Today the Statesman Journal ran a front page story, "Salem considers Urban Tree Commission to protect street trees."
Download Salem considers Urban Tree Commission to protect street trees
I liked the ending of Brandon Southward's piece.
The council appeared paralyzed about the issue at its June 8 meeting; councilors declined to vote on the creation of an Urban Tree Commission. Instead, they set a tentative September date for a public hearing.
In the interim, city staff will begin a public outreach campaign, which will include meeting with neighborhood associations.
The public might not need much outreach, as numerous citizens expressed support for the proposed commission at the June 8 meeting.
Absolutely. I was one of those citizens. (Read my written testimony.)
I heard other people tell the City Council why an Urban Tree Commission makes excellent sense. Only the Mayor seemed opposed to the idea.
This is one of the key recommendations of a broad-based Tree Code Citizens Advisory Committee that has drafted proposed changes to the City's tree ordinance (Chapter 86).
Here's my Top Five Reasons for an Urban Tree Commission.
I'll end this post with mostly wordless before-and-after photos of the U.S. Bank tree killings, which resulted in the beautiful Japanese Zelkovas on State Street being cut down needlessly. If Salem had an Urban Tree Commission in 2013, almost certainly this wouldn't have happened.
(5) Currently the City of Salem kills street trees for no good reason.
This is a fact, as I said in a 2014 blog post.
Here's a dirty (or let's say, sawdusty) open secret: the City of Salem doesn't really care much about trees.
It allows beautiful healthy trees to be cut down when they don't need to, bowing to special interests rather than the broad public interest, often ignoring expert arborist advice in favor of making "political" tree removal decisions.
...I've talked with several of Salem's outstanding arborists. They've been blunt with me about what a crappy job City officials do with this town's street trees. They're infuriated by the B.S. going on here.
It seems that who you are, and who you know, all too often determines whether a tree lives or dies, is saved or is removed.
This is a horrible way to manage Salem's urban forest.
Citizens should be able to have confidence that the care of this town's street trees is founded on what's best for the community, not what a particular business or property owner wants done with publicly-owned trees.
(4) The City already has a Shade Tree Advisory Committee.
So there won't be an extra expense if this group is converted into an Urban Tree Commission. As I told the City Council at a recent meeting, the Shade Tree Advisory Committee has been doing a good job.
The main problem with it is that one word, Advisory.
The committee generally makes good recommendations about street tree removals and other matters. But the Public Works Director has a deplorable habit of ignoring that carefully considered advice and allowing healthy beautiful trees to be removed needlessly.
(3) Citizens serving on an Urban Tree Commission would provide free expert arborist advice.
At the same City Council meeting I testified at, Kristin Ramstad also did. Ramstad is an Urban Forester with 20 years of experience who currently works for the State of Oregon.
She said that members of similar commissions in other Oregon cities provide expert advice on tree issues that often is superior to what city staff can offer -- since these volunteers frequently have more arborist knowledge.
Ramstad also noted that groups of people tend to make better decisions than individuals do on their own. An Urban Tree Commission would bring multiple perspectives to bear on a tree removal question, whereas currently a single individual, the City Public Works Director, makes the final decision about street tree removals.
(2) Government openness and transparency would be enhanced by an Urban Tree Commission.
Urban Forester Ramstad also correctly noted that Salem citizens no longer trust City officials to properly care for this town's street trees -- for some excellent reasons (see my highly factual "Outrage" report about the 2013 U.S. Bank tree killing debacle).
When street tree decisions are made behind closed doors by city staff, there is lots of opportunity for backroom lobbying and deal-making. This has gone on in the past, and it will go on in the future unless Salem adopts the recommendation of a broad-based citizen committee to have an Urban Tree Commission be the final decider about street tree decisions.
The Commission would hear citizen testimony and expert arborist advice in open public meetings. By contrast, in my "Outrage" report, in this passage I quoted from an email written to a concerned citizen by a city staffer.
Also, I’ve never heard of political pressure being put on a City official to grant an electrical permit. But this happens with street tree removal applications. As part of my public record requests I got a copy of an email from a City staff person who is familiar with tree removals.
The staffer was responding to someone who wanted to learn more about how concerned citizens can protect downtown trees.
“It is a sticky issue for sure, as businesses are often the ones who want to have the trees removed, and they can exert political pressure.”
(1) Mayor Anna Peterson doesn't want an Urban Tree Commission.
Which means the citizens of Salem should. In a City Council work session Peterson basically told Salemians, "Shut up about trees," as I reported in a Salem Weekly Strange Up Salem column.
The U.S. Bank trees were cut down because the final decision was made by Public Works Director Fernandez. The public records I got showed that lower-level City staff recognized how businesses exert “political pressure” on tree removal requests.
So the committee advised that an Urban Tree Commission be the final decider after the city’s Urban Forester and Public Works Director make their recommendations.
Mayor Peterson didn’t like that notion.
Illogically, she said that because the City Council hires the “right” City Manager, who chooses the “right” directors, who hire the “correct” people to work under them, “right” decisions are going to be made.
Wow, back to the middle ages.
It’s Salem’s version of the Divine Right of Kings. Obey, citizen peasants. Do not question the authority of Exalted Emperor Peterson and her functionaries who supposedly always make perfect street tree decisions.
The Mayor asked whether we want to be a community that encourages the public to get involved in decisions that affect people, like whether there is a good reason for certain trees on public property to be removed.
Most Salemians would answer, absolutely!
But Peterson desires less, rather than more, citizen involvement. “I want less live theatre on these policy issues,” she said.
Well, this explains a lot. If you’ve ever felt like top city officials don’t care about what you think, they’re just following their Mayor’s lead.
Two of the five U.S. Bank trees, still living