(ADDED THURSDAY AFTERNOON: Seattle Channel video of entire meeting)
10:12 AM: We’re at Seattle City Hall, where the City Council’s Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries, and Waterfront Committee is tackling the topic of “tree stewardship” – including the much-discussed, recently revealed case of illegal cutting in the Duwamish Head Greenbelt.
Public comment started the meeting, and that included half a dozen people speaking in favor of tree stewardship, including two members of the Seattle Green Spaces Coalition, which has its roots in West Seattle. We’ll add toplines of their remarks later.
The Seattle Channel feed is not embeddable, so you’ll have to follow this link to watch live.
The committee is chaired by Councilmember Debora Juarez; also here are its official members Sally Bagshaw and Bruce Harrell, and District 1 Councilmember Lisa Herbold. First, the slide deck goes through the background on why “trees are vital” (you can see the slide deck in our story from Tuesday).
10:20 AM: They’ve jumped on to questions about the incident, including how to find out about it earlier. Parks Supt. Jesús Aguirre says they rely heavily on tips from the public – in this case, “it was on the list,” he says, and they just didn’t get to it that quickly, because it wasn’t at “the top of the list.” SDOT’s Kubly says his department gets a few complaints a month about illegal cutting – it’s “Category 1” if public safety is involved, a downed tree, etc., “we respond to those as quickly as we can” – illegal cutting is only “Category 3.” They’ll “send an inspector out as quickly as we can” if they have information that it’s happening right now. “The e-mail came to us and didn’t give any indication of the severity, that the location was being clearcut,” he said; you’ll recall that the East Admiral cutting was reported to have been reported to SDOT in January, then eventually checked out by Parks in February.
Assistant City Attorney Joseph Groshong is asked about how his department pursues cases like this. The process “takes time” to be sure they have the right people, etc. “If there are people listening out there who participated and want to come forward … it would help us speed up the resolution,” he volunteered. “We have a cross-department effort to get to the bottom of this …” He noted that the “criminal side” of the case is in the hands of the Police Department (as we reported last week), while the City Attorney’s Office is pursuing civil and “regulatory.” “We can’t share the details of what we are doing because that might risk what we can recover for the people of Seattle,” he said.
Councilmember Juarez also noted that City Attorney Pete Holmes had spent an hour in his briefing with councilmembers earlier this week, saying the case could go to Superior Court as well.
Councilmember Bagshaw notes that the council recently discussed “encroachment” on parkland and declared this “the biggest encroachment of all.”
10:31 AM: Now they’re looking at photo/map images of where this happened, and Councilmember Juarez asked for an explanation of the question many had asked, “how could (this many) trees have been cut and nobody noticed?” Replied Supt. Aguirre, “It’s hard to see … (and) we don’t have folks from city staff out there actively looking at” the area.
“How many homes have better views now?” he’s asked. He mentions that half a dozen houses are directly adjacent to the area. Councilmember Herbold mentions what she had told us previously, the County Assessor’s office revisiting the area to be sure the view evaluation information is accurate for properties in the area. Herbold adds that she received a letter from a tribe offering trees to help restore the area.
Kubly says SDOT will work with Parks on a restoration plan and he believes it’s going to include a mix of conifers. He also said that one of his first questions when he heard about this was whether a retaining wall would need to be built to protect Admiral Way.
Council President Harrell says that he hopes that even as the civil and criminal investigations proceed, that the restoration won’t have to wait – that there’ll be a plan sooner. “And somehow through all this madness, we’ll be better than we were on the new area.” He hopes that somehow “we can turn this into a positive thing” and “the community that has been devastated by this” will experience that.
Juarez says she wants to see a return to the committee “to report to us where you’re at … not only on the restoration plan but what we’re doing to address this.” She says the public wants to be reassured “that we’re taking this more than seriously.”
Herbold adds that “as policymakers” the council has been asked to take a look at existing laws and whether they need to be beefed up, and she “would like to take a deeper dive” into that.
Aguirre is now acknowledging the process by which homeowners have been allowed to seek permits for cutting city-owned trees in some spots and says there’s a “disconnect” between parts of his department, and wants to work on that.
Juarez suggests that homeowners who border greenbelts/parkland should have to know what their responsibilities are so they don’t just have something done and plead ignorance.
Kubly says, “We need one point of entry” for tree complaints, and again acknowledges the lack of followup to clarify the original report made to his department. He also says there should be a baseline followup time along the lines of the “72-hour” rule for potholes. He says SDOT is working on various things including a “Tree Capital Plan.”
10:55 AM: The discussion is wrapping up and so is the meeting. Bottom line: No new information about who did it and what will happen to them, but vows all around that this is being taken “very seriously” though the original complaint received in January was not taken particularly seriously – with illegal tree-cutting complaints considered low priority.
4:05 PM: Just added video of the entire meeting.