LETTER: Resident Wants City of Burien Stripped of ‘Tree City USA’ Title


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[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]

Dear Arbor Day Foundation,

I am writing to request that you remove the city of Burien, Washington, from your list of recognized cities in your Tree City USA program. Since they were awarded that designation over a decade ago, they have cut down mature trees on Des Moines Memorial Drive, 4th Avenue SW, Ambaum Boulevard, 16th Avenue Southwest, in Seahurst Park, and in Eagle Landing Park, where they recently cut down a 150 year old Douglas-fir used as a perch tree by the namesake eagles, without proper approval from State and Federal authorities. They dissolved the tree board years ago, they do not enforce any tree care ordinances, and they spend much more money every year cutting down trees than they spend on preservation and care of trees. They routinely ignore citizens who ask for protection of trees. The only way in which they pretend to follow the Tree City USA ethos is that they hold a ceremony most years to proclaim themselves champions of trees. This makes a mockery of the Arbor Day Foundation and of the hundreds of cities around the country who actually deserve the designation of Tree City USA.

Des Moines Memorial Drive: The City cut down trees for a pedestrian path that no one asked for and no one uses. The path ends at a freeway and runs by vacant lots where a new runway for the airport pushed out the homes and businesses. They planted no new trees:

figure-1-Des-Moines-Drive-with-trees-2008

They did leave one grand old tree standing, as a reminder of what was lost:

Figure-2-unused-pedestrian-path-with-no-trees-2013

On a utility pole, some organization posted a banner that says, “Living Road of Remembrance” with a ghostly outline of a mature tree:

figure-3-living-road-of-remembrance-2013

The Highline Historical Society has records of how this road was planted with trees after World War I to memorialize the soldiers lost. Most of the trees on Des Moines Memorial Drive, as it runs through Burien for 1.6 miles, have been cut down and not replaced.  This can be independently verified by looking at the King County aerial photos through the years. You can see the tree-lined street, and then the trees are gone.

On 4th Ave SW, where they built the new City Hall, they cut down dozens of mature trees on both sides of the road:

Figure-4-4th-Ave-trees-before-city-hall

Figure-5-4th-Ave-trees-gone-2013

These trees were an oasis of cool green in what was otherwise a sea of asphalt. They never even did any work on the east side of the road. They just cut down the trees because they were there. I used to drive down this street in the shade in summer time, but now there are just a few small trees that won’t offer any shade for a decade at least. The removal of the trees left an ugly building plainly exposed, so they commissioned a mural. Part of the mural shows a cross section of a cut tree, apparently commemorating the City’s proclivity for tree cutting:

Figure-10-commemorating-tree-cutting

On 16th Ave SW, at a park where Lake Burien Elementary School used to be, the City cut down giant poplars that used to buffer the park from the wind. The Parks Department received an arborist’s report saying the trees were fine, so they shopped around until they found an arborist willing to say a tree was unhealthy. When they got an expert to say one tree was unhealthy, they cut down all of them.  Again, this can be independently verified by looking at King County aerial photos before and after:

figure-7-16th-Ave-2002-long-shadows

Figure-8-16th-Ave-2009-trees-gone

They planted a few small trees, a fraction of the number they cut down. The same with Ambaum Boulevard, nearly a hundred mature trees removed:

Figure-6-Ambaum-Blvd-trees-2008-later-removed

In Seahurst Park, as part of a project that was specifically marketed as environmental restoration, the Parks Department built a road to nowhere through a wetland, cutting down many mature trees. The road serves no purpose. The original plans called for a trail, but they substituted a road, 12 feet wide with compacted gravel. The public did not demand that road, and no cars ever go down that road.
In Eagle Landing Park, the City recently cut down a Douglas-fir tree that was older than the city itself:

Figure-9-Douglas-fir-ELP-20130404

This tree was over 150 years old, and it began growing here years before Gottlieb Burian built his home on the lake that later bore his name. It survived the logging of this area, perhaps because it was too small or inconvenient on the day the lumberjacks came, over a century ago. It lived for 150 years, but the City of Burien would not let it live one more day when I asked for more time.  I asked the Parks Department, the Planning Department, and the City Council why it needed to be cut down without further review, and I got no answer. Other citizens, who favored the removal of the tree because of their irrational fears, freely received copies of the arborist’s report and the geologist’s report. All I got was silence. The City told other citizens, who were in favor of removing the tree, that an arborist said the tree was likely to fall. The question I asked, which they would never answer, was how likely would it be that someone might be injured or killed if the tree fell? Many trees have fallen in this park in the past, several of them landing on the trail. No one was hurt. The perch tree was not close to the trail, and no one ever said it was 100% guaranteed to fall.  Statistically speaking, the average citizen of Burien would be more likely to have a fatal accident in the bathtub or be murdered by a family member than to be killed or hurt by this tree. On the day they cut down this historic, environmentally significant tree, they also cut down a large but ordinary tree hanging directly over the trail. I had told them about that tree eight years ago, and it took them eight years to decide it was an emergency and needed to be cut down. Why did they need to cut down the eagles’ perch tree so suddenly, without any public discussion?

If you question City staff, or disagree with them, you are put on a blacklist. Many years ago, I heard a former Parks Department Director say, openly and publicly, “Whenever I get an email from [citizen X], I just delete it without opening it.” They now have taken a similar approach with me. They will not address any of my concerns about the environment. The City Manager and his staff have even taken to blacklisting three of the seven City Council Members. When the Council gave the City Manager his performance review, three council members said they were regularly denied access to information they needed to do their jobs.  [http://www.highlinetimes.com/2013/03/28/news/he-5-or-he-1-burien-lawmakers-differ-strongly-cit]  I have been personally targeted for retribution by City staff when I have publicly disagreed with the City.

The City had a Tree Board for a while. I can find no record of one, and it has not existed for at least seven years. The City also has ordinances about cutting trees, but these are frequently ignored, even by the City itself. Their ordinance says, before you cut down significant trees for a project, you have to show your plan for retaining significant trees where at all possible and replacing them according to this rule: “New trees measuring three inch caliper or more, at a replacement rate of one and one half (1.5) inches diameter for every one inch diameter of the removed significant tree.” The City has not obeyed this ordinance in its own tree cutting, and it certainly has not enforced this with citizens on private property.

Why do I want my home town to be stripped of the recognition of Tree City USA? I have planted hundreds of trees in Burien. I would very much like our city to really qualify for the Tree City USA designation, but I have no hope that the current administration is open to change. I have lived here much longer than any of them. Most of the staff doesn’t even live in Burien. The City Manager and his staff have never, ever admitted to making a mistake about anything. Even when the City Manager was caught driving drunk, he received a proclamation from the Mayor stating “Whereas, the Manager denies that he committed any wrongful or criminal act….” They regularly, publicly say that anyone who disagrees with them is just a complainer. Recently, they spent thousands of dollars pursuing annexation of an unincorporated area, and they said the opposition was just a few negative people who were outspoken. That annexation proposal was voted down two to one. I would ask that my government comply with its own laws and do all of the things they said they would when they were granted the designation of Tree City USA, but they will not listen to me, or any citizen that dares to question them. I hope that someday in the future, when this current administration is gone, Burien can take steps toward becoming a tree-friendly town.

Because I have raised this issue, I will be labeled a complainer and a troublemaker. The City does not follow its own laws, nor does it follow the guidelines of the Tree City USA program, but I will be designated a complainer and a whiner for pointing out what should be obvious to anyone who looks. Some will say I should offer solutions instead of just pointing out problems. The solution is obvious: the City should do what it said it would do. Another solution is that The Arbor Day Foundation should hold them accountable for not sticking to the program that is clearly defined in their Tree City USA guidelines. Burien citizens should also hold the City accountable. Another solution would be an inventory of Burien trees, so we will know what was lost or what was saved. Toward that end, citizens of Burien can join me in creating an inventory of Burien’s trees at Project Noah: http://www.projectnoah.org/missions/20903017 We need to take pictures of our trees now because they could be gone tomorrow. Burien’s government will continue its War on Trees until Burien’s citizens demand change.

– Jim Branson
Steward of Eagle Landing Park
Burien

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Comments

19 Responses to “LETTER: Resident Wants City of Burien Stripped of ‘Tree City USA’ Title”
  1. Mike Boyle says:

    Scott,
    Thanks for making the citizens of Burien aware of what their City of Burien has done to the trees of Burien!

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  2. Coverofnight says:

    An EXCELLENT letter, Jim…..we can only hope that it goes viral through the city departments. Will my agreeing with Jim place me on that blacklist of troublemakers? I certainly hope so – I’d welcome that label.

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  3. May says:

    What actually should be investigated is “What is the name of the company that cuts down these trees and how much money are they makeing? Who hires them on the council?…and where are the books and finacial statements about all these trees being cut down.

    In the Condo I live…they hired their friends too and cut down trees. This is another income for them and keeps their friends busy and in business.

    Are they using wood from these trees to build? Things need to be explained to the citizens of Burien. Not unless City Hall gets packed at every Monday meeting, things will stay the same…they will do what they want. Because they are slick willies.

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  4. Saundra says:

    Jim, that was a very informative and intelligent letter. I agree with your views and would hope that Burien would change their ways. Burien should hire a naturalist for a one year contract who knows about trees…how big they get and how long they live…to put together a detailed plan for Burien to regain what they have so foolishly lost.
    Best wishes, Saundra.

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  5. tripC says:

    Well done Jim. I completely agree with your letter. I grew up in Burien and have witnessed the destruction of the trees in this city as well. I laugh every year when this “Tree City USA” designation comes up. I understand progress, growth, and change but see an ambivalence in this city heavily weighted towards removal versus preservation.

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  6. Marty says:

    This is typical of the out of touch council members that ran opposed 4 years ago.
    They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
    In my opinion they feel entitled and empowered not as a result of resident input but because of the stroking they continually get from our incompetent disaster of a city manager Mike Martin.
    Its a situation we can remedy in the City Council Elections this November

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  7. Katja Kloepfer says:

    Very well written and researched and unfortunately true!

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  8. Sad burienite says:

    Well, this is just one more reason I no longer feel proud to be living in Burien. We no longer attend City Council meetings, as they are a joke and my blood pressure took such hard licks, it became toxic. Our concerns expressed at the Council meetings were met with apathy and a total lack of even civil consideration….. The agenda of Burien and the “powers that be” is very suspect and no matter what is done to attempt to set things right, things seem to get worse here. If we had the financial ability, we would be out of here, as life here has changed, and not for the better….

    Jim Branson is brave to speak out, and he does it well, but unfortunately is labeled as a troublemaker, as those that stir the pot seem to be….I admire his thoroughness and his continued interest in attempts to wake up Burien residents…..

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    • May says:

      Jim Branson is brave to speak out, and he does it well, but unfortunately is labeled as a troublemaker, as those that stir the pot seem to be….I admire his thoroughness and his continued interest in attempts to wake up Burien residents…..

      Please tell me…..This council does not care about what you think…then why would you care if they label you as a troublemakeer?

      I say…the more trouble for them the better. They and their corrupt friends need to resign from this council.
      Jim you need to find out the names of the company that cut these trees and post them here.
      Also, this council need to show financial statements of the trees bing cut and how much money is involved. And who orders all this and why.

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  9. Erik Robbins says:

    “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
    Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
    ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

    “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
    ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

    Very well put Jim. Thank You.

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  10. Pat LeMoine says:

    My son and I just visited the site of the 150-year-old tree that was cut down. If I weren’t looking for it, I probably would have missed it. The tree’s stump as seen in the picture above was around 80 feet from the nearest point on the trail. From looking at the branches, bark, stump, and cross section it looked healthy to me. The roots where well established, solidly grounded, and not compromised in any way. Looking at the stump and trunk it appears the tree was standing vertical or close to vertical. There had been some ivy growing up the tree but on close examination it was cut at least a year ago.

    In my humble opinion short of a landslide there was no reason why this tree could not have stood for at least another 50 years and probably much, much, more. This leads me to ask the question, “Why cut the tree down?” The tree was to far away from any private property or public building to ever be a threat. The trees base was to far down the hill for its 100 + foot height to block anyone’s view with respect to the younger trees growing much farther up the hill. The possibility that it could fall across the trail and kill someone is so remote that the argument should be mocked and ridiculed. I would safely say that anyone being killed by this tree would have greater odds of being struck by lightning, abducted by aliens, or be brutally murdered by a psychopathic serial killer on the order of Hannibal Lector.

    If the argument is that the tree could fall on the trail and kill someone I would argue that virtually every tree in the park could fall on the trail and kill someone. Just to be on the safe side I suggest the city of Burien cut down every tree in the park and to prevent landslides pave the whole thing with concrete. With that and only that we could sleep safe at night knowing that there was no chance anyone could ever be killed in the park by a falling tree.

    Anyone who thinks any of this is a good idea should live their lives in a bomb shelter. As for myself, I love nature and I love tree’s, the older the better. The microscopic possibility of dieing is a small price to pay for those of us who have a grasp on reality. I cannot see any viable argument for taking down this exceptional tree except as an act of spite.

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  11. Jim says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your supportive comments. I apologize that the Project Noah link doesn’t work. It worked yesterday, and they tell me they are working on fixing it. Hopefully, I will be able to post the correct link in a day or two.

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  12. Katherine says:

    Jim,

    I love our big trees and think that deep consideration needs to go into any decisions being made about removing them.

    A couple of points of clarification on your letter

    The Memorial Way Elms were hit by Dutch Elm Disease and were falling apart and dead and dying. There have been trees replanted to replace them but they are small. If you rode or walked that “never used” trail like many of us do, you can see them. Also, any trees and the bike path on the east side of the street are in the city of SeaTac.

    After one of the trees at the Lake Burien School Park fell into the park and partially on to someone’s car, the rest were taken down. I was in the park with a whole bunch of other people, including a bunch of little kids when the tree, just out of the blue split and partially fell. It was very scary to us in the park and the home owners across the street. The city needs to balance the needs of the trees against liability insurance rates. Rates who’s increases are of course reflected in our taxes.

    The eagle perch tree was not public property. It was on property belonging to the Seahurst Community Association. We couldn’t afford the liability of having it come down and hurt someone, and as a member of that community I and the rest of us can’t afford to be sued if by some small chance the tree happened to fall and hurt someone using the park. We did not do a knee jerk reaction to taking the tree down, much discussion and angst went into the decision.

    Tree’s live their life in a cycle. They, like us are born live and die, and their life span, like ours is impacted by their circumstances. In their old age they begin to fail, shedding limbs and falling over. (Yes, I’m well aware of the need for the dead trees as part of nature’s life cycle)

    We want to save as many trees as we can, and help Mother Nature in her cycle of living and dying. But the city and private property owners must balance the beauty of our mature trees against the liability of damage and hurt to those who live our lives around these beauties.

    Respectfully
    Katherine

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    • Jim says:

      Katherine, I was told by the City of Burien that they were the ones who did the work on Des Moines Memorial Drive. They made no mention of the trees being diseased. If they were, I would like to see the arborist’s report. As you can see plainly in the pictures, there are no replacement trees.

      The biggest claim ever against the City’s insurance policy was the ten million dollars paid to the devoloper because the City did not follow its own rules. No one in Burien has ever died because of a falling tree. If a car was dented, I’m sure it could be fixed. As you say, only one tree broke. The rest of the trees were taken out as a knee jerk reaction.

      The eagle perch tree was on private property. There is no such thing as the Seahurst Community Association. The president of the Seahurst Community Club told the city that she was in favor of the tree being removed, but she made it perfectly clear that she was speaking only for herself, and not for the hundreds of homeowners who have a stake in that property. Most of the people who own that property were never contacted, so I don’t see how they could have made a choice. You say much discussion went into the decision: who had this discussion? Why was I not included? Since you think the tree was such a danger, please answer for me these questions: what are the odds that anyone would have been hurt or killed by that tree? How did you come up with that number? If you think that any tree that could ever possibly hurt someone must be removed, then shouldn’t we cut down all the trees in Burien?

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    • Pat LeMoine says:

      Life cycle? At 150 years the tree was just entering middle age and a few centuries from becoming old growth.

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  13. Robin says:

    Have you ever considered running for a position on the City Council? You have my vote!

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  14. Jim says:

    The Project Noah link works now. Please consider helping with the inventory of Burien’s trees. With the smart phone app, it is very easy, quick, and fun.

    http://www.projectnoah.org/missions/20903017

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  15. Nathan says:

    Burien doesn’t like trees, they just like saplings. When you plant a sapling you’re saving the environment, but the huge trees that are blocking your satellite signal are a clear and serious problem that need to be removed. (Many private houses)

    It’s great to have trees providing shade and comfort, but when the wind picks up and they begin swaying it’s worrying. Best to call a trimmer and have some branches removed. (Corner of 4th and 152nd, Dotty Harper, many private houses again)

    Saplings are planted underneath telephone cables, without consideration to the fact that when it gets bigger it’ll need to be chopped down to protect the wires. (Most burien streets)

    Supports are wrapped around newly planted saplings to hold them up and protect them, but then the supports are forgotten and left there, slowly choking the tree as it grows larger and is forced to grow over the restraints (Skate park on 4th)

    The reason so many burien trees are unhealthy is because of all the pavement and landscaping. Rainwater can’t get through to the roots which slowly kills the tree (152nd in the summer, leaves literally begin to rot on the branches)

    Any attempt to restore the trees of burien needs to be seriously thought through. Planting a sapling is not good enough unless you KNOW that sapling will be able to live a long life.

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  16. Debi Wagner says:

    Incredible article Jim. Thank you so much for this overview. What kind of messed up logic takes out a tree in danger from sliding without knowing that that very tree prevents the thing they are afraid of by holding the dirt and absorbing water with its roots. By taking out this tree, now dozens more below it are in danger. There were candidates in 2011 who laughed at people who wanted to save trees on Ambaum with pervious surfaces and new sidewalks rather than the other way around. Seems like a sad sacrifice that oxygen coming from trees is providing life to those who will only provide death in return.

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