Salem's citizens love their trees. But many people, including me, have been deeply disturbed by how City officials have removed large, healthy, beautiful downtown trees for no good reason.
Meaning, against the advice of independent expert arborists and even the City's own urban forester. I documented the debacle of the needless 2013 destruction of five Japanese Zelkovas on State Street in a tell-all report, "Outrage: Salem's U.S. Bank tree killings."
It was deeply disturbing for tree lovers to see this...
Turned into this...
The tree removals happened because a City ordinance allowed one person to make the decision: Public Works Director Peter Fernandez.
He ignored the recommendation of the City's Shade Tree Advisory Committee and Urban Forester to prune the trees rather than cut them down, having made a backroom deal with the U.S. Bank president, Ryan Allbritton, to have the trees removed even before an application had been submitted.
This isn't hearsay. This is fact.
I sent my "Outrage" report to Fernandez, Allbritton, City Councilors, and others involved with the tree removals. I asked them to let me know if I'd gotten anything wrong. I didn't hear back from anyone. I wasn't surprised since I based my report on public records documents that I paid $726.61 for.
Since changes obviously needed to be made to how the City of Salem handled street tree removals, a Tree Code Citizens Advisory Committee was formed to draft a new SRC Chapter 86 -- the tree ordinance section.
The committee was comprised of representatives from the Homebuilders Association, Neighborhood Associations, Salem Board of Realtors, Shade Tree Advisory Committee, Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Downtown Advisory Board, and an Urban Forester from the Oregon Department of Forestry.
A key part of their proposed revisions to the tree ordinance was replacing the Shade Tree Advisory Committee with an Urban Tree Commission.
The Urban Tree Commission would make the final decision on street tree removals if someone appealed the initial decision by the Public Works Director, or whoever else was assigned that duty. This solved a big problem made evident by the U.S. Bank tree removal controversy.
Here's an excerpt from my "Outrage" report.
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.”
This shows that U.S. Bank’s request to remove the five Japanese Zelkovas was utterly unlike the routine building permit’ish decision the Urban Forester claimed it was. If the decision had been based on expert arborist advice and public testimony, Public Works Director Fernandez would have denied the request and saved the trees.
This, as we’ve seen, is what Fernandez planned to do before he was lobbied by bank president Ryan Allbritton.
So it makes a lot of sense to have an Urban Tree Commission made up of knowledgeable citizens making the final decision on tree removals, rather than a City official who can be lobbied behind closed doors by someone wanting to have a tree removed for no good reason.
Unfortunately, next Monday, June 8, 6:30 pm, the Salem City Council is considering whether to do away with the Urban Tree Commission proposal before it even has a chance to be discussed in a public hearing.
This is a very bad idea. (See my Strange Up Salem column, "Mayor to citizens: shut up about trees.")
Today, as a member of the Salem Community Vision steering committee, I told the Mayor and City Councilors that SCV is strongly opposed to trashing this key aspect of what the Tree Code Citizens Advisory Committee has recommended.
After all, the City Council gets to make the final decision on proposed revisions to Salem's tree ordinance. They should do this after they hold public hearings on what the Tree Code Citizens Advisory Committee came up with. It is unseemly for the Council to modify the proposed revisions without giving citizens a chance to weigh in on them.
If you agree, tell the Mayor and City Council this: email them at [email protected] And consider coming to the June 8 City Council meeting to speak your piece during the opening public comment period.
Salem's tree lovers need to stand up for our leafy friends. Removing beautiful, large, healthy street trees for no good reason has to stop.
An Urban Tree Commission will help ensure that new tree removal criteria proposed by the Tree Code Citizens Advisory Committee will be adhered to, rather than ignored. Also, that concerned citizens can appeal tree removal decisions which don't appear to be based on solid arborist evidence.
Here's the message that was sent by Salem Community Vision to the Mayor and City Council: