Peter Fernandez, the City of Salem Public Works Director, is still doing outrageous tree stuff -- seven years after public records that I got proved that Fernandez made an unethical backroom deal with a bank president to have five beautiful, large, healthy downtown trees removed for no good reason.
The newest Fernandez outrage is well-documented in an appeal by the Southwest Association of Neighbors (SWAN) of a tree removal permit that was issued on June 25, with an effective date of June 28, even though the five trees were cut down on April 15.
Download Salem Heights Tree Removal Permit Appeal Final 7-26-20
Wow. Even though Peter Fernandez is a crappy Public Works Director, he does apparently have a superpower: the ability to go back in time and grant a permit for something that was already illegally done.
Here's photos from the SWAN appeal that show what Fernandez and the developer who removed the trees (I'm assuming this was Thomas Kay) have wrought.
This photo shows a view of Salem Heights Avenue before the trees were removed.
This photo shows Salem Heights Avenue after the trees were removed without a permit. Or, as Peter Fernandez would call it, a "street improvement."
And this photo shows the required neighborhood notice of a tree removal permit application. The notice had to be posted on a utility pole because the trees had already been cut down. Or, as Peter Fernandez would call it, "a delicious irony."
Now, you may have picked up some subtle, or not-so-subtle, clues in this blog post that I'm not a fan of Peter Fernandez.
Which is absolutely correct! I'll give some additional reasons for my attitude after I share a few excerpts from the SWAN appeal that show how distastefully Fernandez acted. I've boldfaced some especially pertinent parts.
(Note: Fernandez is only referred to as the "Director" in the appeal.)
Among the reasons for this appeal is the trees listed for potential removal - two significant white oak trees, two locust trees and a Douglas Fir tree - have already been cut down and removed prior to issuance of a permit for removal in violation of City Code contained within SRC Chapter 86. We believe the Director’s conclusion that there was no “reasonable alternative” was in error. We believe there were, or may have been reasonable alternatives.
City staff has confirmed with us that the trees were removed on April 15 in violation of the Code because the order granting the removal was not issued until June 25 with an effective date of July 28, 105 calendar days after they were cut down.
We believe the City Tree Code should be enforced in a way that protects the city’s trees. Granting a permit after trees have been cut, as in this case, sends a message the Code enforcement is lax. We intend to show that the cutting of trees along the 500 block of Salem Heights Avenue violated City Code.
We believe city residents deserve the opportunity to offer reasonable alternatives during the permit application process. This was denied in particular to the removal of the white oaks. The Director has concluded, without explanation in the order, that there was no reasonable alternative to cutting the trees. Our appeal will show the possibility that a reasonable alternative existed before the trees were removed.
This cutting and removal of trees on city-owned right of way prior to issuance of a tree removal permit is an egregious breach of current law and an affront to the citizens of Salem - a “tree” city. Cutting and removal of the trees in question prior to issuance of a tree removal permit is also an extreme breach of due process afforded by the tree removal permit application process.
It is ironic that the effort of city staff to comply with posting of the tree removal order and appeal process as required by the Code to be posted “where the tree or trees are located” had to be posted to a utility pole after the trees were reduced to stumpage. Again, this cutting was done prior to the issuance of a removal permit or posting of the required notice of removal.
If this was the only time Peter Fernandez abused the power of his position as Public Works Director, a single lapse in judgment could be forgiven. But it definitely isn't. Here's a couple of other examples, the second occurring only yesterday, though the first is more significant.
Earlier this month I described how Fernandez misled the City Council regarding the purchase of property in West Salem. See: "Salem City Council bamboozled by staff on Taybin Road property purchase."
I spent hundreds of dollars on a public records request that proved the actual reason Fernandez wanted to buy this property was for Marine Drive right-of-way in an area that the council had declared off-limits for a right-of-way acquisition. So Fernandez and other Public Works officials concocted a stormwater reason for the purchase that allowed them to use a different pot of money for it.
Then, last night the City Council voted to overturn Fernandez's recommendation for a right-turn lane that was planned to be part of a road diet at Broadway and Pine. I'd written about this in "Salem City Hall, where staff always are right and concerned citizens wrong."
As I said in that post, Fernandez believes that traffic will steadily increase in Salem, necessitating ever more road construction, even though the City of Salem's own Strategic Plan calls for greenhouse gas reductions in our city, and transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution.
Fortunately, a majority of the City Council (Mayor Bennett and Councilors Lewis and Nanke being the minority) didn't buy the anti-environment B.S. that Fernandez was trying to sell at yesterday's council meeting. Councilors Tom Andersen, Vanessa Nordyke, and Chris Hoy were especially persuasive in their arguments against the carcentric philosophy that the right-turn lane represented.
After all, Andersen and Hoy are ardent cyclists. They spoke of how unnerving it is to have a bike lane be squeezed between a right-turn lane and a traffic lane, since vehicles can be on both sides of the person riding a bicycle. But Fernandez was concerned about traffic being able to move along as swiftly as possible.
Which shows that Peter Fernandez is wildly out of touch with the citizenry when it comes to protecting trees and the environment. And that makes him a very poor choice for Salem's Public Works Director.
NEXT DAY UPDATE: Someone just sent me a copy of an email from City Manager Steve Powers regarding this issue, plus a readable photo of the Notice of Hearing shown in a photo above. Here's what I said to Powers in an email a little while ago:
Mr. Powers, since I wrote about the Salem Heights Avenue tree removal issue yesterday, someone just sent me your email denial that a permit was issued retroactively allowing the removal of five trees. You said, in part:
The developer prematurely removed trees from the Salem Heights Road right-of-way. Staff has not decided to retroactively issue a permit for the removal of the trees.
UPDATE TO UPDATE: I got this reply from Steve Powers. I thanked him for the correction to his earlier email, but told him both the developer and Peter Fernandez need to be held accountable for their failure to act in accord with the City Tree Code. Fernandez' malfeasance is especially outrageous, since he is responsible for enforcing the City Tree Code.
Thank you for the question. Staff determined a permit was needed regardless of the timing of the tree removal. The Public Works Director approved the developer’s tree removal permit based on criteria in SRC 86.090(a)(8). In my earlier email I stated that no permit had been issued. I regret the error in my earlier email.
City of Salem