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September 29, 2015


Hi Brian,
I don't regularly disagree with you on issues but I have to take exception on this one. The decision to use the city's Parks and Recreation Board to serve as the citizen's appeals board for city hall decisions on street trees means we can immediately get hearings on those decisions. The parks board is an outstanding committee that is chaired by Kasia Quillinan, who wrote the new ordinance. As you know, the real meat of this issue is the completely revised set of criteria set up by the task force for reviewing whether a street tree should be removed. It's facts now not just opinions. It calls for addition of at least one arborist to the Parks Board right away. I can assure you that with this new mission added to their work there will be more to come. What surprises me is that you would want to sit on this process for the council to recruit and then appoint a whole new board. I'm watching trees come down in my neighborhood regularly and I would like to have this new appeals process in place as soon as possible. The alternative would be to wait and see who the council appoints then wait for them to be trained on how it all works as a new organization. I don't want to wait I want this available as soon as possible. I can also assure you I'm going to watch how it all works and really if it works and am fully prepared to keep changing the ordinances until it does. These street trees are an enormous asset to the community and all of us eyed to be involved. I know I can count on you to keep our feet to the fire. But, give this new, positive step a chance to work. I know it's got to be a thousand percent better than what we have in place now.

Chuck, I agree with you that the new tree ordinance is much better than what Salem had before. However, I also continue to contend that if the Mayor and city councilors had accepted the Urban Tree Commission part of the proposed ordinance, this would have been much better. Here's my reasons:

(1) Do you really believe that other people concerned with this issue didn't weigh the pros and cons of establishing a new Urban Tree Commission, versus having an existing body such as the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board take on the duties of that commission?

The citizens committee that drafted the ordinance changes spent much time and energy discussing the Urban Tree Commission proposal. Everyone who reviewed the proposal agreed that an Urban Tree Commission was needed (except the Realtors Association).

Yet by your reasoning, the Mayor and City Council apparently thought of an important reason to reject an Urban Tree Commission -- how long it would take to form the commission -- that nobody else had thought of before. I don't believe this. Which brings me to...

(2) I don't recall the Mayor or any city councilor citing the length of time needed to establish an Urban Tree Commission as being the central, or even a peripheral, reason to vote to ax it and substitute the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

If I'm wrong about this, please point me to the point in the tree ordinance hearing where this was brought up as a central reason to reject the Urban Tree Commission proposal. What I remember is that there was agreement that only a half dozen or so appeals of tree removal decisions would be heard each year, and that there would be plenty of people eager to serve on an Urban Tree Commission, so recruitment wouldn't be a problem.

(3) In a different context, at the hearing Councilor Andersen spoke of "legislative intent." This is important here also. Mayor Peterson made the motion to do away with the Urban Tree Commission. She is on record as saying that Salem didn't need any citizen tree body at all, favoring the current system where City staff are the final decider on tree removal decisions and not wanting more "drama" in this area.

From those earlier remarks, and also what the Mayor said at the hearing, it is clear that she doesn't want a new independent tree commission whose sole focus is protecting and enhancing Salem's street trees. The Mayor sought to water down the Urban Tree Commission proposal as much as she could, giving its duties to an overworked citizen group which currently has no one with tree expertise, and might have only one such person in the future if a vacancy on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board opens up.

Lastly, I'll note that a big problem with the previous Shade Tree Advisory Committee was that staff recommendations by the Urban Forester too often were accepted on face value. Meaning, staff would express an opinion about the condition of a tree that was at odds with what other expert arborists said, and nobody had the expertise to question that assertion.

Now the situation will be even worse, since the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has vastly less knowledge and expertise regarding trees. So City staff will be even better able to sway them -- one reason, I strongly suspect, why the Mayor favored doing away with the Urban Tree Commission.

Overall, my counter-argument to what you said in your comment is that every policy issue contains pluses and minuses, reasons for and reasons against. Citizens were just as capable of weighing the pros and cons of an Urban Tree Commission as the city council was. Yet virtually unanimously, citizens said they wanted an Urban Tree Commission, while the council voted 7-1 against it.

So I continue to believe that the city council did the wrong thing in axing the Urban Tree Commission, while doing the right thing in approving the other ordinance changes. Unfortunately, the Urban Tree Commission was a core part of the proposed changes, so Salem will suffer as a result.

Don't you agree that there is a big difference between being able to say, "Salem has an Urban Tree Commission" and "Salem has a Parks and Recreation Advisory Board which, from time to time, considers tree issues"?

Lastly, this is a long term decision, to not have an Urban Tree Commission. That decision shouldn't be based on the fact that currently Kasia Quillinan is on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. She won't always be. What's important is the long term viability of a citizen board/commission, not whether a particular person is on it at any particular moment in time.

You now get some idea of why 30,000 people who work in Salem would rather not live here. They come in, go to work, and get out, taking their dollars with them. They'd rather live and spend their leisure time and money in communities that are more livable, welcoming, and more willing to consider the best interests of those not part of a worn out, inbred, incestuous greedheads who won't consider anyone but themselves.

I certainly understand your frustration, Brian. I also appreciate that what we have now is better than what we had before. A step in the right direction.

Although I've been in Salem ten years, I've only this year started paying close attention to city management. I share your concern about whether community input is really valued. The very feel of council meetings, and how the public is treated at meetings, doesn't feel very good.

Just want to thank you for using this forum for discussion for thosevof us who need to know and rely on this kind of medium.
Also, what's to be done next if one wants to be involved on an action level....


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