SDCI responds to report charging tree code violations
The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) responded to a report by West Seattle Urban Conservation and Wildlife Biologist/Specialist Kersti Muul and volunteers from Tree Action Seattle, Westside Seattle published about here.
The report charged SDCI with "ignoring, or facilitating tree code violations" resulting, "in the removal and destruction of numerous trees and groves." The report further states that in a report by "Seattle City Auditor, reveals systemic nepotism, questionable ethics and conflicts of interest within SDCI. and that "the agency has a direct conflict of interest with tree preservation." It further called, "for the creation of an independent urban forestry division within a new Department of Climate and the Environment."
Bryan Stevens, Director of Media Relations & Permit Coordination offered their statement:
"SDCI remains committed to applying all regulations and code enforcement applicable to private property. Tree protection, replacement, and new plantings remain key elements of our broader work at the City to ensure we achieve our canopy goals of 30% by 2037.
Since 2021, we have collected over $700,000 in civil penalties for illegal tree removal through code enforcement and litigation. Additional penalties have been collected for illegal removal of trees in places like steep hillsides or wetlands.
With the new tree protection ordinance now in place, penalties have been increased for any illegal tree removal and created additional consequences for unregistered tree service providers performing commercial tree work, such as a loss of business license or significant fines.
The new tree code, which became effective in July 2023, strikes a balance by protecting and growing a healthy tree canopy citywide and addressing inequities in tree canopy distribution that impact historically underserved communities while supporting housing production needed during a homelessness and housing crisis.
As shown in the Office of Sustainability and Environment's 2021 Tree Canopy Assessment, most tree loss is occurring outside of development and in areas zoned Neighborhood Residential (formerly Single Family) and Parks and Natural Areas. Losses in these two areas account for 78% of the total canopy loss between 2016 and 2021. The assessment also showed the canopy loss is not happening equitably, with neighborhoods most impacted by racial and economic injustices starting with less canopy coverage and losing more canopy than the citywide average.
Under the new ordinance, the City added tree protections for over 157,000 more trees by limiting removal of trees on properties not undergoing redevelopment and requiring replacement for any tree removed that is 12” or greater in diameter. Removal of hazardous trees will also require tree replacement, and there are new incentives for property owners and builders to retain trees. New development in Neighborhood Residential zones now require trees be planted along the sidewalk in the right of way.
When a tree must be removed, a property owner can choose to either replant onsite or pay the equivalent value into the One Seattle Tree Fund. This added flexibility allows for trees to be planted more equitably and spread throughout neighborhoods or public spaces with historically less tree canopy.
Additionally, Mayor Harrell’s One Seattle Tree Plan now requires three trees be planted for every tree removed on City-owned land and targets new plantings in underserved communities that are most impacted by climate change to establish the next generation of Seattle’s urban forest. New and replacement trees are required to have a robust maintenance plan to maximize survival in the first five years after planting when they are at their most vulnerable.
The Office of Sustainability and Environment is developing a tree canopy equity and resilience assessment plan that will identify the best strategies and locations for planting, growing, and maintaining trees on private and public land and in the right-of-way, with a focus on low-canopy neighborhoods in environmental justice priority areas. This plan would pave the way for leveraging future federal, state, and philanthropic funds that support the resilience of the tree canopy."