West Seattle Green Space Coalition asks City Light to stop tree/plant removal at ex-substations

January 5, 2014 at 11:14 am | In Utilities, West Seattle news | 19 Comments

Until the fate of Seattle City Light‘s surplus ex-substations is decided, tree-cutting in the name of “cleanups” must stop, says the West Seattle Green Space Coalition.

Two weeks ago, a reader tip led us to report on tree-cutting at one of those sites, the former Andover substation at 21st/Andover. Reader comments also revealed something similar at the Dumar ex-substation, 16th/Holden. The WSGSC has put together before/after views of both sites. First, Pigeon Point:

Then, Dumar:

City Light told us the tree-cutting had to do with cleaning up contamination and that at least three other sites were slated for cleanup work. The Pigeon Point specifics are in our December story; regarding Dumar, SCL’s Lynn Best told us, “This is similar to the other site, Andover. The pesticides dieldrin and DDT were found at levels above (Model Toxics Control Act) cleanup levels. PCB levels below MTCA cleanup levels were found around the concrete pad. The vegetation removal was done in preparation for the cleanup.”

Here’s the news release from the WSGSC:

Ignoring neighborhood and West Seattle Green Space Coalition requests, and apparently without a directive from the Seattle City Council, in mid-December, Seattle City Light chopped down all the trees at the Pigeon Point former substation site and the Dumar former substation site.

West Seattle Green Space Coalition is demanding that Seattle City Light halt removal of plants and trees at its former substations in West Seattle. These sites contain mature vegetation, including significant trees, which are important to healthy neighborhoods. Established, green spaces are being destroyed with no plan to balance out the loss of these green spaces. Although these are only a few small parcels in West Seattle, they have been open, green habitat. The destruction of these longstanding spaces is detrimental to West Seattle. These sites are providing a small but significant balance to major high density development which is taking place in West Seattle.

On October 15, 2013, West Seattle Green Space Coalition (WSGSC) sent a letter and a petition containing more than 600 signatures to Seattle City Council and Seattle City Light (SCL) requesting a halt to any action leading to disposal of the six surplus and inactive Seattle City Light West Seattle Substations:

Former Andover Substation (2100 SW Andover St.) (Pigeon Point)
Former Dakota Substation (4918 SW Dakota St.)
Former Delridge Substation (5601 23rd Ave. SW)
Former Dumar Substation (1605 SW Holden St.)
Former Fauntleroy Substation (4520 Brace Point Dr.)
Former White Center Substation (8820 9th Ave. SW)

Previously, the City Council had requested that Seattle City Light prepare a report about possible future disposition of these properties. A report is expected from SCL in Winter 2014 to outline possible steps.

In response, neighborhood groups organized and met with Seattle City Light to discuss potential future uses of these properties which would benefit the surrounding neighborhoods and the City at large. At public meetings, many neighbors demanded that these sites be kept as green spaces to balance out the high density development which is taking place in West Seattle.

• WSGSC states that the removal of trees was premature and unnecessary. Although SCL asserts that there is contamination at the sites which would need to be removed prior to sale of the properties, WSGSC says that (1) the removal of plants and trees is premature as SCL has not yet issued its report, and the City Council has not even authorized any sale of the properties, and (2) there are environmentally-sensitive ways to remove contamination without large-scale destruction of plants and trees.

• WSGSC requests that the City Council and SCL immediately stop the removal of trees and plants at each of the surplus substation sites. Until a future plan is developed for these sites, it is premature to destroy the vegetation. The trees and plants are currently providing habitat for wildlife, providing oxygen and cleaning our air, and contributing to quality of life.

• WSGSC also requests that Seattle City Council form an advisory Neighborhoods Commission on Seattle City Light West Seattle Substations (including neighborhood representatives) to develop plans and secure funding for future uses of the sites.

• WSGSC is not aware of Seattle City Light having conducted an environmental assessment of the impact its actions at the seven surplus sites will take. If there is such an environmental assessment report, it should be made public.

• WSGSC demands that removal of trees and plants at the sites, and any possible disposition of the sites, be conducted only after a thorough independent analysis of the environmental impacts is conducted.

We will be following up again with City Light tomorrow. We had already been reviewing the soil-analysis reports they provided at our request.

19 Comments

  1. West Seattle View Coalition demands that all the crap scrap trees get cut down at these sub stations and ALL remaining green space where homeowner views have been blocked by trees. Views are a vital part of neighborhoods, improve quality of life and generate increased tax revenue.
    And here’s a fact: the Andover Substation property still has trees remaining on the parcel site. We welcome City Light to return and finish whacking down the rest of the view killing scrap trees. Thanks City Light for giving our neighborhood views back!

    Comment by Paul B. — 2:47 pm January 5, 2014 #

  2. these folks are a tad dramatic. I live near the Andover corner and it is still has quite a bit of trees. It is cleaner, yes. And if these folks have the money to buy these properties at fair market value buy them! But I don’t want City Light giving property away, that will increase my rates if we just give these properties away.

    Comment by rf — 3:21 pm January 5, 2014 #

  3. My understanding of why the trees have been removed is that the soil is contaminated and that the root-balls will need to be removed in order to clean up the DDT and PCB ridden soils. I’d prefer to see mitigation of the toxic soils over preservation of a handful of mature trees.

    Comment by pigeonpointer — 3:49 pm January 5, 2014 #

  4. Think about it. If the soil was toxic enough to require removal of tree root balls City Light would be held liable and responsible for testing and the clearing of all adjacent properties. Toxic soil does NOT stay on the lot. It travels through ground water and rain run-off. There is more to this story…….

    Comment by Karen Lyons — 4:43 pm January 5, 2014 #

  5. Since this just happened, “after” shots in the spring/summer aren’t possible yet. And their campaign started up in the summer. The West Seattle meeting about the surplus sites was in August: http://westseattleblog.com/ai1ec_event/community-meeting-surplus-property-disposition
    .

    City Light’s own “before” shots can be leafed through here: http://www.seattle.gov/light/surplus/ (click on anything on the left side list and the photo at right will switch to that site). – TR

    Comment by WSB — 5:19 pm January 5, 2014 #

  6. I meant if the “before” were taken last summer? But that is the least of what I’d be interested in…

    again, has WSB mentioned who the individual and groups of this West Seattle Greenspace Coalition are? I am sure others are curious, at a minimum.

    Maybe others would also be curious about whether the Greenspace Coalition has not only botanists but geologists familiar with the Delridge to DUWAMISH contamination/toxic runoff patterns and their remediation? Really. What scientists are represented on this coalition with what background? Where do they live? Where do they own property? Just curious. Because if this coalition does NOT have geologists who understand the most current knowledge base of toxic runoff patterns on this peninsula, then they really are wasting some people’s precious time over serious matters and need to do more homework so they fairly and accurately represent the concerns of this community.

    Comment by not-so-subtle differences — 5:26 pm January 5, 2014 #

  7. City Light plans to clear cut 8 of the West Seattle substations. In most of the properties they are citing traces of pesticides that were banned by 1982. Using this criteria, almost every public park and public land in Seattle would have to be clear cut since they all used the same pesticides up until 1982. There is more to this story……

    Comment by Karen Lyons — 5:28 pm January 5, 2014 #

  8. “City Light’s own “before” shots can be leafed through here:”
    .
    I see what you did there.

    Comment by Mookie — 5:47 pm January 5, 2014 #

  9. Ok.
    Somebody, Anybody!

    Reveal who this Coalition is comprised of?

    Is there a blog, a link, an email, anywhere folks can contact your group?

    Because if you name your group as representing WS, then there really should be contact info available and a roster of individuals and organizations involved, I would think for the sake of legitimacy and transparency. Maybe you all are not into that, eh?

    Are there any other projects it is coalescing around? Or are the substation parcels the raison d’être?

    There are BIG concerns over on the river over there >>>>> Hope you guys are paying attention to THAT contamination. Cuz that’s the REAL story to many…be honest about what you know, but also about what you do not know. Time is precious to people. Have all your ducks in a row. My two cents.

    Comment by not-so-subtle differences — 6:14 pm January 5, 2014 #

  10. No website that I know of. This is just another grass-roots group. Our original report when we happened onto them at the Farmers’ Market:
    .
    http://westseattleblog.com/2013/09/west-seattle-green-space-coalition-forming-to-push-for-balance
    .
    GSNC members intensely interested in the future of the Dakota site helped start it. More power to them, pun not intended. We have a LOT of issues around here and it takes a village of community groups to care about them. They have made presentations at some of the neighborhood councils’ meetings, by the way, I recall from having seen or published links to agendas in our routine mentions of meetings. – TR
    .
    added – HPAC mention:
    .
    http://hpacinfo.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/surplus-city-light-properties-discussion-at-hpac/
    .
    NDNC mention
    .
    http://www.ndnc.org/2013/10/12/october-meeting-agenda-at-youngstown/
    .

    Comment by WSB — 6:33 pm January 5, 2014 #

  11. IMO this looks like a quick way to develop a lot. But that’s just a guess with no supporting fact. But… Every other property around here is zoned residential, and are in both eca1,2, and steep slide zone areas. So if you develop a property on pp an individual or contractor would likely not be allowed to do the same thing scl just did. If I chop down all the trees on my property and get caught I will likely get a fine and be responsible to replace them right. So it makes no sense at all that scl should be able to do it. If the lot sits for another year what harm were the trees doing? If anything wouldn’t they help with the remidiation? Doesn’t removing all the mature trees put the owner down the hill at risk from a slide? Did scl check the lots below for contamination? What plan did scl have other than chop down the trees. The root balls are still in the ground. Is the giant pile of steaming bark contaminated? If they follow the same rules as us little guys they wouldn’t be able to make a ground disturbance with a machine till what? April 1st?
    I think most people are aware of the problems with the duwamish, but IMO this is a totally seperate issue. Iirc duwamish cleanup efforts have been underway for sometime and will continue to be for much longer. Again my worry is that it’s slated for quick sale. Which doesn’t always equate to best use/practices.

    Comment by Hmm — 8:41 pm January 5, 2014 #

  12. For the skeptics (and that includes me,) I would suggest you read the WSB article TR linked to in the second paragraph. In the comments you will see a familiar name and some info on WSGSC; unfortunately, their most recent meeting happened the day before this story was posted.

    Also, I searched the City Council agenda website and only found information related to a pilot project to surplus 5 substations in the north end and one on Beacon Hill. I also found this report with the following quote on p. 2:
    .
    http://clerk.seattle.gov/~public/meetingrecords/2012/energy20120925_2b.pdf
    .
    ‘The City’s current disposition procedures treat all surplus City properties in the same way. However, surplus City Light properties are required by state statute to be treated differently from surplus General Fund properties. The State Accountancy Act, RCW 43.09.210, prohibits the assets of a municipal utility fund from benefiting another city fund without payment of true and full value. RCW 35.94.040 requires the payment of fair market value for the lease or sale of surplus utility lands, including transfers between City funds and departments. The various cases of Okeson v. Seattle have reaffirmed that utility assets cannot be used to serve the non-utility functions of general government.’
    .
    this is the Sept. 2011 resolution establishing the process CL needs to follow to surplus substations (takes *forever* to load):
    .
    http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~archives/Resolutions/Resn_31317.pdf

    Comment by metrognome — 9:05 pm January 5, 2014 #

  13. Thank you members of the WSGSC for taking a stand on SPU’s irresponsible and insensitive dealings with public property. To be specific, keeping rates down by selling property is unsustainable and shortsighted. If the right course of action is to sell off public property then neighborhoods should be advised and supported by the Seattle City Council as your group has requested to keep properties in the public domain if that best serves our neighborhoods.

    Comment by Craig — 9:40 pm January 5, 2014 #

  14. SPU, aka Seattle Public Utilities, is the water department (or Seattle Pacific University. Take your pick). But neither of them are City Light.

    Also, the City Charter makes it quite clear that all surplus city properties be sold for fair market value through a competitive process. This policy is intended to keep properties from being aquired by faux grassroots organizations, or being sold to developers in sweetheart deals.

    City Light once had about 146 of these small substations throughout the city, including many in West Sesttle. They’ve been selling them off since 1962, when they began changing the way the system is configured. This is literally nothing new.

    Comment by Engineer — 11:06 pm January 5, 2014 #

  15. City Light, thank you Engineer. Not a new process but one in need of reform in my opinion. Whether or not this has been happening since 1962, now is the only opportunity to keep these spaces from being developed or put to other public use. The only consideration for this opportunity cost was a chance that a cash strapped Parks Department would purchase the property. Maybe I need to look closer but I see a group trying to preserve green-space and empower our neighborhoods which I appreciate.

    Comment by Craig — 12:44 am January 6, 2014 #

  16. And what IS new here is that so far as I can tell (and I’m in the middle of more research as we speak) this is the first time THESE sites have been put up for disposition. It is as noted here a different process from some of the other city departments. I am looking at some of the past sites and while some in West Seattle have become parks (Dakota Place, Nantes on Admiral, sites in Gatewood and Alki), some in the city have not – this is the second round of disposition done in this manner, grouping them geographically, and – as I suspect the WSGSC has already found via whatever research it’s done – the first group, in the north end, went mostly to housing developers. There are lots of subtleties but one thing that the local group voiced concern about is that news of this disposition research came right AFTER the year-plus process in which the city Parks Department took applications for possible use of its Opportunity Fund, which might have been used for purchase of one or more of these sites. There won’t be another round for a couple years. If local groups/advocates had known this was coming, they might have put forward one or more applications to procure one or more of these sites. Of course there is the question of whether parks/open spaces are a higher and better use than housing. Maybe the city should go into the homebuilding business! One eastern Seattle site sold off in the mid-2000s went for $211,000 and was used to build two homes whose sale prices a few years back totaled almost a million. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 1:00 am January 6, 2014 #

  17. One reason City Light may be using the soil as an excuse for cutting trees; Seattle tree cutting regulations (Every one of the WS substations has measurable exceptional trees. Fauntleroy neighbors are even considering having their substation declared a small botanical garden because of the large number of impressive tree and shrubs.)
    SEATTLE TREE CUTTING REGULATIONS:
    UNDEVELOPED LOTS : On undeveloped lots, trees greater than 6 inches in diameter may not be removed unless they are hazardous or approved as part of a development permit.
    OTHER PRIVATE PROPERTY: Interim regulations managed by DPD also limit the removal of certain trees in lowrise, midrise, and commercial zones and on single-family lots greater than 5,000 sq ft. Within these areas, no trees considered exceptional may be removed and the removal of non-exceptional trees is limited to 3 trees per year. More information regarding trees on private property
    Tree companies working on regulated trees or in regulated areas should have a copy of any permit that has been issued by a City department in their possession on the job site. If they cannot produce a permit, they are subject to a stop-work order.
    There is more to this story……

    Comment by Karen Lyons — 7:10 am January 6, 2014 #

  18. You keep saying there is more to the story, by I can write it out beginning to end.

    City Light will sell these parcels to a developer, DPD will approve whatever they ask for, they will be 100% cleared of vegetation, and new houses will be built and landscaped with generic shrubbery. Everyone involved in every step will be acting in their own perceived best interest and not lose any sleep over it. End of story.

    Comment by Jeff — 10:45 am January 6, 2014 #

  19. The West Seattle Green Space Coalition is a group of concerned West Seattle residents and activists who are working to find best solutions for the surplus substations in order to benefit each community and the city of Seattle at large. We aspire to something more for the City than merely selling these assets for cash. Seattle deserves the best.
    We have asked Seattle City Light and the Seattle City Council to halt any action to dispose of the properties until neighborhood groups have an opportunity to work toward the best solutions. In October, we submitted a petition with over 600 signatures, mostly of neighbors in West Seattle. I am one of the co-chairs (I also serve as President of Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council) along with Elaine Ike (Admiral neighborhood), Tod Rodman (Morgan neighborhood), Karen Lyons (botanist/Junction neighborhood) and Mike Dady (Delridge neighborhood). Southwest District Council and North Delridge Neighborhood Association are supporting our efforts.
    We urge you to meet with us and join in. Our meetings are open to the public and typically announced on WSB. Our next meetings are: Sunday, January 12 at 3:00 at the Delridge public library and Sunday, January 26 at 3:00 at the West Seattle (Admiral) public library. We are currently looking for a volunteer to assist with creating a website. Anyone able to help?
    On Wednesday, January 15th we will be meeting with representatives of Seattle City Light. If you have comments which you would like to forward, please post here, or you may call me at 206-937-3321 or you may email me at maryfleckws@gmail.com. Thanks for your interest.
    Mary Fleck
    West Seattle Green Space Coalition

    Comment by Mary Fleck — 1:32 pm January 9, 2014 #

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