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City ‘sends message’ to West Seattle homeowners who cut trees

Homeowners cut down 150 trees in West Seattle without permission. (City of Seattle)

The City of Seattle reached a half-million dollar settlement with homeowners more than a year after 150 trees were clearcut to improve their views in West Seattle. Officials are hoping that the tree settlement will send a message.

“We have to make sure our sanctions are significant enough to deter this activity in the future, and penalties have to be strong enough so that those with financial means don’t see this as a short cut — pay a small settlement and get your views,” said Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle.

The incident on a West Seattle hillside came as a surprise to many in late 2015. Homeowners initially said that they collectively hired a service to prune and top trees to improve their views. Instead, the trees were removed entirely, including big leaf maples and willows.

It didn’t take long for the city to respond. At the time, City Attorney Pete Holmes said that there was no way the incident was a mistake.

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“On March 26, a little over a year ago, City Attorney Holmes responded to my call on a sunny Saturday morning after seeing the exposé in the Times about this incident,” Herbold said. “He immediately dropped whatever he was doing to meet me out at the site.”

Herbold notes that the trees were removed from a steep slope, in a landslide-prone zone. She said that it’s not the first time Seattle homeowners have removed trees like this, and referenced a similar 2003 case in Mount Baker. But the financial penalties for the 2015 incident are 60 percent higher per tree than the 2003 case, Herbold said.

Wednesday’s tree settlement is just one case, and the city is pursuing another case in relation to the clearcutting incident.

Tree settlement “green lining”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray expanded upon what the tree settlement will be used for and said that the city’s values were upheld.

“Now the healing can begin,” Murray said. “The nearly half-million dollar agreement is going to pay for removing the damaged trees, stabilizing the greenbelt and replanting trees. The benefits for our urban forests are indisputable — they sequester carbon dioxide, they remove pollution from the environment, they reduce energy use in residential buildings. All these benefits tally up to carbon reductions in the millions of metric tons.”

“Some people call it a silver lining, but I call it a green lining,” he added, noting that a portion of the tree settlement will help fund two youth programs.

About $100,000 — 20 percent of the settlement — will help fund a youth summer program and a green jobs program that hires young people from economically struggling communities. Murray has spearheaded both programs as mayor.

“It was a dispiriting story two years ago, but we have a very different story to tell today,” Murray said.

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