[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:]

LETTER: Resident Wants City of Burien Stripped of 'Tree City USA' Title 1Dear 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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