ILLEGAL TREE-CUTTING: City investigating another case, in North Admiral

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The city is investigating another case of illegal tree-cutting in north West Seattle’s Duwamish Head Greenbelt.

Seattle Parks confirmed to WSB that there is an “ongoing investigation” involving tree-cutting on city-owned land near a popular informal roadside viewpoint in North Admiral, at Sunset and Seattle.

Two area residents told us about a letter sent to “neighbors,” seeking information about the tree-cutting, which the city believes happened in February. One neighbor sent us images of both sides of the letter, which Parks spokesperson Christina Hirsch confirmed to WSB is authentic.

This is the photo in the letter:

IMG_0193

Above that photo, the letter begins:

We need your cooperation to resolve an illegal use of park property: unauthorized treecutting in Duwamish Head Greenbelt. This tree-cutting violates Seattle Municipal Code 18.12.070 and the responsible person(s) are subject to fines to cover the cost to replace the trees and maintain them until they are established.

The second page includes this “ground-level” view of the site where the illegal tree-cutting happened:

IMG_0194

The letter continues:

We need the cooperation of neighbors and concerned park users to be the “ears and eyes on the ground” to ensure the protection of our valuable open space, keep our park areas safe, and maintain a peaceful environment for all the public to enjoy.

If you have any information about who cut the trees, or if you observed any tree-cutting activity anywhere within the park, please phone me directly at 206-615-0932. Verbal information given can remain anonymous by request and is not subject to public disclosure.

Richard Gholaghong
Senior Property Agent, Seattle Parks and Recreation

We called Gholaghong after receiving the letter via text, and he indicated he was heading into a meeting but would reply with more information soon. We subsequently received a note from Hirsch only confirming that the letter was for real, that the investigation was ongoing, and that she was looking into the answer to our question about how many trees were cut.

A visit to Seattle/Sunset did not yield a firsthand view of the reported tree-cutting – the slope down from the street side is extremely steep, and the downslope view is blocked by overgrown including blackberry vines. County files indicate the city bought the 2 1/2-acre site for less than a quarter-million dollars in 1992.

We will continue trying to find out more about this case, which emerged one month after The Seattle Times first reported on a large-scale case of illegal tree-cutting in east Admiral, also in the Duwamish Head Greenbelt. We have continued to follow up on that case, but there is nothing new to report, and no word yet of charges.

49 Replies to "ILLEGAL TREE-CUTTING: City investigating another case, in North Admiral"

  • KBear April 29, 2016 (10:18 pm)

    Seems like the proper punishment would be to seize the offenders’ property through eminent domain and annex it to the greenbelt. 

  • M April 29, 2016 (10:28 pm)

    Is that the area where we have the little viewpoint for people to watch the sunset?  The people in the house north of that little viewpoint, once told me they gave up part of their property to make that viewing area.  They spent $10,000 on the fencing, bench etc.

    • Alan April 30, 2016 (10:24 am)

      I don’t see how they spent $10,000 on that little fence, but they certainly didn’t give up any property for it. In fact, some of what is being used for the yard is actually public property.

  • tricia April 30, 2016 (6:25 am)

    I have a neighbor in the Longfellow Creek green belt who  removed 4 or 5 broad leaf maples from a patch of city-owned green space. He has turned it into his lawn, complete with firepit (to burn the trees, presumably). I contacted the parks department and the city arborist several times, and while they did send someone out to have a talk with my neighbor, they effectively did nothing.  

    Based on your article, it would seem that there is more of this sort of thing going on than  my isolated experience would suggest. The city attorney’s office wasn’t interested in persuing the matter, and yet I find it hard to believe that the taxpayers who paid for this land intended to give it away to anyone with a chainsaw.

    Any ideas?

    • Alan April 30, 2016 (9:17 am)

      I would start by using the contact information given for this event. Call Richard Gholaghong at 206-615-0932 and tell him about it. It may or may not be his problem, but he should be able to point you in the right direction.

    • John April 30, 2016 (10:52 am)

      tricia,

      Make sure you file a formal complaint online with the City of Seattle.  If you have not already done so, please do it now.  The formal complaint establishes a case number and ‘paper trail’ of the whatever city department handles the complaint. 

    • Kittyno May 1, 2016 (8:10 am)

      Wow.  That’s completely disheartening.  Why bother having unenforceable laws?  Why prosecute some cases more fully than others?  I’m sorry to hear about that–it must have been frustrating.  I’m frustrated just hearing about it.

  • candrewb April 30, 2016 (6:26 am)

    Have the others been named yet? If not they must be real important.

    • Mark schletty April 30, 2016 (8:05 am)

      Not yet, but i bet you can find their names on the campaign contribution lists for Mayor and City Council.

  • Jim Borrow April 30, 2016 (7:57 am)

    Re: the neighbor who “annexed” land in the Longfellow green belt. I don’t know when you reported this, but my understanding is that the city has begun a city wide evaluation of encroachments on city land and will likely enforce  the return of illegally appropriated city property. I’m not sure who in the parks department is in charge of this, but perhaps you should contact the department and ask who is in charge of encroachment or contact our District 1 council member Lisa Herbold’s office for information.

  • AmandaKH April 30, 2016 (7:59 am)

    I am all for reprimands of people who illegally cut trees. But I would like the city to take care of the existing trees! The various vines (mostly ivy) effectively strangles and kills the trees. I would love to see the city spend money to take care of all the trees it owns before it’s too late.

    • NW April 30, 2016 (8:39 am)

      Become a tree ambassador like I have and followed thru with a project couple years back all volunteer based there is a program thru the city.

      • AmandaKH April 30, 2016 (9:23 am)

        Thanks NW!  I just looked into it, and the applications are due May 18th – good timing.  Do you know anything about how they decide which areas become designated sites?  The West Duwamish Greenbelt is not officially listed.  

        • NW April 30, 2016 (5:01 pm)

          I don’t believe they tackle “large canopy areas” but you might look into that and bring it to the table! My take is they want to bring folks into caring for sdot and city properties in urban  areas that are neglected. Get Seattle urbanites dirty and using a shovel for a change!

    • colleen April 30, 2016 (9:05 am)

      “I am all for reprimands of people who illegally cut trees.”

      This is a felony and those involved should be charged as felons. 

  • Mark schletty April 30, 2016 (7:59 am)

    As long as the criminals who do this are allowed to keep the resultant views (or land use), it will never stop.  Immediate, creative action to block the new view (use) is necessary to stop this crime. Fines are totally ineffective against future criminal activity, although they should be imposed with vigor against criminals who have already cut public trees.

    • bertha April 30, 2016 (9:01 am)

      In some Australian cities, they use empty shipping containers to block the perpetrator’s view. 

    • John April 30, 2016 (9:14 am)

      Mark,

      What you suggest is outside of our legal system.  Besides, what would “creative action to block the new view” be?  How would it not affect neighbors or other innocent property owners?

      If the Seattle actually enforced their ordinances fairly and equally, illegal activity would be less.

      Seattle’s ever-tightening tree regulations that now control trees on private property are also to blame for lawlessness.

      AnandaKH makes the point that Seattle is derelict in its tree maintenance.

      The ‘Tree Ambassador’ program is not suited to and not sufficient to address Seattle’s overwhelming dereliction of trees.  These are public properties that should be fully funded and maintained by the city.

      • Mark schletty April 30, 2016 (10:17 am)

        It (view blocking)  is done in other areas. No innocent parties would be aversely affected. It would simply remove the new view that they already didnt have, instead of allowing them to benefit from the criminal activity of others. It might even get them to quit remaining silent about what they may know about the criminal activity.

        • John April 30, 2016 (10:47 am)

          View blocking done in other areas? 

          Where?

          And how would it be accomplished physically?

      • colleen April 30, 2016 (11:31 am)

        “Seattleā€™s ever-tightening tree regulations that now control trees on private property are also to blame for lawlessness.”

        None  of these trees were on private property. The felons who decided it was OK to clear cut  trees on public property are the folks responsible.   What the City needs to be held responsible for  is their protection of and failure to charge  those responsible.

      • JanS April 30, 2016 (11:39 am)

        John…the first thing that comes to mind is..where will the money come from to do that? More taxes? I suspect that most people are not willing to have that happen.. Now…in greenbelts and natural areas  like Schmitz Park, etc…well, nature is nature, and sometimes it just happens. Its a big city, and lots and lots of trees…how does a city maintain all of that with the monies they have?

    • Kittyno May 1, 2016 (8:11 am)

      Completely agree.  The view is worth far more than the tap on the hand.  They erect billboards in Australia to block the view.  It’s been highly effective.

  • flimflam April 30, 2016 (9:08 am)

    what is wrong with these people? they must think they are pretty important…

  • MindDrive April 30, 2016 (9:31 am)

    If people think they can get away with this, it’ll keep happening.  What’s the latest on the 35th Ave SW case?  Any progress?

    • Andros April 30, 2016 (10:23 am)

      What’s the 35th ave case?

    • Alan April 30, 2016 (10:35 am)

      Minddrive and Andros – The answer to your questions is in the last paragraph of this article.

  • Teri Ensley April 30, 2016 (10:50 am)

    The people doing this have a sense of Entitlement.  Yes, Entitlement.  They are stealing views, land and lives of trees–which support other life.  They also may create slide conditions—are they willing to be morally and financially responsible for any slides that may occur? 

    Stealing is stealing is stealing.  The fines and restoration should be large enough to make it hurt financially and if they lose their home(s) over it, that would be called ‘consequences to your actions and choices’.

  • Oakley34 April 30, 2016 (11:20 am)

    Hopefully the increased attention thanks to WSB and The Times (I believe, or maybe it was the PI) and whatever results from these investigations will result in less homeowners feeling they can act with impunity.  

    • WSB April 30, 2016 (11:43 am)

      It was the Times, as re-mentioned above … though we seldom get credit for the stories we break when they’re picked up elsewhere, we keep a strong ethics code and therefore are hyper-vigilant about giving credit in the occasional instances when something we report on was covered elsewhere first. Daniel Beekman of The Times broke the story about the City View/35th/Hanford/East Admiral tree-cutting five weeks ago; we followed up on it the next day, and several times since then. I wish there was something new to report; we even went to a non-WS meeting of activists this past Wednesday because the agenda supposedly was going to include new information about the WS case, but none was forthcoming. (The gathering had some points of interest anyway and we’ll eventually write about it.) The wheels of justice turn slowly but we watch the court files and keep inquiring; I know it remains on Councilmember Herbold’s radar too. – TR

  • ktrapp April 30, 2016 (12:25 pm)

    It’s such an odd location to cut trees down.  I run by there every other day, and did again this morning.  Only two, or maybe three houses could possibly benefit from the removal.  So that narrows down the whodunit quite a bit.  But as steep as that slope is, there is minimal improvement for anyone with the removal.  Even those houses right there on the west side of Sunset would only see fractionally more water (of their already amazing view).  Maybe that’s what made it easier for them to do it.  The idea that there was such a small impact that no one else would notice that they marginally improved their view.

    • WSB April 30, 2016 (12:32 pm)

      KTrapp, that occurred to me too, walking along the street … which is why it seems important to note that the whodunit (and in the bigger case too) might not be so obvious. We have a peek view, for example, and it has shrunk over the years, as trees have grown including one particular tree that is along a city-owned slope a block west . But if we decided to be criminals and cut it down (pretty much impossible for a variety of reasons but again, this is hypothetical, trying to explain why I think the culprits might not be so obvious) the suspicion would more likely fall on the homes that are several rows closer. – TR

      • Kittyno May 1, 2016 (8:16 am)

        Do you know if there is a legal route for people who wish to improve their views re publicly held property?  I wonder if there were a well known process if people would be acting like such @______ about it?  I still firmly believe that the best way to combat this is to erect view-blocking billboards or trees in front of the proven offender’s view.

        • WSB May 1, 2016 (8:59 am)

          That was part of the discussion in the marathon comment thread following one of our followups on the East Admiral tree-cutting – there at least had been a way to arrange that with the city in some cases, apparently. (If I can find the link I’ll add it here.)

          • John May 1, 2016 (11:36 am)

            http://www.seattle.gov/parks/environment/treepolicy.htm

            This is the tree policy from June 2001.

            In a May 24, 2010 Memorandum to the Urban Forestry Commissioners, Mark Mead Acting Manager Natural Resources Unit wrote;

                “Recent citizen questions about the Policy have lead Parks to impose a moratorium on new tree trimming permits; the moratorium will continue until after review of the Policy by the City’s Urban Forestry Commission and Park Board.”

            So, by Parks own accord there has been no legal way to trim trees on Parks property since 2010.

            My repeated email requests for Parks to reference when the Policy was subsequently reviewed or if the ‘moratorium’ was ever lifted have been met with ‘passing the buck’ and bureaucratic stonewalling.

            As reported by WSB, at the City Council hearing Parks’ info packet mentioned some 29 permits issued recently, apparently confirming ‘neighbors’ original claim that I disputed.  It appears Parks has been issuing permits to trim/remove trees on Parks property without any legal current authority.

            I have requested Parks to formally respond to the apparent inconsistency of allowing permits without any approval process. They respond by citing the documents that allow trimming and  disallow trimming.

        • colleen May 1, 2016 (9:11 am)

          “Do you know if there is a legal route for people who wish to improve their views re publicly held property?”

          The legal route to a piece of property with a good view is to purchase a piece of property with a  good view.   You do understand that the overwhelming desire of your neighbors is  to PRESERVE parks and greenbelts?

          • John May 1, 2016 (11:01 am)

            colleen claims,

            The legal route to a piece of property with a good view is to purchase a piece of property with a  good view.”

            This is no longer true.  Thousands of people who bought property with good views have hads those  views blocked by the newly established tree codes.

            For generations, landowners had rights to their property and protection for views on their own land. Control over the trees on one’s own property seemed sacrosanct.    

            Until banned in 2001 the city allowed view maintenance (even topping was allowed)  of its own forestry.

            I personally was foolish enough to purchase a ‘view buffer’ lot downhill from our home in the late 90’s. We have  maintained it as a private  green space  and animal sanctuary.  

            The young trees on the lot were causing no obstruction, so I let them grow.  Then Seattle passed laws prohibiting tree removal and trimming on your own property!   Now those very trees that I cared for  and allowed to mature are growing away the views we continue to be taxed for.  And no, it is not easy to appeal nor does the assessor automatically adjust taxes for “growing away”views.

            In our case, the only way to restore some of the views from our home is to sell off and develop our view buffer lot with height restrictions on the new home.   Building on this platted lot would require the removal of the mature trees not allowed by any other practical means.

            Here in West Seattle, the only way to guarantee a view will not be blocked by trees is to live on the waterfront 


          • Sna May 1, 2016 (11:33 am)

            You can apply for a permit to trim trees in a park land, but not cut them down.   I have no idea how hard it is to actually get a permit though.

            http://www.seattle.gov/parks/Publications/policy/treepolicy.pdf

          • Sna May 1, 2016 (11:53 am)

            I agree with John’s general sentiment.   I’ve contacted the parks dept several times trying to get clarification / instructions for legal park tree trimming and have been thoroughly ignored.   

  • Summer April 30, 2016 (3:28 pm)

    After hefty fines, felon offenders’ property values should be doubled for annual taxation purposes.  And when they try to run away and sell, anything over assessed value should be turned over to the city.  Liens on their self-enhanced view should benefit the public, not them.

  • Doug April 30, 2016 (8:10 pm)

    OMG self centered individuals … hold them accountable.

  • Mike April 30, 2016 (9:32 pm)

    mmmm…wealthy people crimes, nothing to see here…move along

  • old timer April 30, 2016 (9:39 pm)

    That embankment used to be a lot with a house on it. It slid down the hill around 1960. Every tree is needed on that hillside.

  • j May 1, 2016 (9:51 am)

    Easy solution to not disturb others would be to block all windows of the offending homes from the interior. Panel up all windows that look over the improved view, lock and security clip them and have an inward facing message of “Illegally cutting trees is against the law”. 

    • John May 1, 2016 (11:40 am)

      J,

      Sure, but how would you prevent enjoying the views from their patios, yards, decks or pools?

  • John May 1, 2016 (11:49 am)

    sna,

    Here is the 2010 document that supersedes the one you and I cited.  

    In the first paragraph, it bans all tree trimming permits of this type by Parks until further notice.

    http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/UrbanForestryCommission/2010/2010docs/ParksTreePolicy052410.pdf

  • John May 1, 2016 (8:16 pm)
    They know what happened and they know who did it. 
    They seem to be spending time to give presentations to various government bodies; these bodies have already had their say and put laws on the books to deal with just this situation.

    At two months into such a simple case, it’s time to stop this investigation and start an investigation into the investigation of the crime, there is wrongdoing here.

    Charge them already.

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