Comments Regarding Draft Director’s Rule 21-2017 –  Calculating Tree Valuations and Civil Penalties for Tree Protection Code Violations 

Comments Regarding Seattle DCI Draft Director’s Rule 21-2017 – 

Calculating Tree Valuations and Civil Penalties for Tree Protection Code Violations

For this Director’s Rule to be successful we believe that SDCI needs to implement a permit based system for tree removal.

The current prohibition in SMC 25.11 from cutting down exceptional trees and removing more than 3 six inch or more DBA non-exceptional trees per year and other limits to tree removal are mainly based on a complaint system that is not working. While having the ability to impose fines for violations that are reported, most violations have and will go unreported, which does not help to deter trees being removed illegally.

 The recent Tree Regulations Report by OSE and SDCI confirms that serious problems with compliance are a result of the current complaint based system. One ominous trend is reports we are hearing of realtors/developers requiring property owners to remove trees prior to a sale being completed on properties that are going to be developed. The proposed six-month prohibition on tree removal prior to development, while a significant improvement, is still a complaint based system that will be difficult to monitor without a permit system.  With a permit based system, tree removal prior to development can be monitored which will reduce the number of violations.

A better system to protect trees under the existing ordinance is to require the use of a permit system for all trees over 6 inches in diameter. This provides a check on the possible removal of more than 3 significant trees a year that are not exceptional, will reduce the number of exceptional trees being cut by providing confirmation as to whether a tree is exceptional or not before they are cut down, reducing the loss of exceptional trees which are protected under SMC 25.11.

The language in SMC 25.11.100 already gives SDCI the authority it needs to issue permits and other conditions to replace the current mainly complaint based system with a permit system.  In fact DCI already issues permits for Hazard Tree Removal and under the ECA Restoration Plan Application

“SMC 25.11.100 Enforcement and penalties

A. Authority   The Director shall have the authority to enforce the provisions of this chapter, to issue permits, impose conditions, and establish administrative procedures and guidelines, conduct inspections, and prepare the forms necessary to carry out the purposes of this chapter.”

 A comprehensive permit system would allow more careful and timely consideration of exceptional trees removed as hazard trees before they are cut rather than trying to determine this after they are cut. While a permit for a hazard tree exists, many people are not aware of it.  Over 70 different tree species with different diameters DHA are listed in Director’s Rule  16-2008 Designation of Exceptional Trees.. A permit requirement for all trees will significantly reduce exceptional trees being removed without verification.

 SDOT currently has in place a permit system and posting requirement that is working to stop illegal tree cutting in the right of way. Other cities have also implemented successful permit systems, including Lake Forest Park, WA; Portland, Oregon; Sammamish, WA; Atlanta, Georgia; and Vancouver, WA.   

Also, we recommend requiring arborists and other tree care people to register with the city as SDOT currently does for tree care providers..  This allows them to be informed of current tree laws and ordinances and sign that they agree with city tree policies and regulations, have a Washington State Contractor’s license and Seattle Business License, and have a certificate of insurance license with Seattle listed as an additional insured.  This puts the main responsibility on compliance with Seattle’s tree ordinance on tree service providers rather than expecting individual property owners to understand all the laws and regulations.

As to the actual calculation of tree appraisal values, we are not certain why these values do not start at 100% and be adjusted downward based on actual evaluations in the field. Minimally we think a 100% valuation should be placed on a tree being an exceptional tree either individually or in a tree grove.  Also we think that conifers should get a higher valuation based on their year round ability to reduce stormwater runoff and mitigate air pollution and carbon dioxide utilization and reduction. In addition, consideration of location besides reducing heat effects on buildings and air pollution from high traffic areas should consider air pollution reduction from a health impact like higher asthma occurrence in areas with fewer trees like South Park and Georgetown.

Also as to penalties, consideration should be given to owner’s ability to pay and reduction in penalty based on what is replanted either on or off site that is comparable to the loss of the tree or trees. And the responsibility of tree care providers understanding Seattle City laws and their responsibility in complying with the laws before commencing work needs to be taken into consideration.  A second or multiple violations should result In higher penalties and suspension of their registration with the city and ability to do work in the city.

Steve Zemke     Chair – Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest


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