Burien Council wrestles with new meeting rules, keeping ‘significant’ trees
by Jack Mayne
The Burien City Council wants to change and upgrade the way it conducts meetings, eying ways to change and update the previous Council’s rules.
It also got a report on retaining trees in the city and memorialized the former owner and publisher of the Highline Times.
Councilmember Nancy Tosta, who participated in the meeting by telephone, said she felt all the rules on fairness and conduct should be effective for all city appointed boards and groups.
“I think they should be held to the same standards we hold ourselves to,” Tosta said.
The point she was raising was a part that said, “Councilmembers should recognize that the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine does not require establishment of a conflict of interest, but whether there is an appearance of conflict of interest to the average person.”
Councilmember Jerry Robison said he thought the matter would arise only for quasi-judicial hearings, where the council was going to make a judgment upon facts.
“I don’t think that applies as a member of a legislative body,” he said. “People elect you on you announced predispositions. We wouldn’t get much done of we couldn’t vote on anything because we had taken a position on it.”
But Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz disagreed.
“When you are making a judicial decision, then you are not allowed to have had any previous opinions about that issue and it is not limited in time duration,” she said. “If it were about Lake Burien and you lived on Lake Burien and it was going to affect your property, you would actually not be able, under the law, to vote.”
Berkowitz said it would be better if the issue were moved to another part of the doctrine, the part that covers public hearings “so it would only apply when the appearance of fairness doctrine applies and then everybody is comfortable that we are just following the law and not applying it to general legislative (issues}.”
City Manager Kamuron Gurol told the councilmembers he wanted the city attorney to look through the guidelines before they are given final approval to be certain that they are properly phrased.
The Council members also indicated they wanted as part of the doctrine that all city appointed members of boards, commissions and committees also be subject to the same rules as are the City Council members.
Later, during his city manager’s report, Gurol provided the Council with a letter from residents Robert and Robbie Howell that spelled out an alleged use of inappropriate language.
“… most citizens think it is unethical for a city official (i.e. Planning Commissioner) to go out on the public media sources, with found and perverted language …,” then specifying some of the words allegedly used and noting that current city policy “makes no mention of ethical behavior in public communications.”
Gurol said he believes there are “multiple ways we can solve this,” but he wanted to consider whether the Council guidelines was the appropriate place to place regulation of inappropriate manner or speech by a person on a city board or commission.
“I have no problem with the concept and I am seeing head nods of the Council to pursue the idea but I would like to have a little chance to figure out how we accomplish it best.”
Robison said he had no problem with an anti-harassment policy, but “we are writing a policy for our meeting right now, we are not writing them for everybody else right now. I don’t think this is the appropriate place to do that” and however it’s done is “a different process.”
The issue was left for final decision later.
“After tonight’s meeting, we can ask (City Attorney Craig Knutson) to take a good, thorough look at all these issues and, if there are some modifications the city attorney would recommend, then we can bring those back and explain the rationale behind his recommendations,” Gurol said.
How to retain the tree cover in the city has been before the Council before but now Community Development Director Chip Davis has made a study of other community policies in the area.
“The Zoning Code defines ‘significant trees’ as healthy trees which when measured four feet above the ground have a minimum diameter of eight inches for evergreen trees and twelve inches for deciduous trees,” Davis said. “Retention of significant trees on lots proposed for public or private development is mandatory and developers are required to submit a significant tree retention plan for review and approval as part of the development review process.”
He said the zoning code “offers six incentives to property owners as inducements to retain significant trees.”
If trees can be kept, “each significant tree” kept can be counted as two in the retention requirements “if it meets one or more of the bonus criteria.”
If the tree cannot be kept, “there are three methods approved for replacement of each significant tree removed,” Davis said.
Sometimes tree removal is not allowed.
“Removal of any trees on vacant undeveloped lots prior to development review is prohibited,” he said, but those on “already developed properties and trees which are not part of a previously approved landscape requirement are not protected and may be removed at any time without a permit.”
Burien’s replacement requirement is based on the diameter of each significant tree removed, “is used by a majority of those jurisdictions surveyed,” Davis said. “Other methods used by surveyed jurisdictions included a target tree density requirement or a set ratio of either one replacement tree for every significant tree removed or two replacement trees for every tree removed.”
Overall, he said Burien’s significant “tree retention regulations provide clear, concise direction to applicants on retention and replacement of significant trees. Current significant tree retention regulations utilize methods and formulas employed by a majority of the surveyed jurisdictions.”
Councilwoman Tosta said she liked that Davis checked with nine other cities on their methods of retaining trees, but suggested he add Renton to the list because of its success.
“They have promoted the concept of urban forestry … for a lot of good reasons” and suggested a community task force to come up with a plan that fits Burien.
Jerry Robinson memorialized
The Council issued a proclamation honoring Gerald Stanley Robinson, better known as Jerry, the owner and publisher of the Highline Times and other area weekly newspapers, who died at age 94 on May 26.
The Council lauded Robinson as providing a newspaper where people “could learn what is going on in their community,” and said he was “a highly regarded leader and supporter statewide of community journalism …”
Stepdaughter Carla Warsow and sons Ken and Tim Robinson accepted the proclamation.