Pete Holmes for Seattle Attorney
2017 Seattle Candidate Questionnaire Pete Holmes for Seattle Attorney
TreePAC 2017 Seattle Candidate Questionnaire
Urban Forest ; Green Space
Tree and urban forestry issues currently involve:
Trees, canopy and open space lost due to development
Need for stronger regulation to reduce tree loss and increase replacement
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 density increases?
Under my leadership, the City Attorney’s Office has taken very seriously the loss of trees, including our recent lawsuits to hold West Seattle homeowners accountable for cutting down over 150 City-owned trees to improve their views. I will continue to protect Seattle’s existing tree canopy on public property.
As Seattle’s population continues to climb, along with rising housing costs, we need growth policies that are healthy for both the environment and maintain affordability for residents. At my office, attorneys in the Land Use division will continue to provide creative legal counsel to the City’s elected and appointed officials on growth management and planning, and acquisition of public property for open space and parks to come up with innovative strategies.
Beyond sound policies, protecting Seattle’s trees and open spaces—especially amid intense development pressures—requires thinking outside the box. I’m especially proud of my silobusting initiative involving the notorious Sisley properties in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood:
After first modifying our enforcement strategies against these scofflaw owners to accumulate millions of dollars in fines and penalties—secured by liens on some four dozen decrepit residential properties—I reached out to other City departments, including Parks, Neighborhoods and Budget, in addition to the Mayor and City Council, to explore how these liens might be leveraged to preserve open park space to benefit the entire community. Rather than simply foreclosing on one or two parcels that would end up in developers’ hands, we pulled together an interdepartmental team to identify the best properties for preservation as open space. As we see this project through the Sisleys’ last legal maneuvers in the Washington Supreme Court, it will
stand as a model for how to collaborate among City agencies to turn a neighborhood’s decades long struggle with a slumlord into a lasting open space legacy amid intense development associated with the coming Roosevelt light rail station.
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, and I believe my Sisley park initiative discussed above will be instructive in establishing such an independent agency.
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, an open and inclusive process involving coordination between departments and community members is vital to the drafting and adoption of a comprehensive ordinance. My attorneys and I will continue to aid policy makers in giving creative legal advice throughout the ordinance process.
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. I support the current protections for exceptional trees in our municipal code but policies to counterbalance the impact when the removal of exceptional trees is necessary should be explored. My office helped to firmly establish the City’s authority to preserve similar historical landmark resources with a recent victory in the Washington Supreme Court, holding that the University of Washington could not “trump” the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. This reaffirmation of Home Rule concepts lends support to the City’s authority to protect Heritage Trees and Exceptional Trees.
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 City plainly has authority to regulate in this manner.
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?
Yes. My office explores all avenues for municipal revenues of behalf of City policy makers. Yet another recent Washington Supreme Court victory, for instance, affirmed Seattle’s authority to enact a special Gun Violence Tax. I believe that other revenue sources can be specifically targeted for our parklands, greenbelts and other critical areas. I will continue to work with fellow City leaders to implement such taxing structures.
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?
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. Such fees are plainly within the City’s authority to implement, and are long overdue.
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 accordingto 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?
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?
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
BACKGROUND – 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?
For single family residences, the Trees for Neighborhoods program has been successful in adding to our tree canopy with over 7,000 trees planted. We should also work with developers of multi-family housing units to provide incentives in the zoning code to preserve canopy cover on their property, or to pay into a general fund to expand the City’s canopy cover.
14. RACE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE
BACKGROUND – 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 to engage communities of color and low-income communities and pursue environmental equality in Seattle.
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 rural Virginia, the son of a professional forester. Even as a young boy, I
accompanied my father on “timber cruises”, watching how he estimated the volume and value of standing timber for lumber and other uses, and how to manage precious forest resources.