Durkan, Seattle council engage in one final clash in closing days of mayoral term
The last four years in Seattle politics have been defined by a series of clashes between Mayor Jenny Durkan and city councilmembers. With Durkan set to leave office in a matter of days, she and the council appear to have engaged in one final feud, this time over trees.
On Tuesday, Councilmembers Dan Strauss and Alex Pedersen put out a joint press release criticizing the mayor for “not complet[ing] promised work on tree protections.”
“I am deeply disappointed that Mayor Durkan has chosen to delay action to protect trees in Seattle once again,” Strauss said.
According to Strauss, Durkan’s office failed to deliver on a proposal for stronger tree protections, which first promised in the form of a resolution signed in October of 2019. More recently, Durkan had told the council that she planned to have the proposal submitted by the end of her term in December.
That proposal was never completed, meaning the task will instead fall to incoming Mayor Bruce Harrell.
“Last week I learned that Mayor Durkan will not make good on these promises, meaning another year will pass before Seattle takes meaningful action to grow and prevent loss of our tree canopy,” Strauss said.
Advocates have pushed for improved tree protections as a means to addressing climate change, with one group calling Durkan’s lack of action on the issue “inexcusable.”
“The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission is extremely disappointed with the Durkan administration’s unwillingness to act to protect and adequately manage our city’s trees and forests,” said Weston Brinkley, the Urban Forestry Commission chair. “Hopefully, with the Harrell Administration, we can finally enact meaningful policy to aid our trees and forests and the support they provide our public health and the environment.”
Durkan responded Tuesday, noting that her focus over the last month was instead on the “surging pandemic,” as well as the city’s recent winter weather emergency.
“While her focus on trees includes those that may fall on wires, people, or traffic, it is surprising these council members believe the most pressing issue is a new tree code that will be proposed, studied, and implemented under Mayor-Elect Harrell,” a spokesperson for Durkan’s office told KIRO Radio. “Instead of publishing a SEPA in the last week of December during a pandemic surge, the Mayor paused it for two weeks so the incoming Mayor and public could actually consider it.”
Durkan further noted that her office had also prioritized “protecting essential worker pay that these council members voted to cut,” referring to the council’s initial decision in mid-December to pass a measure setting an end date for the city’s grocery store ordinance, days before public health officials began sounding the alarm over a rise in COVID cases. Durkan vetoed the bill a week later, with the council later agreeing with her decision to leave the hazard pay ordinance in place.