Second lawsuit in West Seattle illegal tree cutting settled for $360,000, city announces

(City-provided photo accompanying announcement)

3:34 PM: Almost 10 months after the city announced its first settlement in the infamous West Seattle illegal tree-cutting case, another has just been announced. From the city news release:

The City has settled the second of two civil suits against West Seattle homeowners who the City alleged hired people to cut down a swath of a greenbelt in late 2015 or early 2016 to improve the homeowners’ views.

The unpermitted tree cutting near the 3200 block of 35th Ave. SW occurred in environmentally critical areas on a steep slope near the defendants’ homes. In its two lawsuits, the City alleged that two separate groups of people were responsible for cutting two distinct areas of City trees. Between the two cuttings, 153 trees of varying sizes, including many big-leaf maples and Scouler’s willows, were felled and left crisscrossing the area. The first suit settled in 2017 for $440,000. In the second suit the City sought damages from Kostas Kyrimis, Linda Kyrimis, Nancy Despain, Wendy Sweigart, Leroy Bernard, Joyce Bernard, Charles King, Shirley King and Bruce Gross. The defendants have agreed to pay the City a total of $360,000 to resolve the matter.

Parks remediation of the area is already under way, and Parks plans to use the settlement funds to continue its work restoring the site and other greenbelt areas in the City.

Read the full news release here; our area’s City Councilmember Lisa Herbold is quoted as saying, “I expect these clear consequences will make someone think twice before considering arboricide in the future.” You can also read the settlement document here; we’re reading it now and will add any details of note that the city announcement didn’t include.

4:05 PM: A few other notes:

-Before the settlement, the case had been scheduled to go to trial this May.
-City-led restoration work continues at the sites where the trees were cut; volunteers helped out on Green Seattle Day last November.
-If you are new, or need a refresher on where this happened, our March 2016 story included a map.

67 Replies to "Second lawsuit in West Seattle illegal tree cutting settled for $360,000, city announces"

  • Mr E February 5, 2018 (3:59 pm)

    That’s it?!

    • Oak tree February 5, 2018 (4:39 pm)

      $360,000 split nine ways is $40,000 each. Is that actually a deterrent?

      • S February 5, 2018 (10:48 pm)

        Pathetic that Herbold is patting herself on the back for this. She is truly out of touch with reality.

        • seaopgal February 6, 2018 (6:41 am)

          Did you read the full quote in the news release? She’s actually thanking the City Attorney’s office, not claiming credit for herself: “Saplings now adorn a hillside where the trees once stood, though it will be
          decades before our West Seattle greenbelt is truly restored,” Council Member Lisa Herbold said. “Thank you to City Attorney Holmes and his team for securing this $360,000 settlement, in addition to the $440,000
          settlement from last spring; I expect these clear consequences will make someone think twice before considering arboricide in the future.
           I’m glad the funds will be going to restore this greenbelt, and other greenbelts in Seattle.” 

          • WSB February 6, 2018 (7:17 am)

            The news release is about two-thirds quotes (from five politicians/city officials) and one-third info; I opted to just excerpt the info part, though I thought that line from CM Herbold was worth including (how often do you see the word “arboricide”?). The only fact I missed including was from Acting Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams’ quote, this elaboration on the restoration work that we mentioned in our story: “To date, we have installed more than 5,500 native plants, including 620 trees.” Also quoted are Mayor Durkan, City Attorney Holmes, and Councilmember Debora Juarez.

      • Arbor Heights Mom February 7, 2018 (10:37 am)

        Totally agree. It’s symbolic at best. 

  • Mike February 5, 2018 (4:30 pm)

    So the perps insurance company paided the $360k?  Not much a deterrent if thats the case.

    • Mark B February 6, 2018 (9:04 am)

      I don’t believe this would be covered under a homeowners policy.  Probably not tax deductible either

      • WSB February 6, 2018 (9:42 am)

        The settlement document (linked in the story and relatively brief) says “Defendants, through their respective insurers, shall pay the total sum of $360,000 to Plaintiff …”

  • DD February 5, 2018 (4:48 pm)

    They got off way too easy. Judgement should have been at least triple this amount , given the extent of the damage and the decades it will take for regrowth. 

  • DH February 5, 2018 (5:17 pm)

    Agree with others that this was too light of a settlement. I hope some of the public shaming these individuals received will do something more. BTW I think they deserve continued negative feedback for their role in this. 

  • Mike February 5, 2018 (5:18 pm)

    That doesn’t even cover the cost of having new trees with root systems planted to replace what was cut, much less become a penalty for criminal acts.  They still get the extra million dollars in views?

  • just wondering February 5, 2018 (5:19 pm)

    I hope they plant fast growing, really tall trees!

    • The King February 5, 2018 (7:20 pm)

      Bamboo 

      • Mark B February 6, 2018 (9:07 am)

        Please no bamboo it is invasive.  They should make them remove the Ivy while they are at it.

      • Xana La Fuente February 7, 2018 (5:03 pm)

        Ha!!! Or maybe get one of those artists that paint those big hideous metal sculptures to install. something really bright and really big right in the middle of it. Or maybe get that guy who lives behind Rite Aid on California who does the Big Wood Sculptures with the Demonic phallic symbolism to go to town on some new ” tree art ” 

  • Canton February 5, 2018 (5:30 pm)

    Looking at the stumps, there are a lot of older cuts. Wasn’t the first time.

  • Jissy February 5, 2018 (5:32 pm)

    That’s ridiculous — it should have been $360K PER PERSON!!!!

  • Jim February 5, 2018 (5:56 pm)

     Doesn’t look like steep slope. Felled sapling left on ground seems like responsible action to protect environment, provide wildlife habitat, and absorb rainfall, not unlike City Park and Rec recent actions to improve view and manage overgrowth from Hamilton Viewpoint.

    • Sna February 5, 2018 (8:00 pm)

      They need to cut more trees at Hamilton and other viewpoints in West Seattle.  Despite being legally protected views, the city is letting them disappear.  The actions a few years ago to kill the red alders there were meant to help the maple trees grow taller.  

    • Admiral Mom February 6, 2018 (8:58 am)

      @Jim- I haven’t heard about this at Hamilton Viewpoint. Can you elaborate? Thanks!

  • MJ February 5, 2018 (5:59 pm)

    $40,000 and whatever they paid for attorneys cost is a sizeable hit. 

    I just wish the prosecutors office would treat all vandalism the same way!

    • Mark B February 6, 2018 (2:37 pm)

      Good point MJ.  Seems the law jumped on these people for the easy publicity / politically correct  angle.

  • JoB February 5, 2018 (6:14 pm)

    i hope that in addition to paying the fines their properties were assessed to include the increased tax value of that view

    • WSB February 5, 2018 (6:46 pm)

      You can look up the history of assessment of any property over the years via King County Parcel Viewer.

  • chemist February 5, 2018 (6:14 pm)

    Did this settlement not involve Jane and John Does 1-5 who did the cutting?  I’m still curious if these chainsaw-wielding workers were from a company paying no attention to permits/land boundaries or a bunch of amateurs sent into the sloped woods with chainsaws.

    Defendants Jane and John Does 1-5 lacked probable cause to believe that the Parcels
    belonged to Kyrimis, Despain, Sweigart, Bernard, King, or Gross.

    The compliant noted 72 trees over 6″ diameter in this suit so they’ve gone down to $5k/tree with a $360k settlement, compared to the first settlement.

  • Unfair February 5, 2018 (7:15 pm)

    Tagging a fence can get you arrested. A nice pair of handcuffs, ride downtown, overnight or two in jail along with crime on permanent record would have been scarier than a cash payment for these types.  

  • dsa February 5, 2018 (8:08 pm)

    That view is easily worth $40k if it could be preserved.

  • Marty February 5, 2018 (8:45 pm)

    If our city is so “environmentally conscious” then why are the city officials allowing so many people living in motor homes and vans  in West Seattle?   They are  dumping garbage as well as “human waste”  on public and private property!  What about the noise and air pollution of generators being powered by gasoline that are running 24 hours a day?   Many people are turning a blind eye on this issue.   Also how about the safety of tax paying citizens?   Would you want one of your family members walking past these motor homes and vans?   I don’t think the mayor or city council members  would like a  motor home or a van parked in front of their residence?   I am a concerned West Seattle resident who cares about the safety of its citizens  and the environment!  MM

    • Canton February 5, 2018 (9:37 pm)

      Not sure how your complaint relates to above article, but definitely an issue. Hopefully not deflection of topic, as the greenbelt squatters aren’t clearcutting swaths of forest to enhance views.

      • Marty February 6, 2018 (5:01 pm)

        Canton,

        My point is that squatters, homeless people, etc.  are also damaging the environment dumping garbage, human waste (dumping their sewage in a STORM SEWER).   Look at the “jungle, below the West Seattle Bridge, and along the hill southbound on Highway  509 these places and many more areas are disgusting. No one seems to be in an uproar about these places. MM

        • WSB February 6, 2018 (6:13 pm)

          This is entirely unrelated to what happened here. However, yes, concerns have been raised about the slope over 509, at several different community meetings we cover. When it was brought up at one last Sunday, one person said camp cleanups are prioritized depending on safety … and somebody else pointed out that slope was the scene of a murder last year. (Suspects awaiting trial.)

    • newnative February 6, 2018 (9:19 am)

      “Marty” (interesting, are you one of the plaintiffs?) This isn’t about homeless, this is about homefull. People who clearly know better and willingly destroy the habitat because they can and they know they can get away with it. 

  • John H February 5, 2018 (9:06 pm)

    Besides the fine, the defendants should also have to:

    1. Make restitution themselves – physically take part in replanting and restoring the trees
    2. Somehow have their view blocked to the same level that is was before the trees were cut until the trees grow back (that’s a long time)
    3. Not be allowed to have their home values increase due to the better view

    I certainly hope their insurance company for their home refuse to pay any of the fine since they broke the law.

    How could they ever believe they would get away with this?

    John H

    • enviromaven February 5, 2018 (9:25 pm)

      Because they’re entitled, self-absorbed, and feel that rules don’t apply to them. 

  • Delilah February 5, 2018 (10:05 pm)

    Hey Marty – being poor and/or living in a trailer/van does not make you violent or untrustworthy

  • Canton February 5, 2018 (10:08 pm)

    What’s also disturbing, is Seattle green day had dozens of volunteers, to help remedy the destruction, of a handful of selfish few. Guessing those efforts aren’t calculated in cost of restoration.

  • AHLifer48 February 6, 2018 (3:29 am)

    Pictures of perps plz!!!  = public shaming is last recourse. 

  • anonyme February 6, 2018 (6:21 am)

    The law allows the court to ask for full replacement value of each tree based on its size at the time of cutting.  Washington allows treble damages for illegal tree cutting.  This fine may or may not even cover restoration costs using plugs and small seedlings, much less larger trees.  It will take decades to replace what was lost, plus years of monitoring and maintenance of the new plantings.  (BTW, I’m a retired arborist…so I do know a bit about the subject.)

  • John February 6, 2018 (8:32 am)

    To be accurate, the settlement is for 4 sets of couples and one single payer across 5 properties/houses.

    Do we know how the $360,000 is divided up between them? 

    If responsibility is divide equally between homes, each would pay $72,000 in fines.


  • MSea February 6, 2018 (9:48 am)

    What kind of deterrent is this when owner property values are increased beyond the penalty because of the new views?  This is such a slap on the wrist and if anything only emboldens others to do the same. I’m curious if any legal minds can weigh in on this question: Would a civil lawsuit be feasible in a case like this where a small group of people have deprived a community of a vital resource, endangered their neighbors because of the  potential they’ve created for hillside erosion and openly flaunted laws specifically to benefit their property values? These people are disgusting. The best thing they can do is move away. 

  • Joan February 6, 2018 (10:21 am)

    I don’t see how any of this could be covered by some type of homeowner insurance. They committed a crime. How is that covered? And yes, I agree, the homeowners should have to help replant, Absolutely. Give them orange coveralls to boot.

  • miws February 6, 2018 (11:29 am)

    I don’t understand how their insurance could pay when the tree-cutting was a willful and illegal act, and yet last summer Pemco said it would not renew policies of some of the homeowners in the Kittitas wildfire area, which were no fault of the homeowners, some of them decades-long policyholders,  including at least one policyholder that went to great lengths to prevent damage from potential wildfires: 

     http://komonews.com/news/consumer/pemco-says-it-will-not-renew-policies-for-certain-homes-near-kittitas-county-wildfire-area

    Now, granted, as noted in the article, Pemco is a small, policyholder-owned company, and we don’t know what insurance companies these tree-cutting homeowners use. 

    Mike 

    • WSB February 6, 2018 (11:39 am)

      For yours and the other questions about how insurance could cover this …
      Remember that this is civil liability (no one in this case has ever been charged with a crime in connection with it).
      I googled and this might be something of an explanation:
      https://www.esurance.com/info/homeowners/does-homeowners-insurance-protect-you-against-civil-liability-cases

      • miws February 6, 2018 (1:53 pm)

        Thanks, WSB!

        Mike

    • bolo February 6, 2018 (2:43 pm)

      Apparently the defendandts did not have to admit guilt in this case. So possibly their insurance could not hold that against them to decline paying a claim.

  • rico February 6, 2018 (12:41 pm)

    Amazing to me that more people are chiming in and presumably upset about this issue more so that the judge who let out the thief who terrorized a woman and children in their home.  Makes me think that the judges decision is OK with a whole bunch of folks, weird set of priorities in my opinion.  The lack of massive outrage tells me that the judge of interest will get re-elected easily.

    • Mark B February 6, 2018 (2:48 pm)

      With you RICO.  I remember a story about a boy getting mauled by dogs covered here a few years back.  Many of the posts were worried about what was going to happen to the dogs

  • WestSeattleite February 6, 2018 (2:25 pm)

    Question for the finger pointers. While you are correct the homeowners were wrong to cut on city property I’m mystified the uproar is so self serving. The original WSB article said heavy equipment was needed to get to the area. Translation: the city was doing ZERO maintenance. It also means all the “tree lover’s” in the area weren’t doing any maintenance either. How come? If tree’s are so valuable  how about telling the assessor you want your property taxes raised because you have a yard full of trees.  I’m not advocating cutting down all tree’s just tired of neighbor’s getting angry if I cut, or prune “too much” and NEVER offering to help maintain.   

    • Canton February 6, 2018 (3:40 pm)

      Natural areas, forests don’t require maintenance. Mother nature takes care of that. Any branches that grow over their property line can be cut back to that line. Obviously doing that, wouldn’t create the “sweeping” views that these selfish few desired. Those trees have been butchered time and time again, and they finally got caught. The city only got half of what they originally sought. How many hours between city staff and volunteers are going to be wasted to clean up their mess. All while these entitled few never have to lift a finger or perspire a bead of sweat.

  • Frustrated in Fauntleroy February 6, 2018 (3:24 pm)

    The self-righteousness of some of the folks commenting is disappointing. So quick to CONTINUE  stand in judgment and point a finger. These folks paid their penalty. Some of them came forward on their own to report the damage (which is more than most of us would do in the same situation.) Some paid more — MUCH more than others. The hill is getting “fixed.” These are our neighbors. Just because you don’t like the settlements, doesn’t mean that they aren’t fair or just. These folks have all had their public internet flogging.  Move on people.  

    • Mike February 6, 2018 (8:08 pm)

      It doesn’t even cover the cost incurred by tax payers.  I’m pissed.

  • Junction Lady February 6, 2018 (3:40 pm)

    Unreal that people get into an uproar about tree cuttings.  A 16 yr old girl is out prostituting herself to a known West Seattleite and no one seems nearly alarmed!

    Where are our priorities?

    • Mike February 6, 2018 (8:02 pm)

      If we can only worry about one topic, we’d have far more issues.  These trees being cut are potentially going to cause Land slides which can kill people and destroy homes and businesses.  Those at fault are barely getting a slap on the wrist.

      The girl that’s 16 is a sad story and the people who took advantage of her need to be held responsible, just as the people cutting trees need to be.

      Our priority needs to be properly prosecuting those who break laws.

  • hellomaryloulou February 6, 2018 (4:32 pm)

    We live in the 2700 block of 27th Ave SW.  When we take 35th Ave, we pick it up at the 3200 block and I am shocked to learn that those not-so-attractive homes had owners that chopped down the trees. 

    lt looks like they all got drunk at a party and decided to cut down those dang trees! 

    They obviously knew nothing about appropriate tree care and I’d hate to think of them as our neighbors.  Shame on them.

  • John February 6, 2018 (9:21 pm)

    The city government is hypocritical.  If developers came to that same area and offered to pay the city to cut down the trees to build houses or apartments the city would have eagerly grabbed the money and allowed the developers to strip away as much of the hillside as they liked. 

    • RayWest February 7, 2018 (4:33 am)

      Your statement that the city would have “eagerly grabbed the money and allowed developers to strip away as much of the hillside as they liked” is rather ludicrous and has no basis in fact. If the city sold land, and I assume there is a public process which they’d have to go  through, private developers would have to adhere to all building codes and regulations. They cannot just come in and do whatever the heck they want.

      • WSB February 7, 2018 (7:14 am)

        Correct. I was responding along those lines last night and got distracted. There’s a rather extensive process that must be followed before the city can even think about selling public land, and it starts with a declaration that the land is surplus. For example, consider the saga of the surplus substations, which dates back four and a half years, with some of those parcels’ fate still unsettled.

  • Outraged February 7, 2018 (1:50 am)

    Nope! None of it is a deterrent. What a disgrace by Pete Holmes. It just goes to show that if you have money, you can do whatever you want in Seattle and just cut a check. If anyone else had illegally cut down one tree, we sure as hell would be criminally charged AND have to pay a huge fine – one that actually hurt the people who paid it. A fine consistent with the requirements of the LAW – as outlined above by the retired arborist.  Oh – and you can be absolutely sure that Holmes’ office knew what they were doing when they only filed the civil suit. If they had filed criminal charges, the insurance companies could have avoided payment and these poor poor property owners would have had to reach down into their own pockets to pay.  Everyone who is bothered by this lax “enforcement” by our City Attorney needs to (1) make their voices heard when he next runs for office (probably unopposed); (2) support someone else to run against him who is interested in enforcing the law, even against the wealthy; (3) DO NOT DO BUSINESS with any of these homeowners. Stan Harrelson is an investor who deals in real estate (the fact that he works in real estate makes him even more culpable since he knew the laws better than others).  Marty Riemer is a DJ and does a morning show on The Jet. Kostas and Linda Kyrimis own a B&B in Greece. Nancy DeSpain is an in house agent for PEMCO (yep!). Don’t know about the rest of them but if you know them or have a chance to do business with them, you can make your views known with your wallet.

    • MarkB February 7, 2018 (3:26 pm)

      How about VOTE OUT the CITY ATTORNEY, preferably in the Primary clearly he is dirty in all this…

  • Homesteader February 7, 2018 (3:30 pm)

    It’s too bad they got fined at all. No slides have come from it. Most, if not all the people wagging their fingers probably had no idea where this area was before it got reported.  They certainly hadn’t walked through the area. Their only mistake was not getting permits.  My parent’s live on the west side of Genesee Hill. They live on a steep slope. They filled out the 29 pages of forms, hired an arborist and paid the fee. 2 weeks later they had the cutting permits in hand from the city. Hint for the tree lovers. The city loves their money more than they love trees!!

  • Xana La Fuente February 7, 2018 (5:08 pm)

    And just to look at the shipyard? #notimpressed 

    • ProudPapa February 7, 2018 (5:14 pm)

      Oh no this gave them a city view. I know someone on the street (not involved with this) and they have a decent view. 

  • Xana La Fuente February 7, 2018 (5:08 pm)

    Shout out to West Seattle Blog this is more fun than Facebook these days! That being said I think I’ll stick to send you guys sunset pictures ;) 

  • Nick February 7, 2018 (6:03 pm)

    I’m glad “all” of the names of people involved are public, and that their names are sullied.

    Going back through Google Earth imagery for this area, it’s clear that the trees were a nuisance for some people in this area going back at least a decade – there are clear signs of large-scale cutting immediately prior to the imagery dated 11/2007 and 5/2009 at least. That cleared downtown-pointing-triangle immediately east of the homes has been apparent as far back as the imagery has the resolution to show it.

    There’s an interesting series of trails that come and go on the hillside, too.

    I started to look at the imagery to see if it could help establish a better date of when the damage occurred this last time, as all the court filings and the settlement are vague.

    The obvious question in all of this is how much the property owners would benefit from the views, and if anyone in the area has sold. One home was sold 11/2015, which is why I was curious about the exact dates.

    So – homeowners can get away with this kind of garbage for years without being caught, for their own personal benefit. I think this is why so many people are so angry about this. The chances of getting away with it seem to be pretty good, at least for a while. And when you get caught, you don’t even need to admit guilt.

    Shame.

  • drahcir February 8, 2018 (9:24 am)

    The audacity & downright greed is beyond my scope of understanding. 

    From my house I can see parts of the water, lower Queen Anne & even a slight glimpse of the Space Needle (my wife thinks it’s the wine) … DURING WINTER MONTHS!!!  And you know what, I’m perfectly fine with that.  I spend many weekends killing & removing ivy from 200′ trees … so the trees WON’T die & fall.

    These people had perfectly good views of the city from October until March … but they couldn’t resist the temptation of taking something that didn’t belong to them.

    Thanks to Google I’ve found most of these people on LinkedIn, Facebook, et al.  Pathetic, selfish individuals.

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