Seriously Save Seattle’s Trees

Posted by | September 24, 2018 | 1 Meeting to Connect | No Comments

Remember that tree you loved to climb as a kid? Several tree advocates have raised concerns that real estate developers would be able to rip out the trees we love with the damaging changes to our tree protection laws proposed by Councilmember Rob Johnson.

The idea of protecting trees was started by a well-meaning Executive Order from then-Mayor Tim Burgess.  But some City Councilmembers, led by Rob Johnson, have twisted the positive concept so that, like “Alice in Wonderland,” up is down and down is up. The new ordinance, cynically dubbed “Trees for All,” would actually destroy more trees. While claiming to care about the environment and climate change, the current proposal would carve more loopholes in the city’s tree protection law.  Instead of whittling down the law, our elected officials should listen to their constituents and strengthen the law to preserve the larger trees we cherish while planting many more new trees so that we truly remain the Emerald City.

Councilmember Johnson cynically timed this weaker tree ordinance exactly when community groups are knee-deep spending their time and resources fighting City Hall’s inadequate Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) triggered by the Ed Murray/Rob Johnson “H.A.L.A” proposal. Being forced upon communities throughout Seattle, the “M.H.A.” provision of H.A.L.A. requires real estate developers to build or write a check for a relatively small percentage of affordable housing in exchange for the ability to construction larger buildings. (For the most recent Op Ed about the upzones, CLICK HERE.)

While I was not a “tree-hugger” before researching this article, City Hall’s apparent assault on trees that are essential to our quality of life had me envisioning how I would not only hug a tree but also chain myself to it to prevent its removal.

Everyone loves trees. No matter your age, background, or ambitions, big trees provide beauty, oxygen, comfort. The benefits branch out like a leafy green democracy. Because big trees take decades to grow, planting little sticks in their place is not equivalent. Therefore, when our elected leaders propose laws that would allow more big trees to be ripped out, that’s wrong and should be stopped.

Saving big trees is also fiscally responsible. How? Keeping an existing tree is free. Moreover, trees provides health benefits. According to an article in The Atlantic, “It is becoming increasingly clear that trees help people live longer, healthier, happier lives—to the tune of $6.8 billion in averted health costs annually in the U.S., according to research published this week.”

What needs to change:  The City should immediately cancel / retract its flimsy and disingenuous “Determination of Non-Significance” (DNS).  The DNS seems wrong on its face. Moreover, a DNS from city officials forces regular folks who care about trees and have better ways to spend their time and life savings, to file a legal challenge to City Hall.

In addition, the advocacy group “Friends of Urban Forests” is asking City Hall to:

  1. Allow more time for possible changes, analysis of impacts, and public input on the current tree ordinance draft by delaying action to the beginning of 2019 as recommended by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission.  [UPDATE: It seems some City Councilmembers heard this plea, according to the statement they issued Sept 12, 2018: CLICK HERE.]
  2. Put back existing protections for Exceptional Trees  (“An exceptional tree: 1. Is designated as a heritage tree by the City of Seattle; or 2. Is rare of exceptional by virtue of its size, species, condition, cultural/historic importance, age, and/or contribution as part of a grove of trees.” Lower the threshold for large exceptional trees to 24″ diameter at 54 inches high (DBH*).
  3. Limit removal of trees to no more than 2 per year on developed property
  4. Put back the prohibition on cutting down trees greater than 6″ DBH on undeveloped lots.
  5. Base tree permits on diameter and species of trees, not tree canopy measurements.
  6. Require all trees 6″ DBH and larger that are removed to be replaced on site or off site or a replacement and maintenance fee must be paid to the City.
  7. Require 2 week posting and yellow ribbons on trees for all permits for removal; include a online public posting of applications and permit approvals.
[ * Here’s how you measure “diameter at breast height” (D.B.H.):  at 4 1/2 feet or 54 inches above the ground, wrap a measuring tape around the tree trunk and divide by Pi (3.14). Example, if the tape measures the tree’s circumference as 6.5 feet around, that’s 78 inches divided by 3.14 = 24.8 inches – Exceptional! For a video on how to measure, CLICK HERE.]

This season’s “Meeting to Connect” is SERIOUSLY SAVE SEATTLE’S TREES.

BEFORE: (lovely mature trees on corner of NE 50th Street and 15th Ave NE)
photo of bulldozer at NE 50th Street & Brooklyn on March 7, 2017

AFTER: (trees removed thanks to weak city policies):
photo of bulldozer at NE 50th Street & Brooklyn on March 7, 2017


  • For an article in “The Atlantic” on the health benefits of trees, CLICK HERE.
  • For a good example of how architects and developers actually listed to neighbors to retain trees, setbacks, and parking (Bryant Heights), CLICK HERE.
  • For the most recent version of the proposed ordinance, CLICK HERE.
  • For condescending Disneyland diagram of how the new ordinance will make everything super called “Trees for All”, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Sept 12 statement from City Councilmembers indicating they MIGHT amend their proposal for the better, CLICK HERE. But let’s be vigilant and see what the next version of their legislation actually says.
  • For the Friends of Urban Forests, CLICK HERE and for Tree PAC, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Urban Forestry Commission, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Urban Forestry Commission’s letter criticizing the proposed ordinance, CLICK HERE.
  • For more about how important trees are to birds and other wildlife, CLICK HERE for the AUDUBON STORE (The Nature Shop) in Northeast Seattle.
  • For a more passionate piece on this topic, CLICK HERE for “Outside City Hall”
  • For a view more favorable toward the proposed ordinance, see the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties: CLICK HERE.


  • WHEN: Of the over 35 budget meetings Sept 24 to Nov 19, 2018, here are some key ones:
    • Monday, Sept 24 at 2:00 p.m.: Mayor’s presentation
    • Wednesday, Sept 26 at 6:30 p.m.: District 5 (far Northeast/North Seattle) at Bitter Lake Community Center, 13035 Linden Ave. N. with Councilmember Debora Juarez and Budget Director Ben Noble.
    • Thursday, October 4 at 5:30 p.m.: Public Hearing (location t.b.d.)
    • Monday, November 19 at 2:00 p.m.: Final Adoption
  • WHERE: usually City Hall (or watch on Seattle Channel), except for Sept 26 and Oct 4 (see above).
  • WHO: lobbyists, interest groups, sycophants and, hopefully, the people of Seattle
  • WHY: because it’s YOUR $5 billion and YOUR city
Get our free "4 to Explore" newsletter delivered to your inbox every month. Click Here to Subscribe