2017 TreePac Questionnaire
Peter Steinbrueck, candidate for Seattle Port Commission – Position #4
1) IMPACTS FROM PORT OPERATIONS. Many environmental issues are part of the Port’s jurisdiction, including airport and waterfront maintenance, shipping impacts, waterfront use and adjacent land development, oil and coal transportation through the City; the Key Arena and a potential SoDo stadium.
QUESTION: What do you perceive as key environmental and open space issues before the Port? How would you handle them different from the other candidates, with an eye to protecting the local tree canopy specifically on Port-controlled property?
Airport pollution, noise, and GHGs: The Port has a huge environmental footprint at all its operations and facilities. Climate change is a global crisis of unprecedented proportion, and our gravest challenge. The GHG inventory at Sea-Tac Airport is on par with the city of Seattle’s, and this along with the noise and other fine particulate pollution generated mostly by airplane landings and makes the airport the Port’s single biggest environmental challenge. The Port has Local communities surrounding Sea-Tac are heavily impacted by airport pollution, ultrafine particulate fall out, and noise, creating disproportionate health impacts and social and economic disparities. Through my dedicated work on the city council and subsequent consulting practice, I have actively worked to raise awareness of these disparities and advocated for reductions in greenhouse gases, cleaner water air, and better access to healthcare. Benchmarking, establishing measurable outcomes in clean-up efforts, noise abatement, and reducing all forms of pollution including CO2s are the goals that must be insisted upon and vigorously pursued. At the Port, I will work hard to ensure the Port keeps its environmental commitments in the Century Agenda.
The Port has an important role in addressing these community impacts and disparities, by working to reduce airport noise and air pollution. As Port Commissioner, I will take a strong, active and determined leadership role through my advocacy, and by directing efforts to reduce the Port’s environmental footprint, clean-up of toxic wastes, and by partnering with community, other agencies and responsible jurisdictions toward healthier environment for all. I have many more ideas for reducing the Port’s environmental footprint and protecting its open spaces. I want SeatTac to be the cleanest, quietest airport in North America, and the Seattle Port to become the Greenest Port in America, literally!
2. LOSS OF OPEN SPACE AND TREES WITH DEVELOPMENT BACKGROUND: Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Over the last two years, a 25 % increase in new apartment buildings often resulted in the loss of single-family homes with both open space and trees. In 2014, as Seattle reported 5,546 acres of parks and natural areas, the Trust for Public Lands ranked Seattle’s open space ratio among the lowest of the 200 largest U.S. cities, at 188th – that’s 12th from the bottom.
QUESTION: How can the Port influence the loss of open space, and even to increase open space and greenbelts/tree canopy, as Seattle grows and densifies?
To my knowledge, the Port does not have a specific open space policy, tree preservation
policy, or urban forest management plan. From my checking, the Port also does not have
a current inventory of surplus properties. It does however, have more than 60 acres of
parks and public access sites, including 11 parks, dozens of shoreline public access points,
fishing piers, picnic and viewing areas, scenic bike and pedestrian trails, and
environmentally sensitive wildlife habitat restoration areas. Given that, the Port can be a
good steward of its own parks and open space, and set an example for other ports as the
greenest port in America, that cares for its trees and parks. All these Port-owned public
areas, as well as other properties in the Port’s real estate holdings should be inventoried
for significant trees, tree canopy coverage, and heritage trees should be identified and
better protected. From there the Port, perhaps through its Environment and Sustainability
Center, can develop better tree preservation and management practices. These are all
worthy environmental goals, that as Port commissioner I will pursue.
3. SURPLUS CITY UTILITY PROPERTY PRESERVED AS NEW PUBLIC OPEN SPACE BACKGROUND: The Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan originally called for the addition of 1400 acres of open space by 2035 to accommodate population growth.
QUESTION: What is your opinion of this goal? How might surplus Port properties be preserved as public green and open spaces? What ideas do you have to achieve and/or exceed this goal?
I certainly support the Seattle 2035 park and open policies space goals, but I know from
my own research studies and city data that Seattle is not doing well in keeping up with its
commitment to provide the additional open space concurrent with the growth in
population an employment. I have for many years and in my capacity as a city
councilmember publicly advocated for more open space acquisition and use of city-owned
surplus for parks. Most recently I worked with the Seattle Green Spaces Coalition to
advance city policy in support of open space goals. Cass Turnbull in her tenacious, tireless
advocacy showed it could be done in stopping the city’s intended sale of the Myers Way
parcels in favor of preserving the city’s largest piece of surplus land for open space.
Currently the Port has no properties in its real estate holdings identified as surplus, and
most land is held for industrial and commercial purposes tied to its mission. I would be
interested in considering additional opportunities to expand public open space where
appropriate and feasible, with under-utilized Port properties determined to be of no
present or future value for industrial purposes.
4. UPDATE THE INTERIM TREE ORDINANCE BACKGROUND: Currently, the Department of Construction and Inspections (DCI) is responsible for updating the 2009 interim tree ordinance. Eight years have now passed since they were directed to do so, with no action on their part.
QUESTION: How can the Port support updating the Tree Ordinance?
This is a good question– Why haven’t city officials done more to advance tree protections? This is a question of leadership and political will. I think all elected officials in all jurisdictions in King County should advocate for tree protections. Within its limited jurisdiction, environmental sustainability is an important part of the Port’s Century Agenda, and therefore should support efforts by Seattle and other neighboring jurisdictions to increase tree protections. Beyond that Port commissioners can individually advocate for updating the city’s tree ordinance.
5) LOSS OF TREE GROVES WITH PORT MAINTENANCE. The Port of Seattle started cutting down trees. Nearly 3,000 trees are to be removed from SeaTac and surrounding areas by 2018. During the first phase of the project, the Port will cut trees on Port of Seattle property only. It will last until March 1. Replanting efforts — made up of dwarf tree specifies and shrubs — will begin shortly thereafter. The tree-cutting is part of the Port’s “Flight Corridor Safety Program”, which is to ensure that planes land safely. The Port says that if the trees are not removed, the Port could be fined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the airport can be shutdown.
QUESTION: How do you mitigate the loss of 3000 trees, trying to balance federal aviation safety standard, with the concurrent loss of uncounted trees with the rapid development in the region? How will you replace those trees and where?
This is a regrettable loss, forced by FAA flight safety standards. The best replanting option appears to me to be to be to “Replace Trees Onsite and Create a Tall-growing Forest Nearby.” Under this scenario, trees will be replanted at a 1:1 ratio distributed uniformly throughout the sites; and restore a native forest with a 3:1 ratio of tall-growing conifers at an adjacent site. Looking on the brighter side, the preferred tree loss mitigation plan, which I understand was the result of extensive community involvement, will permanently increase open space for habitat, add to biodiversity, help mitigate noise and air quality and hopefully increase carbon sequestration over time. I also want to see full ecological parity with the removal of larger mature trees and cover, replaced wherever possible with large trees and equal or greater cover.
6. 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.
QUESTION. How can the Port support a policy of protecting tree groves to conserve these special groupings of habitat and canopy cover?
The Port in its public mission can set an example by adopting its own environmental policy for protecting trees within its jurisdictional limits, and Port Commissioners as elected officials can be advocates for greater tree protections inter-governmentally within neighboring jurisdictions. What’s needed is something bold, such as a regional policy for stronger tree protections, adoption of a model tree protection ordinance, with neighboring jurisdictions signing interlocal agreements.
7. BETTER PROTECTION OF HERITAGE AND EXCEPTIONAL TREES BACKGROUND: Larger trees, (especially conifers in winter months) provide significantly more ecological value to Seattle’s green infrastructure, by reducing storm water runoff, cleaning pollutants from the air, and providing animal habitat.
QUESTION: Do you support giving greater protection to large trees like Heritage Trees and Exceptional trees on Port properties or in projects that the Port oversees like stadium expansion or construction? How would you provide this protection? How would you ensure enforcement of any tree protection?
Yes. However, I don’t know if any Heritage or Exceptional Trees exist on Port properties (why an inventory is needed). I am guessing that since the city has land use authority over Port properties, that the city’s tree protection ordinance, which provides some legal protections for Heritage and Exceptional trees would also apply to trees on Port properties within the city limits. Enforcement through DCI is also the city’s responsibility, also this has been weak. For the record, the Port is not overseeing any stadium expansion or construction in the city of Seattle. However, The Port has a direct interest in seeing that any environmental impacts are mitigated through the EIS and construction process, but regulatory authority and enforcement is entirely with city agencies
8. TREE “CZAR” FOR CITY DEPARTMENTS 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 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” was recommended.
QUESTION: Would you support unifying tree and urban forest management under a single department or agency, so there is one decisionmaker and not a committee of 8 that rarely meets? What department or leader would you recommend, and how could this be achieved?
This is more a question for candidates for city offices, who as councilmembers and mayors
would have direct authority over the city’s urban forest management practices and
enforcement. Still, the idea of unifying urban tree management and enforcement under a
single department may be a way to strengthen enforcement. It should be way for other
departments to escape unnoticed their joint stewardship responsibilities. The logical
choices for which department would best serve this function is unclear, but Parks, Public
Utilities, SDOT, City Light, and DCI all have responsibilities. Only DCI has the regulatory
authority (police power) for enforcement. Another option would be create a high-level
office of Urban Forestry and Tree Protection within the mayor’s cabinet.
9. 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 the Port dedicating more funding for the maintenance of neglected Exceptional Trees and tree groves in public greenbelts and critical areas like wetlands and steep slopes on or adjacent to Port properties? If so, how would you address these goals?
The Port has no jurisdictional authority over the city’s greenbelts and critical areas (except where the port may own property) and funding for their maintenance and protection is the fully city’s responsibility. Where Port operations and new development may impact adjacent areas, including greenbelts and critical areas, the Port may have legal responsibility to mitigate those impacts.
However, there is a precedent in the case of the Duwamish River Valley Super Fund, where the Port has voluntarily provided environmental remediation funds for clean-up and habitat restoration, in cooperative partnership with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, Seattle, King County and Boeing.
10. INCREASE CANOPY COVER GOAL TO 40% BACKGROUND: Seattle currently has a 28% canopy cover (according to a 2016 City study of trees 8 feet tall or higher). The Seattle’s Urban Forest Stewardship Plan’s goal is a 30% canopy cover by 2037. The Seattle Comprehensive Plan targets a 40%, as recommended by the American Forestry Association.
QUESTION: Do you support raising Seattle’s 2037 canopy goal to 40%? If not, why and on what basis?
Yes! This is one of the best things we could in Seattle, the “Emerald City,” to counter the loss of urban tree canopy due to growth and new development. Achieving it will require aggressive efforts, including better monitoring, stronger tree protections, and greater enforcement by the city. Other cities have stronger tree protections, such Portland Oregon, and Chicago and San Francisco have launched major urban forest tree-planting programs with impressive results.
11. TREE CANOPY REPLACEMENT FUND BACKGROUND: 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?
Yes, and I have worked for the last two years as a consultant to Save Madison Valley community members over this very issue, where a proposed large mixed-use development threatens complete removal of a large tree grove and greenbelt. The city’s existing tree protection ordinance, design review, and critical areas ordinance have all been insufficient protections, and there is no provision in the city municipal code requiring 1:1 replacement or compensation. I have publicly advocated for ecological parity or compensation for the loss of tree canopy, habitat loss, CO2 Sequestration, and other ecological services.
12. YOUR PERSONAL STORY OF A TREE BACKGROUND: Trees and open space offer many 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 also likely the single most effective way to passively reduce carbon emissions at arguably no cost to the City.
QUESTION: Share with us your favorite tree or urban forest memory and why you support continued investment in trees as a community resource.
The Washington Park Arboretum and What It Means to Me
As a special place of wonderment, experiential pleasure and discovery, I have loved the
Washington Park Arboretum since early boyhood. I grew up in the nearby Denny Blaine
neighborhood, and our family often visited the arboretum weekends for bicycling along
Arboretum Drive, exploring the miniature landscaping and artistry of the Japanese Tea Garden, swimming and fishing from Duck Bay and Foster Island, family picnics and Easter egg hunts (where real bunnies could be seen!), in the Flats along Azalea Way, and just casual strolls on the many pleasant and rightful trails. And with so many secret paths wending between so many magnificent and unusual trees, what a place for hide-and-seek—always a favorite of mine!
On the many visits to the arboretum with my father, he would often call attention to a particularly unusual tree or plant, and sometimes create a watercolor of the flowering azaleas or sketch lush landscape scenes while we happily played. To this day, I have a deep appreciation for the beauty of the collections and natural and cultivated landscapes found in the Arboretum, as well as for the educational, leisure and recreational opportunities it provides. Seattle just wouldn’t be the same without the Arboretum. Having such an expansive natural setting of rolling hills with a rich variety ornamental, native, and exotic trees and gardens in the heart of our city is truly a unique treasure for all. Thankfully, countless people in the community have fought against freeways and other threats to preserve and enhance this treasure. While institutions have been committed to the Arboretum for many years, these devotees have worked hard to make sure everyone has access to the same childhood experiences I was lucky enough to have as a boy. Now, with my own family and friends, I still enjoy frequent visits and many of the same activities in the Arboretum; a special place of permanence through changing times…
Arboretum Memories, Peter Steinbrueck, 2007