Crew removed from City Light trimming over “aggressive” cut


The Seattle City Light tree-trimming that’s been under way for the past few months (WSB coverage here, here, and here) has sparked controversy and concern in a Fauntleroy neighborhood. Last week, resident John McNulty cc’d WSB on a complaint to the city and attached two photos including the one you see above, taken along SW Trenton, showing big cedar trees that he says were “badly damaged” by a trimming crew, and asking for a “public apology” to the neighborhood. We heard the next day from the owner of the property where one of the trees is located, Fred Fleischmann, who wrote, “The trimming they are doing this time is excessive and is destroying beautiful big old cedar trees that are irreplaceable.” Since then, we’ve been pursuing information from City Light, and got it today. The utility acknowledges one of the trees was trimmed too “aggressively” by an Asplundh crew which has since been removed from the contract. But the other tree’s a different story, according to the city – here’s everything we have found out:

First, the backstory on the trimming — City Light has been working for several months in West Seattle neighborhoods, in some cases for the first time in years — to trim trees so that there will be 10 feet of clearance around power lines. The utility says that’s necessary both to avoid fire hazards and to avoid power-outage problems — during the December 2006 windstorm, most of the power outages were caused by trees vs. power lines.

In communication directly with homeowners and at the public meeting we covered in January, City Light arborists noted that the type of cuts that crews would have to make would not necessarily be aesthetically pleasing – in many cases, branches would have to go all the way back to the trunk.

That’s what happened in the case of the tree shown above. Scott Thomsen from City Light says the type of trimming done on that tree was “appropriate” to a point along the top of the tree — but, he confirms, the crew trimmed the branches too far down the trunk, several feet further than necessary for the power-line clearance. “We were not happy, and that crew has been removed from the city contract,” Thomsen told WSB today.

Now, the other tree – a more dramatic photo, sent to us by another source, but not a case of trimming error, Thomsen says:


That tree is at the corner of Trenton and 45th (map). Thomsen says it had been topped before, and crews were in the process of topping it again for the power-line-clearance work. They had completed the first day of work and had gone back for the second day when, “in consulation with the property owner,” he says, it was decided the tree should be removed.

Thomsen says the tree did not have to be removed, and that the property owner could have chosen to just have it topped, but wanted it taken out. “It’s in a location that is just in conflict with the power lines,” as the photo shows, he notes. The tree is in Seattle Department of Transportation right-of-way — though it’s the property owner’s responsibility to maintain, as with all trees in those areas (such as parking strips) — so City Light has had to apply for a permit for the removal. Thomsen says the utility also sent someone to the neighborhood for a followup visit with affected property owners and neighbors.

The trimming work continues around West Seattle; today, crews were working along the Thistle Street staircase down the hillside to Lincoln Park, and closed the staircase during the work. If trimmers are coming to your neighborhood, you should have received a door-hanger, if not a doorknock.

17 Replies to "Crew removed from City Light trimming over "aggressive" cut"

  • RobertSeattle May 27, 2008 (3:48 pm)

    If you read the headline and then look at the first picture you “almost” get the impression they tried to take down the power pole… :-)

  • Melissa May 27, 2008 (9:31 pm)

    We’re still fuming about the butchery they committed against the glorious old cedar across the street from us. They went ridiculously far above and below the power lines. It’s great that they fired the idiots, but it’s a bit late!

  • Danno May 27, 2008 (10:01 pm)

    Trim away, but certainly NIMBY!!!

    Irreplaceable? Get real. I hope he lives in a house made of ? What building material replaces itself? Trees grow. Plant a seedling and wait, it works.

    He better not complain when his power goes out in the next windstorm.

    Same for you, Melissa. Cut it back and plant another one.

  • Paul May 27, 2008 (10:14 pm)

    When they trimmed the trees in front of our house I stood outside and watched very close. I called first to find out what exactly was to be done. I was told a 10 Foot cut needed to be done around the power lines, which means, 10 feet up, across and down from the way it was explained. I have to say, they did exactly that and no more. I was honestly worried, because I had heard bad stories. And yes trees grow back, but it takes 50 years to get to that level. I know because my 2 trees that were trimmed were planted when my house was built, 1953, and I know that because my neighbor has been there since day 1.

  • CB May 28, 2008 (7:22 am)

    Oh good lord, a public apology? Give me a break. I’ll take trimmed trees over no power any day. This blog is turing into a refuge for professional victims.

    What’s next….an expose on the dangers of running water? We better turn off the tap before someone gets wet.


  • Shelbi May 28, 2008 (8:59 am)

    Thank you CB and Danno! I couldn’t have said it better myself. We need the trees, absolutely, but I definitely don’t want one falling on my house during the winds or taking down a power line. So, if we trim we plant.

    I’m grateful that the City is out trimming and I’ve planted 3 already. If you don’t have yard space go here :

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS May 28, 2008 (12:34 pm)

    What a bee-yooo-teee-full twee.

  • Donna May 28, 2008 (1:29 pm)

    That’s too bad that a crew was removed from SCL’s contract for what is a completely subjective opinion from a few lay people. Asplundh crews and all utility tree crews perform some of the most dangerous, thankless work in the world. The crews must consider arboricultural standards to protect the health of the tree (which can directly conflict with aesthetics, as in this case), electrical standards for working around high voltage power lines, weather, traffic, local ordinances, fences, dogs, and lawsuits, often while being scrutinized through a window or yelled at by passersby. These are the people that are working at 3 am in the pitch dark in the middle of an ice storm to restore your heat and your internet connection. They are highly skilled and there are not enough certified arborists to be firing any because someone thought they got a little heavy handed with one tree.

  • Chris May 28, 2008 (1:58 pm)

    With great trees comes great responsibility.

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS May 28, 2008 (3:21 pm)

    Anyone remember the movie Nell?

  • Jason Mallett May 28, 2008 (8:25 pm)

    ANSI A300-Standard Pruning Practices. Ask the guys in the orange trucks if they have ever heard of it. Over-pruned trees can create a greater risk. Seedling? Got 50 years?

  • Donna May 28, 2008 (9:22 pm)

    I guarantee the “guys in the orange trucks” have heard of ANSI A300, and from the picture, it looks like they complied with it. I do plant seedlings, but I don’t plant them where they’ll interfere with power lines. Right tree right place.

  • MAS May 29, 2008 (10:49 am)

    CB – No need for a rant here about the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO). There’s already a web site dedicated to this insidious threat:

    Protect yourselves! The city delivers this stuff to your house in the middle of the night while you are asleep!!!

  • WSB May 29, 2008 (11:55 am)

    Ha, somehow I have never heard of that goofiness before. They just got three pageviews off me until I put two plus two, er, two plus one together.

  • MAS May 29, 2008 (3:51 pm)

    DHMO is the silent killer. Thousands of deaths from inhaling DHMO each year, billions of dollars in property damage from it’s corrosive nature and our city delivers it to us as a “service.” We need to DO something about it.

  • Victoria Nelson May 29, 2008 (4:17 pm)

    These trees have been in this neighborhood between 60 and 100 years. Some planted before many of the houses were even here.

    And just a point of clarification – the tree on the corner was not topped previoulsy but the crew stripped most of the branches on the southern trunk. The neighbors did not complain at that time though we were concerned about the health of the tree.
    This time however, they did top the tree and took so many branches the neighbor really had no choice but to have it removed. Between that tree and the other one, both trees were put in jeopardy.

    Dave Ingham from Seattle City Light came out to review the situation. We appreciate his responsivness and his prompt action. The second crew that came in to complete the tree trimming in the neighborhood did a good job. We want to thank Dave and the city for getting involved so quickly.

  • Chuck November 9, 2008 (10:13 am)

    Has anyone ever witnessed the effects of having their power bills going up ten fold a year. I suggest that if you dont want that, then you must understand the consequences of triiming the Trees to the ten foot rule. Asplundh as well as any contractor still has to do what Dave Ingham and the City Light Directors request of them in teir contracts. The irony of this is that all of you complainers still want your coffee and water HOT and LIGHTS on. But your only concern is your selfless thoughts at cost of the rest of the rate payers.

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