists ways to preserve the existing Urban Forest  if they are sold.

Ask the Seattle City Council to find a way to save the SCL surplus substations as green space.

The SOS Position paper is  available by contacting or by searching on-line under SOS Position Paper. Source TreePAC and PlantAmnesty.

Cass Turnbull – 206-783-9093

 UPDATE 10-29-14

The grant to the King Conservation District for a feasibility study of mechanisms to Save Our Substations was denied.

A proposal to the Dan Evans School for Public Policy was denied. It was to have a team of graduate students do the feasibility study.

Councilmember Rasmussen has proposed creating and funding of a Parks Opportunity Fund which would use public/private funds to buy surplus land for Parks. The mechanisms are as yet to be determined.

Week of Oct 21,  a For Sale sign went up on the Greenwood vacant substation, 80th and Aurora, and it was listed by the City as being for sale. Bids are due November  14th.

Oct 29th, two small pine trees have been planted by anonymous neighbor on the vacant Greenwood substation.

Nov 2, Guerrilla planters plant shrubs, herbs, and trees on Fauntleroy Substation site

Nov 11, Story in Ballard news Tribune on efforts to Save Out Substation is published. See Newsroom for text


Guerrilla planters’ protest Seattle City Light selling unused properties

By David Ham


Cass Turnbull said she’s among hundreds of Seattle citizens petitioning Seattle city leaders to save unused Seattle City Light surplus land as green spaces.

“It doesn’t make sense and it seems wrong that people are making profits off of land that the city owns, and the city is going begging for green spaces,” said Turnbull, who is also involved with Tree PAC.

Seattle City Light is in the process of selling 22 of its unused former substations and other surplus land.

Three properties have been approved by the city council to sell; nine other properties are under review for sale by the city council, and 10 other properties may also be reviewed by the city council for sale at a later date.

A spokesperson for City Light said that since the properties were purchased with rate-payer money, state law says they have to be sold at fair market price.

“They have every right to sell it and they’ve gone through the necessary notifications,” said Arvin Vander Veen, who is the agent for one of the properties for sale at 80th and Aurora.

He expects City Light to get at least seven offers for that property that will sell at a minimum of $600,000.

“The market we’re in right now – multi-family – is creating a lot of demand. I mean, Seattle’s creating a lot of jobs,” said Vander Veen.

In protest, Turnbull said that concerned citizens are planting trees and shrubs on some of the properties City Light has listed for sale.

“I think somebody called them guerilla plantings or drive-by plantings. I don’t know who’s doing it but somebody cares enough to bring the plants over,” said Turnbull.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen understands the importance of preserving green spaces in the city.

He said he is working with citizen groups to see if there’s a way that the city can keep the properties for public use.

The council will be considering a Statement of Legislative Intent on Friday.

According to meeting records, the item would: “identify potential inconsistencies or opportunities for improvement in the City’s current policies concerning the acquisition and preservation of open space and natural areas, especially as they relate to existing City goals such as those found in the Urban Forest Stewardship Plan and the Climate Action Plan; and  ii. make recommendations concerning the management and operation of an Open Space Opportunity Fund, including recommendations on how the OSOF could help advance City and community goals and priorities.”

“It also doesn’t make sense to ask the public to raise money to buy land that the city already owns. It’s just not right,” said Turnbull.

11-15 Greenwood substation sells

11-16 Seattle City Council unanimously passes Statement of Legislative Intent to evaluate concept and need for a new open space opportunity fund to purchase or retain surplus city properties use as ‘open space’.


                                                 We need to answer in force!

Public Hearing on Proposed Sale of Surplus Substations

Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 7 PM

Ballard First Lutheran Church-Seattle      2006 NW 65th St

The ONLY public hearing on proposed sale of 7 former substation properties in NW Seattle. The purpose of the public hearing is to take testimony about City Light’s property disposition alternatives, OR comments due the next day.  (This will be the public hearing that will comply with the requirements of RCW 35.94.040.)

Detailed information about all the sites, including maps and pictures, is here.

  • If unable to attend, you may e-mail your comments and/or indicate your interest in being notified of actions taken on the site at
    • or via U.S. Mail sent to:
    • Timothy Croll, Seattle City Light
      700 Fifth Ave, Suite 3316, Seattle WA, 98104
    • Comments must be received by November 17, 2017 to be included in the record.


Save Our Substations: The Back Story


One day last December I got a call from a neighborhood group trying to save several City owned surplus City Light vacant substations from being sold to developers. I was told that that they were old and beautifully landscaped parcels.  Like many people, whenever I see trees cut down for development I feel a tug at my heart, so I sympathized. This was sadder yet because it was publicly owned land that was about to join the concrete jungle.

I went to look at the eight small properties, and eight more that had been dispensed with the previous year. Some of them were like miniature parks, thoughtfully landscaped about 40-50 years ago. They had nice old trees, flowering shrubs, groundcovers and lawn. In the middle each was a hidden, fenced, long-vacant concrete pad. Others sites were different. At one property—a buffer between a busy street and a developing residential neighborhood–there was a grove of massive cottonwood trees, a rough hewn grassy field and ditch that turned into a stream sometimes. Farther south in a poorer neighborhood, sandwiched between rows of low apartment buildings, vacant houses and yet another busy street there was a long, barren, graveled lot. On second look I could see where a sizable patch of native trees had grown up behind the slatted fence. For a person who likes green things, the best was found in the heart the Rainier valley. It was a planted woodland adjacent to a large and mysterious, wooded wetland which I peered at through the surrounding chain-link fence.

When I was a kid I explored the vacant lots near our home. It is how I learned to appreciate nature. I’m sure it must be why I grew up to became a professional gardener, and eventually founded an organization devoted to teaching people how to properly care for their trees and plantings. Those vacant lots are long gone, as are many of them that used to be everywhere in Seattle. Even the steep hills and ravines that were once considered unbuildable, sport rows of houses on stilts. Today children relate to nature though well-manicured lawns, organized sports, and supervised visits to Eco-parks. Mom no longer just says, ‘go out and play.’

With the advent of the detached dwelling unit — even playing in the back-yard is fast becoming a thing of the past.

So I envisioned a new use for the surplus properties. It would be similar to the P-patch program. The properties would be called Tree Banks and they would exist by virtue of their utilitarian benefits as green infrastructure. The local communities would decide their exact use–be it a woods, a vegetable garden, a cistern, a wild area for kids, or a community orchard. Volunteers would supply the stewardship, and oversee the kids. The scattered Tree Banks would eventually be in every neighborhood, close enough that the infirm, the very old, the kid who whose parents can’t afford to send him to camp, and the stressed out office worker could find solace in a nearby patch of green.

There is other unused land left in Seattle that could be repurposed. According to columnist Matt Rosenberg, in 2011, Seattle had $80 million worth of excess property. Surely some of it could become Tree Banks, preserved for the public good.

In the process of proposing the Tree Bank idea, I ran into a solid wall of restrictive laws, an obscure property disposition process, and several disinterested City Departments. Taken as a whole, they indicated that the fate these tiny green Edens was already sealed. It seemed inevitable that most would be sold to the highest bidder. How could we pass up this opportunity to give to the future the things we took for granted ourselves? I was, and I am, convinced that Tree Banks are a good idea, a needed idea, and an idea whose time has come.


A grant has been submitted. To help us make Tree Banks happen, please use the TAKE ACTION function on the website to send an email to your council member and the mayor.



North Beach Substation, 9407 19th Ave. NW

Loyal Heights Substation, 7750 28th Ave. NW

Ballard Substation, 6730 24th Ave. NW

Monroe Substation, 1405 NW 65th St

Olympic Hill Substation, 8032 15th Ave. NW   This could become a park with redwood trees & fern grotto, and 5-8 climbing/sitting boulders for all the new apartment dwellers and their kids.

Sunset Substation, 3209 NW 65th St

Market Street Substation, 2826 NW Market St

Leary Substation, 1414 NW Leary St (currently a car dealership)

Whittier Substation, 7605 6th Ave. NW, with difficulty sold to Parks

Phinney Substation, 6109 Phinney Ave. N, suggests a community garden or orchard

Greenlake Substation, 949 N. 80th, could be used to as a green screen between residential homes and the Aurora commercial area


Avalon Substation, 44000- 35th Ave SW, two or more lots, greenspace for all the new apartment    dwellers, and green entryway to West Seattle

Andover Substation,  2100SW Andover Street

Dakota Substation, 4918 SW Dakota Street- suggest a mini-park

Delridge Substation- 5601-23rd Ave SW-suggests a native wildlife area, duck pond

Dumar Substation-1605 SW Holden Street

Fauntleroy-4520 SW Brace Point Drive- suggests a mini-park

Wabash- 5122 S Cloverdale Street – suggests an eco-wetland educational park

White Center, 8820 – 9th Ave SW (not in White Center) –native tree grove and area and rain garden

Cass Turnbull

TreePAC Founder/President


 Myers Parcels

The Myers parcels may be the last large, undeveloped piece of property that could become a major park in Seattle. It is 38 acres of surplus land already owned by the City. It is located at the south border of West Seattle, between White Center and South Park. It is an easily ignored piece of land, it seems remote from the industry, the homes, and certainly from the building boom that is elsewhere. You can see 509 from it and it is surrounded, and locked up entirely, by a chain link fence. You might not even notice it when driving north to get to the 1st Ave bridge.

Because of my work on the Save Our Substations project I knew it was City owned surplus land when I happened to drive by and see the Joint Training Facility Sign. I quickly pulled off the road when I saw it had woods, fields, and steep slopes. And, as I found out later, wetlands. After researching its history I can say that Myers is a much abused piece of God’s green earth. For most of its modern history it was mined as a gravel pit. Nintendo owned it for a while and insisted that Seattle buy all the acreage if they wanted to buy any of it.

Then in 2007, just before the great recession, it was put up for sale by the Council. The City wanted to pay off an interdepartmental loan on the land and stimulate the economy in underserved south Seattle. For various reasons the deal with LOWES flipped.

Development has recently begun to nibble at the corners. The property just adjacent to the North has become a spiffy new building complex for retired people. Above the steep cliff and to the west the King County Housing people decided to turn over large swaths of their land to build Green Bridge, which is the latest thing in mixed use housing, invented to deal with Seattle’s affordable housing problem. The steep greenbelt to the north of the retirement complex got taken by parks as part of the Westcrest Park, thank God. It extends the Duwamish greenbelt to, you know, Myers. On the east side of Myers Way, located behind an inconspicuous hole in the chain link fence. is a trail going down the steep wooded hill to 509. A homeless camp is hidden there.

As for Myers proper, the Firemen decided they needed to use it to build their own training facility (for $33 million of your tax dollars, about the price of the land itself). A local environmental hero, John Beal, fought to stop the development because Myers feeds Hamm creek, one of the tributaries of the Duwamish. He had spent 27 years of his life restoring the Hamm. I have yet to hear the details of the epic battle. But John Beal died of a massive heart attack and today you can see the Joint Training Center at the center of the land. You can’t enter the firefighter’s facility itself, its security gated and fenced, but sometimes you can see pink smoke arising from a concrete tower. From Google Earth you can see roads lined in big red tucks. A tiny duck pond at the visitors parking area is what remains of the wetland.

Still many undeveloped acres remain at the Myers parcels. Those parcels have just entered the City’s obscure disposition process. If no other department wants the land, and I understand that Parks doesn’t (most likely because it can’t afford the price tag or the cost to develop it), it will get sold to the public. The FAS preliminary report from the City recommends that the flatland be sold for commercial development except, of course, for a little bit flatland on top of the cliff. They want to keep that as a parking lot for City vehicles. It’s got a great view.

Money is always the problem. The State Accountancy Act says you can’t just give or transfer property from one dept to the other. I’m investigating several possible ‘work-arounds’ to make the land affordable, or perhaps even free. But no one is holding their breath. I applied for grants to create a think tank of a lawyer, a strategist, and policy analyzer to check out the feasibility of various possible options.

It’s quite likely that Myers will slip through our hands before I succeed in getting my think tank. And it’s even more likely to happen as there is no large constituency nearby to fight for the park or greenspace. And that is what it takes if the City doesn’t to keep a pieced a land. With incredible effort, the City finally relented and saved the Soundway in West Seattle. Cal Anderson was hard fought for. And various little pocket parks have been set aside because someone collected of 500 signatures spent many years of donated time working to get push through the natural resistance of bureaucracies. Send me an email saying that you would like to save it as a natural area and I’ll be that person.
The kids of future Seattle will not have what I had as a girl growing up in Seattle. Because of the avalanche of density headed our way, there just won’t be the backyards, the vacant lots and the empty campgrounds of my youth. Exploring the vacant lot next door is how I came to love nature. I want the kids of Greenbridge to be able to bike to Myers Park, to climb trees, build forts, play in mud, and pretend they are in some distant wild place. I want a place, where there might be frogs and grasshopers to hear and to catch or to see a salmon spawning.