Letters written


Save the UW Campus Trees!

To sign this petition got to https://www.change.org/p/help-save-the-uw-campus-trees?recruiter=380909&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

Save the UW Campus Trees

We protest the proposed exemption of the UW from requirements of the City of Seattle Tree Ordinance in the 2018 Campus Master Plan (CMP). There is no enforceable policy, beyond vague intentions, to guarantee protection to Exceptional Trees in the Campus Master Plan.

We request the 2018 Campus Master Plan list which individual trees would be lost to both a) the 10 year building plan, and b) the long range buildout plan.

The UW has a GIS tree map with tree names and values, and has cataloged 8,274 trees of 417 species, of which 644 trees of 70 species are considered Exceptional Trees according to City of Seattle definitions. This map could generate a list of threatened trees for all projects. https://depts.washington.edu/ceogis/Public/Trees/.

The UW has a long and storied history of removing large numbers of trees, rare and historic trees, and large, mature trees of high quality and aesthetic value, and of doing so without sufficient cause.

The university often cuts trees to accommodate the building architect’s ‘vision‘, or to make it easier or cheaper to build. Those decisions to remove trees appear to be made in a vacuum, often at odds with the institution’s own plans and goals and with little public notice or input.

Examples include:

A) In 2016. For a project to replace the dorms at Haggart and McCarty Hall, UW cut down 230 trees, 70 of them considered Exceptional Trees (according to City of Seattle definitions). In part, the UW used an exemption to the Municipal Use Permit to build in a sensitive area, Kincade Ravine. While the UW could have chosen to build taller, thus maintaining the same size footprint and preserving trees, it chose instead to expand outward to lessen cost of construction.

B) In 2003, for the New Law School Buildings, 24 different species of trees were cut, including the biggest American Beech in the City of Seattle, the biggest Chinese Chestnut in the City of Seattle, and the biggest Himalayan White Pine on the UW campus, and a rare Pindrow Fir, in total, 24 different species of trees.

These are two of a long list of other unnecessary tree removals going back 30 years. Taken together they constitute a pattern disregard for The UW’s own environmental heritage.

This petition will be delivered to:


Volunteer Park

TreePAC is against the proposed expansion of the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. It is important for us to stop thinking of open space as free land for whatever else is wanted. As with most environmental damage, the cumulative effect of many small, seemingly insignificant losses–each one with a good justification–eventually adds up to serious and sometimes irreversible problems.

Seattle is losing privately owned trees and greenspace at an alarming rate because of the building boom. Concrete covers the land where trees once stood and where trees will never grow again. At the same time the Parks District indicates that it will not be acquiring additional greenspace to mitigate these losses and to meet the increasing needs of 200,000 new residents. In this equation we seem to have forgotten that all these people need green space and large trees as are found in Volunteer Park, a City and National Landmark designed by John C. Olmsted.

The proposed expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) threatens the integrity of Volunteer Park. Previous additions to the SAAM encroached upon the land and are an architectural insult to the natural beauty of the park. Volunteer Park’s stately trees and lawns are irreplaceable. Even those trees not directly in the path of building expansion are threatened by construction activities.

The Seattle Protect Our Parks Ordinance #118477 states “An Ordinance requiring the preservation of all lands and facilities held now or in the future by the City of Seattle for park and recreation purposes; stipulating that such lands and facilities may only be changed from park use after a public hearing and the enactment of an ordinance finding that such action is necessary, and providing for simultaneous exchange of land or facilities of equal or better value.”

Public engagement in this project has been all but non-existent.

TreePAC does endorse the much needed improvements to the existing SAAM building that voters approved in 2008. If more space is needed, then the new building should be located in the foot print of a preexisting building that has been torn down, elsewhere. In our view, this should be policy for all our public greenspaces.

We are asking the Mayor and City Council to act on behalf of the public good and halt the expansion plans and permit applications until Seattle Citizens have been fully informed and engaged in decisions concerning conversion of valuable Volunteer Park property. Once public green space is gone, it is gone for good.

Cass Turnbull, TreePAC
President & Board members


October, 2016

To whom it may concern,

As a long time defender of City Light’s utility pruning practices, it is with a certain amount of regret that I am write to say that the current state of pruning is unnecessarily damaging and should be changed.

Most of the cuts done for the powerlines by Seattle City Light are directional cuts, as required in utility line clearance standards and manuals. However, the problem is that the cuts are too large, there are too many, and they are unnecessary to achieve sufficient line clearance. The ill-effects can be seen. The number and growth rate of epicormic shoots (the watersprouts) increase in response to this severe pruning. They will threaten powerlines in the near future, requiring repeat pruning as they are capable of causing outages. That is unnecessarily costly to the ratepayers.

Clearance crews have gone overboard just in the past 5 years. Instead of ‘Y’ pruning trees so that growth is channeled to either side of the wires, while maintaining apical dominance, I often see ‘ T’ pruning, which only encourages watersprouts to grow along the scaffolds. It also forces limbs to overextend across roads. At other times, I have noted smaller sized trees which have reached their maximum height being pruned for no reason. And then there are many trees that aren’t seen to be responding to heavy pruning with new growth. Often this is because they are damaged to the point that they simply die back in part or totally. This is most apparent when heavy line clearance is combined with other major physiological stressors such as drought or additional pruning done for truck traffic.

I am not simply an amateur who doesn’t like what they see done to trees near powerlines. I count several line clearance arborists as friends and they have advised me over two decades. PlantAmnesty has received grants from utility companies and the International Society of Arboriculture to explain pruning standards to the public. When asked, about ‘those damn utility companies’, I have often responded that PlantAmnesty is the utility arborist’s best friend because when I explain it, they know there is no self interest on my part.

I have personally seen a program of thoughtful, efficient, line-clearance pruning under Ben Barnes of Seattle City Light. He had control of his crews and considered the good of trees, and their tolerances, as well as how to keep costs of line clearance pruning low. Today there seems to be no knowledge of the requirements and responses of different species. The amount of topping has also increased dramatically. I do understand that even topping is sometimes required for safety reasons. But it is the overuse and one-size fits-all approach that is doing unnecessary damage to these trees. Unfortunate as it is, trees under wires are still an important part of Seattle’s Urban Forest, accounting for 18% of the City’s total urban forest and half of our publically owned trees.

Any savings achieved by lengthening pruning cycles or increasing severity of pruning I believe will be short lived as the unintended consequences will make more work for SCL in the longer term. It also does harm to SCL’s reputation as a “Green Utility’ and negates the honest efforts that other employees have made with regards to improving customer service and the Department’s public image.

Cass Turnbull


To: Andra Kranzler & Lisa Herbold

From: The TreePAC board
Date Sent: 9/5/16

Hi Andra,

Thanks to you and Lisa, we have made some progress with regards to averting some of the unwanted effects of Densification. One of the three brightest days of my life was when I heard Myers Parcels was to be saved. Let’s do more.

NOTE: Both Density goals and Green Space goals can be met by going ‘up, not out’ inside the City as well as ‘out there’ in what passes for the forest these days.

We would like to suggest that Lisa propose an amendment to the Mayor’s Comprehensive Plan that requires the City to annually track the amounts of permeable and impermeable land in Seattle. That will give us the rate of conversion. Seattle is currently 62% impermeable (buildings and roads). Such data is relevant to issues of stormwater control, urban forest provisioning, human health, Seattle’s livability, energy use, and the Urban Heat Island Effect. Did you know that big cities are heating up twice as fast as the rest of the country? The new Comp Plan takes out metrics for open space provisioning and has removed most of the environmental language of the original plan.

Even better would be to require some sort of partial ‘build out’ study that would tell us how much total (public and private) green space will be left when all the lots are developed to their full potential on some future date. Given enough time and people, it is inevitable that this happen. The study would be based on current or maybe new zoning laws. Since according to the City, it takes 900 contiguous square feet to support a medium sized tree, we could find out if it is even possible to reach our 40% tree canopy coverage goal in the future. Maybe we can, or maybe we can’t if we don’t manage our growth differently. We just don’t know. But I hear a real ‘build out’ study costs millions. Still I can’ believe we are going full steam ahead without knowing where we will wind up.

I am attaching a news article on this topic and an unedited article I have written. They have a more in depth analysis of the situation and need.

Other amendments we’d like to see are:

The establishment of a ‘Tree Tsar,’ a single authority OVER all other arborists in all other departments. Housed in OSE.

The provision that a Task Force of ALL stakeholders be convened to create a new Tree Preservation Ordinance. Meetings would be facilitated and funded. It would be under the authority and supervision of the OSE, (not DPD, er I mean DCLU, er I mean SDCI) Results to be adopted into legislation by 2018.

We tried earlier to set up a meeting with you, but it got shunted elsewhere.

It’s an important issue, (But, then, aren’t they all?)

Best wishes and thanks for taking the time, I know it is in short supply.

Cass Turnbull & the TreePAC Board


Remove the Contaminated Soil, Not the Trees at Loyal Heights

Open letter to the Seattle Mayor. 2-9-16

Dear Mayor and policy advisers,

Please suspend any action by Seattle City Light to remove exceptional trees and other mature vegetation the Ballard area surplus property called the LOYAL HEIGHTS substation, 7750- 28th Ave. NW. The trees are due TO BE CUT DOWN THIS FRIDAY the 12h. The SCL crews have already removed trees from other sites located in the Ballard extended area without having public meetings with interested parties.


There are other ways to deal with contaminated soil that do not require the trees be cut down.

The public engagement processes described in the EPA’s Guidelines for Cleaning Contaminated Sites has not been completed. Neither has Seattle’s official DISPOSITION policy which is used to decide the future use of the land.

It is necessary to decide what the future use of the property will be before deciding which way to clean-up the soil.

Legally and morally, we all know the contaminated soil must be fixed. But exact nature and order of work being done is not dictated by City, State or Federal law. They are based on internal and unwritten policies of Seattle City Light.


Temporarily prevent the removal of trees on the NW substation sites.

If risk reduction is wanted, use temporary chain link construction fencing, as is commonly done to restrict public access to brownfields during the remediation process.

First, determine the future use of the property by following Seattle’s disposition policy which includes public outreach.

Then, engage the public in the decision making process (as SCL has done in Georgetown and other areas) with regard to deciding which method should be used to clean up the property.

Use a facilitator to lead discussions, and allow the inclusion of independent experts for their assessments of remediation options.

Then decide which method to use to clean-up the site. Then clean it up. Then sell or keep the land.



I am an open space advocate, ISA certified arborist, and president of two environmental non-profit organizations, TreePAC and PlantAmnesty. I have knowledge of these matters from dealing with the exact same situation in SW Seattle.

This is a repeat situation

At Loyal Heights substation in Ballard, the stated purpose for cutting down trees is to remove pesticide contaminated soil that has been there for over 40 years. That is the conclusion drawn by SCL when it found that most of the surplus substations in SW Seattle had the exact same pesticides. The chemicals had been spread evenly throughout the landscaped portions of the properties. And it most likely all the NW properties share this situation based on the information released about Magnolia and Market substations soil reports.

Decisions on remediation method has been unilateral

The EPA, through the State Department of Ecology, requires an extensive community outreach process to take place in order that the residents be included in the decision making process.

They need to be allowed to add their opinions about which way to clean up the contamination (called soil remediation). This has not been done. Such a process can often take months. In the meantime, land owners with extremely toxic properties (which these are not) exclude the public and reduce any risk to the public by using construction fencing.

But there is a new legal loophole in the state ECOLOGY department’s policy which was created for ‘good players’. It is called a Voluntary Clean-up Action. Through it, the required process of toxic soil clean-up can be expedited and many of the required steps skipped. With a Voluntary

Clean-up Action, the land is remediated by the owner, then the owner tells ECOLOGY what they’ve done. No public process required! This is an example of how, in the cause of reducing time, cost and paperwork, decisions come to be made based on personal judgments and relationships. The result is often something called ‘regulator capture’, where the regulators begin to serve the interests of those they are supposed to regulate. SCL is obviously not being a ‘good player’ as it has demonstrated by SCL’s lack of inclusion on choosing the type of remediation to be used in the SW properties.

SCL’s insistence on ‘dig and dump’ process may be a reaction to the incident when they tried to sell a toxic substation in Burien (Sunnydale) to the Port. It had not been remediated. It resulted in a multi-million dollar lawsuit. But this is obviously not that situation. Loyal Heights is not Sunnydale.

Or it may be a matter of money of time. It is likely that any savings in time and money that can be had by abridging the public process will result in even more time and money being spent battling the angry and misinformed public. Many residents of Seattle are already feeling cut out of the decision making process as the City grapples with the big problems of density, housing, homelessness, parking and traffic. City Light is losing its reputation as ’the greenest utility’. Its public image remains poor, even as it gives out thousands of dollars in energy rebates.

Other trees have been saved in similar circumstances

There are other options to deal with the soil. At the contaminated substations that Seattle City Light put into the disposition process in the SW quadrant of their region, over 24 trees were successfully retained by using the process called SOIL VACUUMING. Soil vac’ing removes the soil but leaves the trees roots intact. Clean soil is then put back. Three cherry trees exactly the same as the ones at Loyal Heights which were vac’ed have remained stable and healthy after a year of record breaking drought and windstorms.

There are still other options. An environmental remediation researcher from the University of Washington gave a presentation to the Urban Forestry Commission. She wrote a letter indicating that bioremediation (detoxifying soil through the use of plants, fungi and/or microorganisms) could be the cheapest and easiest way to detoxify the soil and retain the vegetation at these specific sites. She indicated that it might take months instead of days to fix the soil. The suggestion was quickly rejected by SCL.

Don’t let SCL put the cart before the horse. Decide the future use of the property, and then decide the clean up method.

One of the first points made in EPA’s guidelines on remediation of brownfields is an obvious one. You need to know what the future use of the land will be before you decide which way to deal with the contaminated soil. If it is to be used as a park, as some substations have been, it would be worth it to consider other soil remediation options. If it will be an apartment building for low income folks, then you may just as well cut the trees down based on lot coverage alone.

But at this time no decision on land use has been made because the Council hasn’t yet voted on the future of these properties.


The process of deciding what will become of the properties is not complete. The City’s own ordinance on the disposition process requires public
outreach—notification, meetings and public comment.

Green spaces for dense cities

There are many brownfields across the country that is being converted to public parks because of the shortage of unbuilt land and the need to keep our increasingly dense cities ‘livable’.

Ballard, as you know, is low on green space.

Simultaneously Ballard is experiencing explosive growth. The city’s new construction removes existing green infrastructure and Urban Forest canopy which is on private property (back yards and commercial landscaping) and it also precludes it from growing back (since the land is now covered with more hard surfaces). This places extreme pressure on our storm water systems-flooding streets and polluting the sound. Add the cumulative removal of vegetation heightens the Urban Heat Island Effect. These are things the ratepayers and taxpayers and individuals must pay for–in higher energy bills for air-conditioning, for upgrades to sewer systems and treatment plants, for the increase in health care costs for people with heat and stress related problems, to deal with increasing mudslides and road repairs due to urban flooding.

People are losing access to green space within walking distance, especially people with mobility issues– the old, the poor, the sick, the very young, people with dogs and parents with baby buggies all will have a difficult time taking the bus to an already overcrowded Golden Gardens

Process: Slow, costly, and painful

City representatives naturally tend to believe and support the decisions of their departments.

They depend on them for accurate advice and for an understanding of the details and the big picture. But it can also lead to biased or inaccurate decision making. That is why public process is used–painful, expensive and slow as it is. There needs to be a way truly includes the public’s viewpoints of what is in the public good. The process must include contrary opinions and independent expert advice. Currently the ‘public process’ employed by the city seems only to be used to dampen and diffuse complaints, keeping them from being heard first hand by the decision makers. The result, I am afraid, is a discouraged and eventually apathetic electorate.

We already know the conclusions and decisions of SCL and its employees and contractors. We don’t know what independent experts and the public would say about this land. We should all be conscious of the fact that SCL, even though it is run as a business, is still a department of the City and is paid for by the ratepayers. These citizens and ratepayers have been purposefully excluded. When Seattle City Light preemptively remediates before we know what will become of the property, and before there is any public process, they are seen as acting in bad faith.

A model process that includes the public in these decisions could help turn those perceptions around. The people are more likely to accept Smart Growth if they see that attention is being paid to keeping the City livable and that their voices are being heard.

Please help restore faith and trust by stopping the imminent t removal of these trees.

Cass Turnbull




Please look more closely at the Mayor’s plan to sell Myers Parcels. Funding to address the homeless situation is desperately needed and a good use of public finds. But selling off the heart of Myers Parcels for commercial development is the wrong way to go about it.

It’s the fiscally smart thing to do. Myers parcels is 33 acres of wooded slopes, wetlands and meadowland that is the last large piece of undeveloped property that could become a major park in Seattle. In Seattle, specific user groups are already fighting over the limited existing park spaces. With 200,000 more people headed our way we should be snapping up whatever open space is left. Because it is already owned by Seattle Myers can be had for a song ($13 million, instead of the going retail price of $32 million) We will never get open space this cheaply again. Even if we need to land bank it for the future, by simply not selling it, it wiser to retain it than sell it.

Environmental Justice Myers is located next to Greenbridge a new, large, low-income housing development. It is also adjacent to a senior housing complex.

Myers separates residential areas from the industrial zone and two busy highways, creating a visual buffer and cleaning the air pollution they generate.

The central, flatland portion (the part that is to be sold for commercial development), would be essential for the creation of a park. Because it flat it would be accessible people with mobility issues- handicapped, the very old, the very young, and those with health problems. Many of the neighbors have written to me saying that they want the land to be kept as a park.

Specific Ecological Value The meadows–the flatland —is one of three different habitats at the site. It is the rarest because most of the city’s natural areas are deeply shaded hillsides. As such Meyers meadows are home to infrequently seen and heard wildlife- gold finches, warblers, native butterflies including the Red Admiral and the Painted Lady, killdeer, a population of native crickets and the land is the hunting ground for retailed hawks (because of the voles and garter snakes). These are things the local kids need to see as they grow up, especially ones whose parents cannot afford to send them to summer camps.

The other half of the flatland has already been developed for the Joint Training Facility (for firefighters to practice, it cost of $33 million to build) during which wetland was removed, land filled and graded, and Hamm creek below was washed out as a result.

Even though there are many reasons to sell Myers, there are even better ones to retain it: for the kids, for the community, for the environment, because it makes financial sense and because it is the right thing to do.

Thank you for your consideration.

TEXT of Take Action letter to Seattle City Council and Mayor

I want to thank you for taking good care of our City during these difficult times. I’m sure it is doubly hard to get things done when budgets are slim and needs are so many and so great.

But please keep ‘support for creation and passage of the new Tree Preservation Ordinance’ on your to-do list.  It has been in the works for over seven years now. And please keep a strong Urban Forestry component in the City’s updated comprehensive plan. Protection and care of the Urban Forest and open space is an effective and inexpensive way to mitigate a large number of health, economic and environmental problems–including childhood obesity, urban flooding, smog, air and water pollution, slides, increasing energy costs, and global climate change—all of which are increasing at a frightening rate.  Besides which, as you know, trees look good!

Thank you for your hard work, and best wishes in all your endeavors.


Open letter to Seattle Mayor and City Council


We know that the environment and the people of Seattle suffer from the ill effects of urbanization. The heat island effect, the sewer overflows and marine pollution, heat exacerbated illnesses, habitat degradation—these are all the result of development which is unmitigated by a sufficient amount of green space and the Urban Forest.

Taken with global warming it all adds up to an environmental crisis for Seattle. What is the City’s reaction in the Comprehensive Plan’s proposed update? Is it to increase our open space goals, to seek out new funding sources for green space acquisition, or tie greenspace acquisition to development? No. The City’s response is to reduce open space goals to be more ‘realistic’ and cut the parks acquisition budget to a record low. This is at a time when Seattle is awash in money from development boom, and experiencing unprecedented losses of privately owned open space.

Our current comprehensive plan goal is to have one acre of public open space for every 100 City residents. And we are pretty close to that now. By way of comparison Portland has 2.3 acres per 100 people, DC has 1.3 acres, Atlanta has 1.1, Seattle has .9, Boston .7 and NYC .5 acres.

Because of the predicted arrival of thousands of new people in coming decades, The Department of Development says we would need to add 70 acres of open space per year to meet those same goals. Between 2000 and 2014 we averaged a gain of 18 acres per year.

The Seattle Urban Tree Canopy Project Report says we need 410 acres of new tree canopy coverage to make our goal of 40% by 2035. We have somewhere between 23-29% canopy coverage now. Pittsburgh has 42%; DC has 35%, Huston 30%, Boston 22%. LA 18% and Jersey City 11%.

By way of a different comparison, the Parks budget for land acquisition in 2016 is $6.9 million. The City plans to spend $28 million in coming hears to improve access to the Westcrest dog park. According to the Move Seattle website, the City will spend $83 million each year over the next ten years on safety measures to ‘eliminate crashes and accidents’.

‘It’s hard to get new open space’, the drafters of the comprehensive plan tells us, ‘because land just isn’t available.’ Meanwhile the City is planning to sell 30 surplus properties, the ‘substations’ which are practically mini-parks now, a large piece of surplus land in the densely packed South Lake Union Urban Village, and it plans to sell 33 acres of sensitive areas–steep wooded slopes, open meadow and wetlands–in an underserved southwest Seattle neighborhood. All to become yet more development. ‘But’, the City says, ‘we need that land for low income housing’. It’s not true. Housing can always go upward. Open space must be ground based.
Can anything be done to stop the paving of paradise? The transformation of a once scenic City into an intimidating set of concrete blocks, where the water views and back yards are reserved for the rich?

Yes! Adopt the 2015-16 TreePAC Green Agenda: Increase setbacks and landscaping requirements on private property, reduce lot coverage in single family zones, increase tree retention by increasing its value in Green Factor, set robust open space goals for industrial/manufacturing zones, adopt new and innovative funding and acquisition strategies like Tree Fund, require surplus land to stay in the public domain, adopt a strong tree ordinance, offer financial incentives to retain open space and trees (treebates), tie open space/urban forestry funding to development, disallow exceptions to building in sensitive areas, increase open space goals, hold law and code enforcement accountable for legal violations of tree laws, keep an accurate and annual update of tree removals and a more frequent update of the tree canopy, fund non-profits who increase or maintain open space and urban forests. But mostly, stop making excuses and get more open space for Seattle before it really is too late. Once it is gone, it is gone for good.

“When you sell the land, it is the end.”
-From The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck

Cass Turnbull
TreePAC/Open Space Advocate


Roy Street Shops. 09-15-15

Dear Mayor Ed Murray,

I am hopeful that I can convince you not allow the Roy Street Shops property (800 Aloha Street, 802 and 804 Roy Street)) to enter into the disposition process. It needs to be kept ‘on hold’ until it can be acquired as open space for the residents of that neighborhood.


The local residents’ access to parks is severely limited. That’s because the Roy Street Shops are located in the heart of a long strip of high density properties which are bordered by two main arterial streets, Dexter and Westlake. They make it virtually impossible for the people to reach SLU Park or the Queen Anne greenspaces.

The new apartments and condominiums have their fair share of seniors, kids, pet walkers, mothers with baby buggies and stressed out office workers who all need a place to go that is green.

The GAP analysis

The comprehensive plan gives highest priority to adding parks in the Urban Villages. The Shops are located in one of the worst gaps, that of South Lake Union.


City tax receipts are up, as are Seattle City Light fees (they own the land). Indeed, revenues are way up due to the building boom. So, why sell now? We don’t need the money. But the Parks acquisition budget is at an all time low. It is a time when Parks can’t possibly afford to buy the land. But times change. Impact fees, levies, the new MPD, or a change in the disposition policy itself could make it possible to make it a park in the future. Surplus City land, including utility owned land, is cheaper than anything the City can buy now or in the future.

Housing v. Open Space

Not only is there a crisis in open space, there is a crisis in low income housing and homelessness. So why shouldn’t the land be used for that purpose? Because there are many ways to accommodate low-income housing, but only one way to make a new park–that is with vacant land. Creating more housing can be accomplished by using existing buildings—bought and renovated or leased to the City at a lower cost than building new housing at the Roy Street Shops. Housing can always be accommodated by building taller buildings, but public open space must always be on the ground floor!

ON-HOLD/Green Banked

Until it can be bought by Parks, Roy Street could be ‘green-banked’. That would mean leaving up the chain link fence and leaving it locked. It would mean demolishing the parking lot and then thickly planting with evergreen native trees. The Green Bank would not open to the public, because it is not a park, but a utility. Trees combat global climate change, lower high temperatures in the summer, and slow and clean stormwater that would go into Lake Union. It would be extremely low maintenance. The property would be put ‘on-hold’, but only until Parks can buy it. A City Light Green Bank would serve the collective utility uses of environmental mitigation for its line clearance tree removals, energy conservation, lowering the need for air-conditioning, and preservation of wildlife habitat. All three are current uses of land by Seattle City Light.

The Roy Street Shops constitute the last large piece of property that could serve the residents of the SLU Urban Village as a community vegetable garden, a mini-forest, children’s play area, an Art Park, or as a signature park.

‘When you sell the land, it is the end’ from The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.

Cass Turnbull


When You Sell the Land – 08-25-15

A response to the recent IDT report on surplus land disposition.

I was disappointed to read the report from the Interdepartmental Team working from Rasmussen sponsored Statement of Legislative Intent. Several points and many new ideas were not taken into account. It had nothing new to say.

There should be, and there will be, sufficient funds to retain more green space.
The Interdepartmental Team has unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, failed to identify ‘new innovative funding, ownership and management strategies’ to retain more open space. It chose instead to support the panglossian view that we already have the best of all possible disposition processes.

The underlying assumption is that that there are insufficient funds to either maintain or purchase these additional properties. The surplus City Light substations simply did not make the priority cut in the Parks’ Department’s winnowing process based on that assumption.

But, given recent developments, this is faulty reasoning. The new Metro Parks District has found a new way to pay for adequate maintenance and the City is embracing linkage and impact fees which can provide new funding sources for open space acquisitions.

A healthy environment is being lost with the removal of green space, and we pay for it.

Seattle’s environment is being degraded by the building boom. Green Space and the Urban Forest have been proven to mitigate the urban heat island effect, the causes and effects of global climate change, urban flooding, stormwater pollution of Puget Sound, air pollution, and address environmental justice issues such as heat and pollution exacerbated illnesses suffered disproportionately by the poor. Trees and open space are still being treated as ornamentation not as critical infrastructure that saves the City money, money it would otherwise spend on sewers, treatment plants, stormwater vaults, repairing roads and bridges, etc.

The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck “When you sell the land, it is the end.”

We need an independent study of ways to increase green space and the urban forest.
Because of the current environmental crisis the Mayor and council should consider contracting an independent team of experts to investigate innovative ways to repurpose surplus land as green space and to find other new ways to increase the overall amount of green space in Seattle. The IDT staff, I am afraid, lacks vision due to years of dealing with the same fiscal and legal constraints. To them, all suggestions seem to point to more work for their department, and for no additional funds. This is not necessarily the case.

Retaining City owned greenspace as a utility is easy, cheap, and defensible.
Until such time as an independent team can make recommendations, or until the City can afford to buy the properties, each city department could, and should, retain the surplus land for interim use or partial use. The stated municipal purpose would be to meet Seattle’s environmental and open space goals and/or to mitigate for each department’s climate/urban forest impacts. Seattle City Light cuts down trees for powerlines, the Department of Transportation adds impermeable surfaces, and cuts down trees, the Department of Planning and Development assists in the development which degrades the environment.

While it is true that all these things are necessary or at least inevitable, it is likewise true that we should all be accountable to mitigate the resulting environmental damage.

While kept for interim use, the City can reduce maintenance costs of the property by converting them to ‘green banks’ which would have no regularly mowed turf and little to no litter/garbage pick-up, due to a surround of construction fencing. Those two activities account for over 65% of maintenance costs of Parks Department green spaces.

John Locke “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.”

Eyes to the Future

The Department of Planning and Development tells us that Seattle will have to add 140 acres per year of new open space to meet the Comprehensive Goal’s plans. Over 14 year period (2000-2014) the gain in open space in Seattle was, on average, 18 acres per year. Purchasing any land now will be cheaper than acquiring it later, and surplus land, in particular, goes for bargain prices when retained by the City. To sell it now is unwise. Without making this and other provision for more green space, we will rob our grandchildren of a chance to experience Nature in Seattle the way we did.

It also demonstrates hypocrisy in environmental stewardship. Instead of retaining land which would benefit the environment as greenspace, the City will sell it for more development which will harm the environment. For our own myopic reasons, we have left the world’s future inhabitants with a severely compromised planet. Seattle should not leave its future residents with an environmentally compromised city too.

Please consider these options. Please do not approve the selling of surplus substations in southwest Seattle, Burien and SeaTac.

Cass Turnbull

Background documents:

SLI IDT Teams Report

Recommendation to Interdepartmental Team, Seattle City Council and Office of the Mayor on Statement of Legislative Intent

Statement of Legislative Intent


Letter to the Mayor

Dear Mayor,

Those of us open space and urban forestry community cheered at the news that the Department of Planning and Development was going to be changed. It is overdue. Consensus on DPD is that it is dysfunctional at best, one-sidedly pro-development at worst.

DPD has failed us. It issues countless exceptions to rules designed to prevent building in Sensitive Areas such as wetlands and wooded steep hillsides; DPD’s two attempts at crafting a Tree Preservation Ordinance were so weak that no one for the development community bothered to object to them; the DPD proposed Comprehensive Plan lowers environmental goals for tree canopy cover and open space requirements. That’s not environmental leadership.

And enforcement of existing tree preservation codes is inconsistent. It shows a pattern of poor judgment on the part of code enforcers.

Customer service is so abysmal as to be laughable. If you are confused by a code, you cannot seek help by phone. You must spend time describing your problem by filling out the on-line form. Several days later you will get the inadequate response, but you cannot ask for clarification because the name and contact info of the responder is kept secret! You must start the onerous process over, or pay to make an appointment downtown with someone completely new.

So a shake up at DPD is definitely needed. Unfortunately I read that the new department will be composed of the same planners. They have all adopted a culture and world view that supports this poor service. I urge you to hire from without.


In Atlanta the practice of tree preservation was revolutionized by hiring a certified arborist to head up the separate arborist division within their planning and development department and was funded for four dedicated code enforcers. Simultaneously the City authorized all City personnel to issue code enforcement violations when they ran across them. And it is all paid for by the TREE FUND which uses those fines to fund the program. Portland has a similar Urban Forestry Fund.

Of course we need a real tree preservation ordinance to go with the Tree Police. I highly recommend a stakeholder task force to develop a tree ordinance be assembled. It should be led by the OSE who is objective and tasked already with caring for the Urban Forest. With opposing factions included such a task force it would need a professional facilitator, and that will require extra funding. It will be well worth it in creating an acceptable ordinance, various City sponsored studies have recommended we create such an ordinance for over 15 years.

Sorry for the long email. I hope you have the time to consider it. Thank you for your good work for Seattle.

Cass Turnbull


Letter to Councilmember Jean Godden

Hi Councilmember Jean Godden,

Hope you are doing well. I saw you kick political butt in a forum. Congrats, practice pays off.


I’m writing to encourage you to dedicate the entire Sisley properties as a Park. It is what is needed for that area. It will soon be suffering the ill-effects of the huge population increase related to the jaw dropping giant apartments going in the Roosevelt neighborhood. All those apartment dwellers won’t have access to back yards. They have no place for the kids to play, the seniors to sit outside and visit, for the people with pets to walk, or baby strollers to push—it will just be endless concrete streets, sidewalks and buildings. Only a large park can cut that much development and keep Seattle in character.

We need low income housing too. There is no doubt about that. But the addition of low income housing can be accomplished in many other ways. Once these properties get covered over by concrete, their green values are gone for good. The City can more easily turn a building into a low income housing than it can turn a building into a green space. This is such a rare opportunity, it must be taken.

The values of trees and parks are many and varied and real
It’s not just that trees and open space look nice, they serve essential functions which the city would have to pay for otherwise. It is crucial for the neighborhood’s livability. Green space ensures good environmental and human health that is for everybody, but especially for the lower income population.

Green space and trees slow stormwater run off, which keeps down urban flooding & mudslides, thus reducing the need for street repair and sewer upgrades.

Green spaces and trees cool the City which is heating up twice as fast as the surrounding countryside. That lowers heat related health emergencies, makes our streets bikeable and walkable which gets people out if their cars. That improves human health and decreases harmful emissions. And, as you know, it is those emissions that dirty the air, foul the water and increase global climate change. Trees clean the air, the water and sequester carbon.

There is reliable scientific evidence that greenery in low income neighborhoods lowers the incidence of crime, including domestic violence and burglaries.

It improves learning and reduces ADHD symptoms, decreases the incidence of asthma and heart related emergencies (both are diseases of the poor). Green space provides recreational opportunities within the City which reduces childhood obesity, provides respite for the weary, and gathering places for community events. That improves social cohesion and the sense of neighborhood. Trees cool the streets and homes, reducing the energy demand for air-conditioning in the summer. It is he only choice or the poor who cannot afford air-conditioning or heat pumps.

The cleaner environment allows for healthy marine life such as our salmon, and creates habitat for birds, butterflies and other species. Green spaces used as community gardens increase our resilience, and build neighborhood cohesion. Community garden food is donated to food banks, and it makes for food security.

Parks save the city money by increasing the property tax base simply because properties near trees and parks appraise for more. People shop longer and spend more in shopping areas with trees, increasing sales tax revenues and helping small business.


But mostly people need more parks because of two factors 1) 200,000 more people are headed our way and that will put huge pressures on parks. 2) the loss of private open space (back yards and commercial landscaping) is not being replaced by a corresponding increase in public open space (parks). In fact we are reducing our goals in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan!

Open space and low income housing are not mutually exclusive and must both be accommodated by adding dedicated land, not splitting it up.

Seattle in the future will be crowded and the streets will be congested, this is a given. But whether or not it will be a beautiful city, one that is inviting rather than intimidating, that is livable and healthy for everybody, and that is environmentally responsible depends a great deal on saving and adding sufficient open space.

But we must stop giving open space over to development, whether or not it is for ‘a good cause’, be it saving the countryside or providing low income housing. There are other ways to reach those goals.

Please keep all the Sisley properties as a park.


Cass Turnbull


Letter to Michael Murphy

Dear Michael Murphy,

Please pardon my long email but I want to share my concern with you. And see if the County may be able to help.

I am an open space advocate in Seattle and attended a meeting of officials and stakeholders at an environmentally critical area in West Seattle this last week. It is about 20,000 sq feet–a flat vacant lot, designated wetland, containing a ‘sometimes’ stream, giant cottonwoods, grasses. It is a surplus City Light substation, called Delridge. SCL is preparing to sell it for commercial development. They say that legally they must do that. It is on the same side of the street as several houses prone to basement flooding. The Delridge neighborhood in general is concerned about flooding and slides in their neighborhood.

Across the street from the vacant lot is a wooded hillside that the water comes from, it has a wet ditch along the bottom in an effort to channel the water, and a pipe under the street to the substation. Development is encroaching on that hillside. Directly across from the Delridge substation is a path into the woods and up the slope. It is a place that kids explore nature.

It had a sign that stated that the land is a steep slope, critical area, wetland, salmon habitat area AND that an exemption was granted, and a permit has been issued by the city’s development department to build a single family house with attached two car garage there.

I was told by one of the officials that building is allowed if the developer pays the county to purchase replacement wetlands in the same area.

But back to the surplus substation lot. Local residents want to keep it as a learning park for the kids. I would like to see it kept as a ‘urban wildlife preserve’ maybe with an black chainlink fence to protect a pond from feral predators, and allow a viewing area–cattails, ducks, frogs, turtles, birds, butterflies! It would be a nice addition to the ‘underserved’ neighborhood. They can’t afford to send their kids to camp in the country.

The Seattle Parks Dept doesn’t want it, because of lack of funding, the King Conservation District doesn’t want to give any grants for land acquisition, Seattle Public Utilities seemed unconcerned that it was in an area that flooded residents basements, Forterra simply wants to support the Parks’ decision not to buy it. One by one the departments explained how it is not in their budgets and plans.

It seems to me that if the County and State are allowing building in critical areas, which will exacerbate flooding problems and habitat destruction, and the City department’s aren’t stopping it, or mitigating it, for whatever reasons, that we have a ‘system’ that is broken. Get this, they actually expect the local citizens to raise the money to buy it and guarantee volunteers to maintain it as a park. The Trust for Public Land isn’t interested because the land is too expensive in the City.

Could mitigation fees from the continued building on the hillside (which shouldn’t be allowed in my opinion) be used to buy the Delridge substation lot?

Or, despite all the rhetoric in the Comprehensive Plan about wetlands and the environment, is it open season on critical areas in the big City? Must everything be sacrificed for Density? Given what I am seeing, it seems that way. How did that happen? That’s a real question.

There is so much unbridled development in Seattle that it is becoming a hot, crowded, flooded, grid-locked, polluted, intimidating place to live. The great mitigator–green space–is going fast. Despite the jobs, people will move to the country and commute to get away from this user unfriendly City. They already are. Besides, only the rich will be able to afford all the ‘urban benefits’ , the ‘user fees’ for public amenities, the high rents, the homes that still have backyards, and the access to bodies of water.

This works at cross purposes to the growth management act, and the whole purpose of accommodating density. Now we have allowed the City, the country, and the globe to become environmentally compromised. What a thing to leave to our kids. What are our excuses again?

Please let me know if it is possible to fund the purchase of Delridge Substation with mitigation money from hillside development. And your honest thoughts about the ‘broken system’ as it applies to Seattle.

Cass Turnbull


Open Letter to the Urban Forestry Commission

Re: The Comprehensive Plan update

This is our once in 10 year chance to get it right. Please check out these suggestions.

In my opinion, goals are best set by thinking of what should be done, not by what is likely to be achieved.

Thank you for all the good work you do. You are our best hope. Please see below.

Cass Turnbull


2015: Send a pre-written email to the Seattle Mayor on Parks and Open Space

Click the “Copy Letter Text” button to copy the prewritten letter below to your clipboard, then visit the Mayor’s website to paste the letter into the form there.
I want to draw your attention to the proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan’s Parks and Open Space element. They endanger our environmental sustainability. Please investigate and consider revising the proposed Comprehensive Plan such that:The referenced 2006 Seattle Parks and Recreation Development Plan’s quantitative metric/goal (1 acre of open space per 100 people) is retained as policy, and increase in the amount of open space required in all land use zones except single family. For the single family zone, please remove reference to ‘acceptable goals’ (acceptable goals are 1/3 that of desirable goals). Remove the proposed new goal of being ‘reasonable’ about open space land acquisition. (P1.2) We are losing record amounts of ‘private’ open space to development. Acquisition of new ‘public’ open space should be making up for those losses. Without sufficient green space to mitigate the ill-effects of urbanization, Seattle will become denser but it will no longer be sustainable, livable, ecologically responsible or environmentally just. Thank you for your attention to this and for your commitment Seattle’s future.


Written the help of several ‘tree people’ in the larger community, here is a 14 item wish list for the new Seattle Comprehensive Plan.

1) The most essential element for urban forestry in the comp plan is retaining the canopy goal of 40%. All the major cities in the nation have canopy goals. For comparison Philadelphia’s goal is 30%, Washington D.C.’s is 40%, and Pittsburgh’s is 60%. Similarly we should retain the no-net loss of canopy cover goal.

2) Add a more comprehensive list of Urban Forestry benefits to in the vision statement. Sample. “the Urban Forest is one of Seattle’s most valued capital and cultural assets. It is an integral component of a healthy, livable, environmentally responsible, and economically robust city. It provides essential green infrastructure, social and ecosystem services. Because of the pressures of urbanization and population density we recognize that maintaining a diverse, healthy and sufficient Urban Forest requires more than just tree planting. It requires commitment, human and political intervention and ongoing stewardship.

3) Add specific Urban Forestry goals to each separate element of the Comprehensive Plan. Those elements are: transportation, land use, utilities, health, environmental sustainability, livability, social justice, and economics. The benefits of trees cross-agency but the canopy is administered and funded per single agency budget. The urban canopy should be referred to as an essential public service and a capital asset which is both publically and privately owned.

4) The comprehensive plan or the UF ordinance authorizes the creation of a Tree Fund for the promotion, protection and expansion of UF. The fund is not to be used in lieu of regular department funding. Funds may consist of donations, grants, general funds, taxes, collections of tree related penalties and fees, mitigation fees, fees in lieu of tree-replacement or preservation. Funding is tied to amount of development and gray infrastructure (concrete) investment.

5) Comprehensive plan recognizes the Urban Forestry Commission and The Urban Forest Stewardship Plan.

6) The City, working through the Urban Forestry Commission, will create an annual State of Urban Forest Report. To do so, the named authority (Commission or DSE) is authorized to require regular inventories, collect data through the use of a tree removal permit system and track tree planting. Tree canopy impact assessments are required for changes to building codes and city policies. The State of the Urban Forest Report may include assessment of customer service and enforcement practices.

7) Comprehensive plan authorizes the Urban Forest Commission’s updates to the Urban Forest Stewardship Plan and sees that recommendations are incorporated into City planning, budgets, laws and enforcement practices.

8) Revise open space goals upward. Since the amount of potential canopy cover is determined by the total amount of planting spaces (the combination of public and private open space) we should revise these goals upward, not downward. The nationally recognized goal for public open space is cities 1 acre for every 100 residents. The current proposed comprehensive plan proposes .5 acres pre every 1,000 residents in Urban Villages.

This goal should be revised heavily upward because the UVs lack the private open space. Simultaneously, they are subject to intensified effects of urbanization such as increasing storm water runoff, the heat island effect, lack of habitat, particulate air and noise pollution.

Similarly the comprehensive plan lacks sufficient open space goals in manufacturing-industrial area. Current recommendation of no open space requirements should be replaced. The zone land is closest to water courses and wetlands; has increased amounts of concrete that produces stormwater run-off overloads; and which exacerbates the Heat Island effect; and these areas are the least ‘livable’ of the lower income wage earners who work there and reside nearby.

9) Authorize creation of the Department of Sustainability and the Environment to achieve Urban Forestry goals. OSE becomes DSE and it is the official lead agency and advocate for Urban Forestry in Seattle. DSE receives the authority, responsibility, and fiscal support which will be sufficient to reach canopy goals.

10) DSE (or other entity) is authorized to appoint a City Forester who will have singular authority over all City Department arborists.

11) City Forester coordinates goals and activities between departments and other City institutions, and the City’s many UF stakeholders.

12) DSE or OSE is mandated to create a tree preservation ordinance with input from all stakeholders.

13) DSE is tasked with oversight and integration of various planning documents, ordinances, codes and policies with regards to the Urban Forest.

Cass Turnbull


The Disappearing Urban Forest-letter to KUOW

Dear Sara Bernard,

I was forwarded the report titled ‘Have Seattle’s Urban Forests Dodged Development’

The true answer is, “No, they haven’t.’

The Seattle parks department is certainly not going to sell off the city’s parks, but City Parks only controls 25% of Seattle’s tree canopy.

By far the largest part of the city’s canopy is located in ‘single family’ zones. They contain 62 % of it. With the building boom not yet underway (between 2001 and 2007) the single family lots undergoing redevelopment lost 41 % of their canopy cover. Multi-family lots undergoing redevelopment lost 69% of their canopy. Buildings, including MacMansions, mother-in-laws, townhouses, apartments, and institutions, are all getting larger. There’s less room for trees to grow. If one looks to the future, one can see that private open space is diminishing faster that public space (street trees and parks) can add trees. The only hope is to ADD more public space. But it is a race we are losing. Roughly half of the Urban Villages don’t meet our own open space goals now. And we have 200,000 more people headed our way.

But the worst is yet to come. Instead of trying harder to meet open space goals (open space or permeable surfaces determine the amount of planting spaces available for trees) the new Seattle Comprehensive Plan is proposing to reduce the open space goals for Urban Villages! The people living in those ironically named villages are people who don’t have back yards to go to with their kids or pets, and they are supposed to be biking or walking on the hot, dirty, crowded streets, not driving with the air-conditioning on. They need more shade and public green space, not less. The national recommended ratio of parks space is 1 acre of public park per every 100 residents. Seattle’s current average, last counted, is about 8.9 acres per 100 residents. But the goal for the new Urban Villages is .5 acres per 1, 000 people. That’s 1,000 people, not 100.

Right now, green space activists are trying to prevent the City of Seattle from selling one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land remaining in the city. It is Myers Parcels, 38 acres of surplus City land made up of wooded, steep slopes, wetlands and open grassy fields. The City already filled in one wetland on the site (oops!) to build a $33 million training facility for the firemen. They say they’ll be careful not to damage the environment when they sell off the rest of it for commercial development. You should do a story on that.

Cass Turnbull

Data sources. the Urban Tree Canopy Analysis Project Reort 2009, the Mapleleaf Comunity website, the proposed 2015 Comprehensive Plan, the Trust for Public Land Parks Report.