Rants published

I Hate Trees.by Kathy Cleleand, a concerned citizen

I hate trees
I hate trees

So I hate trees and green spaces and I have friends who feel the same way. We’ve started an organization called Greenbegone, our motto is ‘Concrete for All’.

To achieve our goals we propose the City institute the following policies, practices and disinformation.

Create a group of ‘stakeholders’ to study and make recommendations for a really good Tree Preservation Ordinance. But don’t actually include any of the recommendations that developers might object to. When tree lovers complain, start the process over. You can do this over and over again for 5,10, maybe even 15 years. When the press asks, tell them we are currently looking at new legislation.

Budgets are a tool. Use them! Keep cutting funding for green maintenance year after year until greenbelts and those little green triangles along the roads are so choked with weeds, vines and invasives that they can’t be restored.

In parks and other public green spaces, don’t just stop weeding- stop watering! After a few years, big trees will start dying and you can blame it on pests and diseases coming in on Korean cargo ships. If asked, say that you stopped watering trees to be environmentally responsible and thrifty with taxpayer dollars. .

Incentivize replacement of greenspace with buildings by making it easier to build on smaller and smaller lots.

Encourage people to expand the size of their homes or add extra buildings not for their mother-in-law, but so they can rent it out- you know, for money! Or better yet–encourage homeowners to sell their homes and let developers build as many homes as possible to be rented out by property management companies making profits for corporations far, far away.

Replace the ‘EcoSystem’ Services provided by green spaces in the City’s stormwater/development requirements with things like permeable pavement, vine covered walls and ditches planted up with native plants. That way we won’t have to put up with kids playing tag or breaking their arms by falling out of trees. Make balconies count as landscaping too.

When calculating urbanization impacts to the City’s budget, do not give credit to residents who keep trees and permeable green land. Instead, count back yards as more impermeable/impervious land like concrete.

Encourage development on steep, wooded slopes by adding more and more loopholes to the Environmental Critical Areas Ordinance. Support it with wording from the Comprehensive Plan.

Let’s have the developers fill in wetlands and pave over habitat if they pay for replacement greenspace someplace outside the City. That way we can cover the whole City pretty much.

And on development plans, don’t include paved driveways as part of the ‘lot coverage.’ That way it looks like there is a lot more room for green stuff.

Whatever you do, don’t show anybody what 35% lot coverage looks like on a 5,000 square foot residential lot! Or worse yet, two buildings on a 5,000 sq foot lot.

Eliminate or reduce setbacks and landscaping requirements so that it will eat up space around buildings that could host trees. Remember, it all adds up! Tell people that it will make walking around town safer and that the City will be more ‘vibrant’, if not necessarily cooler in the summer. Repeat, ‘eyes on the street’ and ‘vibrant’ till people get it.

Make it so that the people who enforce tree preservation laws and codes are paid with fees they get from developers. But don’t allow fines from breaking tree protection codes to be used to pay their wages. That would only result in more enforcement! And we don’t want any of that. It’s unfair.

Make sure there aren’t enough tree code enforcers and that they don’t know much about trees. They should be hard for people to find, quick to call back, but slow to make determinations.

As a code enforcer, stay out of touch as best as you can. Stall. When you do get back to someone who is complaining about tree damage (which by then should be complete), say you would have okayed tree removals/malpruning anyway.
To help with that, insert some ambiguous or contradictory language into the City code or the Comp Plan. And failing that, have it be the job of a ‘director’ to make determinations and grant exemptions to the rules.

Keep decisions in-house on whether or not any given project, plan or law change will hurt the environment. Try not to involve the EPA or Department of Ecology by telling them the impacts are ‘insignificant’. If you use private contractors to evaluate, be sure they get paid by the City. Keep a list of environmental contractors who you use a lot. You get more of the answers you like that way.

If we have to make laws to protect trees, include tough wording and list all kinds of lofty goals and benefits.But then, separately, list many exemptions, or maybe just one or two really big ones. Make the laws hard to find on City websites. That way people won’t report problems, expect laws to be followed, or expect bad players to be punished.

Don’t put a single person in charge of all the trees in all the departments. That way complainers won’t be able to find the right person or department to talk to about their concerns.

Resist having development pay to mitigate the environmental consequences of added impermeable land. Tell the public it is unfair because it raises the cost of housing for the people who are most able to afford it.

Use ‘tree replacement’ formulas for trees being cut down during development. Have developers to cram more and more trees on less and less permeable land. That way people will think we’ll be okay, tree-wise, in the future.

Don’t follow up on the success of ‘offsite’ mitigation plans used to compensate for downed trees and filled wetlands. People will forget to check. You can count on it.

Don’t allow parks or greenspaces in industrial areas. Skip landscaping requirements there, especially for the 100% concrete lots located next to waterways. And try to keep people who aren’t concrete appreciators out of the area by making sure nothing attractive exists there. After work, the people who work in industrial areas can go home and see green spaces on the public TV nature shows if they want.

Make no ordinances or rules that result in trees being retained-well, not in significant amounts, anyway.

To help, don’t track how many trees are cut down for development or how many are kept. If you mistakenly do track them, don’t add them up and keep it a secret.

The Comprehensive Plan says we must allow ‘reasonable use’ of land in sensitive areas, and well, everywhere. Let’s turn that into we can’t deny developers the right to build to the ‘fullest extent possible” based on their land use zone. That way we can tear down little houses that families grew up in, and cut down all their trees, and replace with really big houses, I mean giant houses for one or two wealthy people to live in.

If we do a tree canopy coverage inventory, do the next one (five or ten years later), using a different technology. That way we’ll never really know how much tree canopy we have, and we can’t compare ourselves to other cities, or even figure out how much tree canopy we are gaining or losing over the years.

Don’t use the general fund to buy new parkland. It’s our way, especially now that we forbid Park’s levies. We need all the money in the budget for other, more important things. Everybody knows this. Hold the line! Don’t allow significant parkland acquisition until 25 years of deferred building maintenance is completed! We’ll think of some other reason not to add parks by then.

Change the ‘metrics’ for the Parks District by replacing the longtime parks goal of supplying enough open space per person with supplying open space that is nearby and that is used a lot, way more than before! That will make it easier for us to look good ‘cause we already rate high on ‘closeness.’ And, for sure, with all the new people moving to Seattle they will be used more. A crowded park is a good park. An over-crowded park is the hallmark of a vibrant, world-class City.

Paint some pavement along the road green and add some chairs and tables. Then call it a new park. Check it off your list.

Include other people’s open space in our Park’s open space reports and plans. Count the landscaped entryways, foyers and green roofs owned by big buildings downtown. Be sure to include schools grounds, cemeteries and institution grounds as part of the bigger open space picture of Seattle. That way people won’t worry that we are adding 200,000 more people but no new parks, or very few new parks.

Make sure you can cut down any tree you want on your property, for any reason, even if it is big and old and it was there when you bought the house .Even if it is in a critical area or on a steep slope or in a wet area. Even if it is an Exceptional Tree, even if it is a designated Seattle Heritage Tree. It’s your property so what the heck, break out the chainsaws and make it your personal prairie. Screw the neighbors.

Make it incumbent on the locals to fight to get new parks in their neighborhood. Make them find some of the funding too. That way people who are poor, working two jobs, or don’t speak English will get more concrete and fewer greenspaces. Lucky them!

Approve requests from people to remove trees from their parking strips if the trees are imperfect. We all know that God didn’t make any perfect trees or people for that matter ☺.

Have police blow off people reporting illegal tree cutting. Tell them it’s a civil matter and they can just go sue their neighbor. Tell them it’s not a criminal matter, even if the damage qualifies it as a felony. Trees aren’t really property. It’s just that green stuff that happens sometimes. It comes, it goes, it grows for free. Fo’get abowd it. Get a life.

As a general rule, do not have the City’s lawyers pursue cases of willful tree damage. Really, it was probably just an honest mistake and we have crack heads and other serious stuff we gotta deal with.

An exception is if the media makes a big stink out of it. Then say you take tree damage very seriously. Promise to aggressively pursue the offenders. But later say the City can’t prove who did it, or that they really meant any harm. The hearing examiner and judge will understand. They’ll just have the perps do 300 hours of community service work that looks good on their resumes.

Make the City itself exempt from legislation to protect trees or environmentally critical areas.

Continue the SDOTs urban forestry policy of ‘Plant ‘em and forget ’em.’

Don’t let people know that trees are utilities which save taxpayer dollars. Keep people thinking that trees are pretty, and pleasant, but not as important as useful things like roads, powerlines, and sewers that benefit the larger community.

Make the University of Washington exempt from any of the City’s tree preservation requirements, not that they do much to protect trees anyway. Those codes and directives are mainly just a way to keep City people employed, and to show folks whose boss. That way the UW can cut down trees to build more too.

The Parks doesn’t like it when the public wants to put buildings and other stuff in their parks, unless the City gets some money for it, of course, like with concessions. On the other hand, if the City itself wants to build stuff in Parks, go ahead and think of it as free land. Just tell us what you want to build. We’ll even get the taxpayers to fund it.

Whenever we run low on funds, let’s sell off some surplus land instead of using it for parks. Say it’s for a really good liberal cause. If you can, make it look like a choice between helping people or helping trees.

If any developer or organization kicks up a fuss about your plan to use surplus land for greenspace, fold. Or better yet, divide up the land. Nobody complains about ‘sharing’. Even your momma said it’s not right to keep it all to yourself. You gotta ‘share!’

Remember, you can ‘share’ your land again and again, every 5 years or so, until the greenspace that’s left is so small, people forget about it.

Make sure funding for open space only comes from the parks and recreation budget. Yes, green space works as a utility and a public service but don’t have City Light, SPU or Health and Human Services kick in any money, they’ve got their own problems.

Seattle is currently 64% impervious land. Let’s increase it to 74% in the next ten years! But don’t track the change, year to year. It might spook someone, like the water quality people who are watching Puget Sound die.

Don’t do a study to find out how much open space will be left over when all the land is built to existing code. Just go ahead and change zoning and let the chips fall where they may.
Philosophy Dissemination

Make it reprehensible to suggest Seattle land be used for greenspace instead of letting developers build more luxury units on it.

Make sure that residents with yards are seen as a minority of privileged, wealthy, elitists with racist tendencies. Don’t let the public know there are working folks who own houses with yards that they want for their kids.

Make it common knowledge that people with yards and preservationists are responsible for our high rents, homelessness, and the unaffordable housing crisis. Why they’re practically kicking wounded vets and destitute families out on the street.

Make it known that when people try to preserve urban trees and greenspaces that what they are really doing is destroying the woods and farms out in the country, and causing global climate change. They must be stopped. They are so selfish and irresponsible! Concrete is right and just. Concrete is environmentally responsible. Concrete lowers your rent. Concrete makes our City great! Join us.

Concrete for all!!


No New Parks. by Cass Turnbull

The City’s new 6 year Development Plan is being created right now. It removes quantiative goals (how much land per resident we should have). Instead it wants to enable more people and more and kinds of specialty uses in existing parks (like more trails,  zip-lines and mountain bikes in natural areas).

The new DevPlan 2017 calls for green spaces to be within in a 10 minute walk from every resident. We almost make that goal now. And that’s great. We love pocket parks.

But how many people and their pets, bikes, racket balls, and Thai Chi classes will be in those little parks when you get there is up to you. With 200,000 more people headed here soon, it could get real crowded.

Please use The TAKE ACTION button or link HERE to send a pre-written email to the City council and Parks Commission. It asks the City to include robust acquisition goals and quantitative metrics. It’s titled No New Parks.

No Place For Old Trees

Part 1
Part 2.1
Part 2.2
Park 3
Part 4


The Year of Density by Cass Turnbull

The year of 2014 in Seattle was the year of density, specifically density without infrastructure, including green infrastructure. The development of Urban Villages and single family in-fill was breath-taking in its speed, the immense size of the structures, and the perversity of some of the building configurations (apodments, two packs, three packs, four-packs; the faulty towers, the wedgies, and  the prison blocks. Most of the new apartment and office buildings have only landscape remnants around the edges. You know, ornamental grasses along the front of the building and parking strips planted so densely that your passenger is trapped in the car. Those count now as the landscaping requirement.

In the new BIG houses, the American backyard has been reduced to a small green square– the BBQ pad. Or sometimes it turns into the secret parking spot. The four-packs have traded their yards in for hidden, shared garage access courtyards. It must be fun to maneuver a full sized SUV in one of those.

The trees and the traditional Seattle landscapes are being sacrificed everywhere for everything: for mega-houses, for Accessory Dwelling Units, for office towers with waterfront views, for roads, for mass transit, for the economy, for…for…for…density.

We know that density done right is a good and necessary thing, but we have embraced an unfettered density which is stealing the soul of our City. There will be no neighborhood character and no livability for the City dwellers of the future. We’re even selling off the little green triangles along the roads. The craftsman bungalows are squeezed between three story skinny houses, if they’re not torn down and replaced by McMansions. There fewer and fewer vacant lots to play in, fewer rope swings, forts, and tree houses, no funky old buildings, or hole in the wall cafes,  or mom and pop grocery stores.

Recently I’ve been driving through the light industry areas of town, in Fremont, Interbay, and the Duwamish. I’ve been looking at their stacks and piles cast offs and machinery sitting behind chainlink fences, interspersed with fixed-up and painted old houses, still occupied, and dilapidated ones. I’m saying goodbye to wooden buildings with glass windows, to welding shops, to artist’s lofts, hangers, to places that fix things and to one-story anythings. I’m saying goodbye to the real ‘mixed use’ land. It never occurred to me that it would someday become to a new sort in ‘industrial use’ land–slick and featureless, and without a spot of green anywhere, to clean and cool the air, to stop the run-off, or to sooth the weary worker.

And I’ve been saying good bye to Seattle’s water views. They used to be everywhere, to be seen by everyone traveling the roads along the lakes, the canal, and Elliot bay. And at the bridge approaches, and from Dexter, and Aurora, and then there is that view of the Olympics, the water sparkling, and ferry boats seen from the viaduct.

The City’s views will ALL belong to the wealthy soon. The rest of us will be driving in a tunnel. Well, we’ll be in cars, I’m not sure we’ll be moving.

The destruction of Foster Island for the new 520 bridge is the perfect image of our time. The massive concrete road structure that is being built seems like a juggernaut eating its way through the wetland in stunning slow motion.  It is nothing short of spectacular.  Every time I cross the bridge I look at the advancing and uncaring machinery, and try to gauge its progress. I try to see if the beaver lodge, the heron and the golden swamp cypress are still there. After the requisite impact studies and obligatory handwringing, it is a fact that the green spaces, the trees and native areas, are always taken–taken because it makes more sense, or because it costs less money, or because it makes more money, than the alternative. They talk about balancing the needs of the City with green space. But it never gets balanced in favor of the trees. Is there anything sadder than the sign that says there has been a ‘determination of ecological non-significance? ’

So I wonder is it time to move, or to pushback, or just to cultivate one’s own garden’?  as Voltaire so aptly put it.


The Two-for-Every-Removal Replacement Myth reprinted, Cass Turnbull

 In response to citizen concerns over the tree cutting and clearing of Seattle City Light’s unused substations, Josh Fogt from Councilman O’Brian’s office stated that the “citywide canopy will not suffer in the long term” because Seattle City Light has a policy of planting two trees for every one cut down. I sent back the following excerpt as part of a longer response. Thought you’d like to read it.

Planting trees is both good and essential in order to keep the urban forest healthy. But I firmly believe it is insufficient, in and of itself. Policies that rely on the two-for-one tree planting mandate may ironically create a smaller and less effective urban forest in the future.

An almost universal perception is that planting two or more trees for every mature tree cut down replaces the mature tree, or perhaps even doubles it, . People, companies, and institutions who cut down trees often point to their tree-replacement policies as evidence that they are doing no harm. Worse yet, many tree trunk diameter replacement formulas are institutionalized in tree ordinances, including ours.

Planting a sapling only replaces another sapling, not a mature tree. Sixty years of growth are needed to realize the environmental cost-benefits of a mature tree, now called Ecosystem Services or ES.  This is an important distinction. The benefits of mature or large trees are greater than those of young trees, which is corroborated in theLife Science article posted recently by Becky Ostin.

Seattle is steadily losing its mature trees and not replacing themIn 1997 the average trunk diameter of 50% of the trees in Seattle’s residential neighborhoods was 5” or less(Urban Forest Management Plan) and that number has remained the same for ten years. The reason for this, despite the elapsed time for growth and the planting of many new trees, is the high mortality of urban trees, paired with the steady removal of older species. A tree with the average lifespan of 150 years in a rural area will live only 37 years in residential areas, and only 13 years in downtown areas (Skiera and Moll,1992). Furthermore, new trees are particularly vulnerable to premature mortality. A recent research study showed that a quarter of the trees planted through volunteer tree projects will die in the first six years (Lu, Svendsen, Campbell, Greenfeld, Braden, King, and Falxa-Raymond, 2010).

Aggressive tree planting programs can increase the total canopy cover of the city, at least for a while, though the quality and diversity of that forest may be still be declining. That increase will necessarily end and possibly reverse. The reason is that the total potential tree canopy cover is tied to the amount of land available to be planted, not the number of trees put in the ground. As more land becomes dedicated to roads and buildings, fewer permeable surfaces are available to support trees. The common, simplified scenario is for a developer to buy a mature-treed property, cut the trees down, halve the amount of permeable land by putting up a larger building or buildings, and then plant twice as many sapling trees on the remaining open land. But one cannot keep halving the planting space and doubling the number of trees. It is a reverse Ponzi scheme. There is a tree carrying capacity built into every piece of land. Two-for-one tree planting policies consistently fail to take this into consideration.

Some environmentalists regard ambitious tree planting programs as a form of green-washing. This is because these programs allow governments, individuals, and companies to avoid taking more meaningful steps to preserve the urban forest. Seattle, for example, has been studying, planning, and goal setting to preserve trees on private property for many years. This is shown in the city’s 2007 Urban Forest Management Plan, now morphed into the 2013 Urban Forest Stewardship Plan. Both indicate the need for Seattle to adopt a tree preservation ordinance for trees on private property. Despite many attempts, this has still not been done.

Meanwhile, land continues to be sold, subdivided, built and overbuilt, and mature trees cut down without challenge.

The seductive thing about tree planting initiatives is they are so politically uncontroversial. Every ten years a mayor announces a new tree-planting initiative, or so it seems. Most people love to get a free tree, and those that don’t, just decline the offer. Tree preservation, on the other hand, is much more complicated and unpopular with many groups and individuals. Tree preservation policies can decrease the profit margins of developers, they can appear to be in opposition to other city goals such as increasing housing density and transportation improvements, and they can restrict people’s property rights. But the need to protect mature trees and to preserve the required amount of permeable surface to support them and their replacements, is becoming increasingly urgent.

Roy Street Park Petition

Please make the south Lake Union surplus City property known as the Roy Street Shops into a park or other open space.

It is located in the Parks’ gap analysis and is in an Urban Village that is given priority consideration for parks acquisition.

There may never be another opportunity to acquire open space in this neighborhood. We are cut off from the South Lake Union Park by Westlake Avenue and from east Queen Anne parks by Dexter Ave.