Reading citywide-media coverage regarding the latest developments in Seattle Public Schools‘ plan to cut trees to make way for an Ingraham High School project, we were startled to see the reports featuring a line about alleged unauthorized district tree-cutting as Denny/Sealth construction/renovation work begins on the Chief Sealth HS campus. Certainly the West Seattle project has had more than its share of controversy, but we hadn’t heard about any tree trouble, so we started digging around. Here’s what we found out:
The citywide-media’s Denny/Sealth mentions (here and here) apparently came straight from a “Save the Trees” news release (read it here), without independent followup on exactly what was cut. Here’s what the news release said (in the middle of other text about the Ingraham project):
Last week they did a similar destructive bullying tactic at Denny Sealth School in West Seattle. They bulldozed down the trees there that were part of a DNS appeal hearing while the hearing was still going on â€“ ending any effective appeal. They apologized for their â€œmistakeâ€ but the trees were gone.
Unable to find anything online about that appeal (DNS stands for “determination of nonsignificance”), first we checked with Save the Trees’ Steve Zemke, who posted the news release. He told us the appeal was brought by West Seattle-based school watchdog Chris Jackins.
We called Jackins and are still waiting to hear back. Meantime, we asked Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Patti Spencer what she could tell us about any Denny/Sealth tree trouble, and here’s her answer:
Here is my understanding of what the situation was/is: The contractor needed to put up a SILT fence to protect Longfellow Creek during construction. Putting up that fence necessitated trimming trees. I have been told that several branches were cut, and apparently there was one multi-trunk tree that needed to
have parts of the trunk trimmed to make way for the fence. The area cleared is 3 to 4 feet wide. The mistake happened because the contractor proceeded without authorization, which meant that the work was done before the SEPA ruling was given. The hearing examiner termed this a “minor mistake.” Our facilities team has taken steps to ensure that type of action does not occur again.
We’ve also asked her for information, by the way, on how to keep better tabs of such hearings, which do not appear to be posted on the district’s website (unlike, for example, the city Hearing Examiner, who has a webpage where you can see the hearing schedule – past as well as present/future). Meantime, we went over to the Longfellow Creek side of Sealth to see if we could find the exact site of this “trimming.” The fence in question is at the top of a steep, overgrown slope, stretching the length of the Sealth campus’s east edge:
That’s the southeastern side, photographed from the Thistle Street Greenspace side of its creek-bordering zone; further north, the corresponding area is inaccessible (or difficult to access). A backhoe is in action at the northeast corner of the school building, as shown in the photo atop this post, and tree branches can be seen in a pile nearby, though they don’t look like new cuttings:
We’ll let you know when we hear back from Chris Jackins. And more Denny/Sealth updates are expected at tomorrow night’s monthly meeting of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, 7 pm, Southwest Precinct meeting room; city parks superintendent Tim Gallagher is expected to be there to join in a discussion of the future of the current Denny site, once the new Denny is built and occupied on the Sealth campus and the old school is torn down. TUESDAY MORNING UPDATE: We spoke with Chris Jackins by phone very early this morning. We’ll write up details in a followup within a few hours, but we now have a copy of the hearing examiner’s decision from the appeal hearing, which was held at the Stanford Center (school district HQ) in Sodo on July 24, with the decision issued August 6. It includes an affirmation that it appears 10 trees were cut before the appeal was heard, potentially increasing the maximum projected tree removal for the project to about three dozen. The next step is that district superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson is to issue her decision on whether to accept the hearing examiner’s finding; Jackins says he’s still waiting for that decision, after which he would have three weeks to decide whether to challenge it. The district was represented by Richard Hill, a prominent Seattle land-use lawyer who in a side note also figured in a recent, significant West Seattle case — he represented the owner of the Satterlee House on Beach Drive, William Conner, in his challenge of the city Landmarks Board decision against his application to build three 3,000-square-foot homes on the house’s expansive front lawn.