It's been about a year since U.S. Bank and the City of Salem cut down five, large, healthy beautiful trees in the downtown historic district for no good reason.
(Caution: this excerpt from the story begins with an offensive word, Salemites. The official term for residents of Salem is Salemian. I know this, because I have issued that Official Proclamation from the height of my Strange Up Salem perch. Statesman Journal, Obey! )
Salemites are passionate about their trees.
That passion was displayed in a most public way last spring, when restaurateur David Rosales got arrested after confronting employees at U.S. Bank, which cut down five healthy trees in front of its downtown building.
But a quieter mourning often takes place throughout the city’s neighborhoods.
Each day, Portland General Electric has 40 crews out trimming trees from around its 3,800 miles of power lines.
PGE serves an area running from Portland to south of Salem. By law, it must prevent storm-related power outages by keeping limbs away from the lines.
“People understandably like their trees. Sometimes it’s difficult to see them trimmed,” PGE spokesman Steve Corson said
That was the case on 23rd Street SE this week, where each and every tree on the block got an exuberant trim.
The sight was heartbreaking to Melanie Zermer, who has lived on the street for more than a quarter century.
“In the past, PGE has trimmed the trees in a way that has not changed the look of the canopy much. But today it is different,” Zermer said. “What is happening today is a hack job.”
One neighbor called the city’s urban forester, Jan Staszewski.
“As we wait to hear back, knowing there is little if anything we can do to change the situation, the sound of the chain saws go on,” Zermer said. “And the trees are bleeding.”
I feel for Zermer.
I don't know whether the 23rd Street trees were trimmed inappropriately. But I sure do know that the U.S. Bank trees were cut down unnecessarily. Here's the comment I left this morning on the Statesman Journal story.
Ah...the U.S. Bank trees -- five large, healthy, beautiful Zelkovas that were cut down by the City of Salem at the request of the bank for no good reason. I know this -- there was no good reason to kill the trees -- because I'm the possessor of $741 worth of public records documents that the City made me pay for when I wanted to know how and why Salem's "TreeGate" took place.
(Factoid: the person who denied my request for a public interest fee waiver was Peter Fernandez, the same Peter Fernandez, Public Works Director, who made a backroom deal with U.S. Bank President Ryan Allbrittton, now the Chamber of Commerce president, to remove the trees even though there was no defensible reason to. It's a small world at City Hall.)
Salemians who are outraged by how the City handles street tree issues will be even more outraged when they read my expose of the U.S. Bank tree debacle. I've started writing the report. I hope to have it ready for reading by the end of April. I'm calling it "Outrage: Salem's U.S. Bank tree killings." Subtitle: "The true story of how City officials and the bank president cut down five large, healthy, beautiful downtown trees for no good reason, and misled citizens about why they did it."
The street tree madness continues. Now Urban Forester Jan Staszewski and Fernandez have approved removal of three healthy, large, beautiful trees on High Street south of the Elsinore for (make a guess)... no good reason. Expert arborists have told me the trees aren't causing any problems with the sidewalk that require them to be cut down, and aren't diseased.
When I asked the Urban Forester for documents relating to the decision to kill the High Street trees, which was made without any public hearing or testimony, I was told to (make a guess)... submit a public records request. I did that last Friday. Haven't even gotten word yet on how much it will cost me this time to learn how public officials are ignoring the public interest.
Mayor Peterson denies assertions by lots of people, including me, that the City of Salem does things in a secretive manner. I wish City staff treated her like they do ordinary citizens. Then she'd have to spend a lot of money and time to file public records requests to learn what so-called public servants are doing at City Hall. It isn't a pretty picture. My "Outrage" report will convince you of that.
Below is how the cover looks in my current draft of the report. I'm enjoying writing it, though it is painful to rekindle the memories of this shameful event. What energizes me is knowing that the truth of how the U.S. Bank trees came to be cut down has to be told.
So needless street tree killings in Salem won't ever happen again.