Commentary: Trees are nice, but public safety is more important

Photo by Darrol Haug

This picture at Walnut and 5th Avenue South was taken in June but in January at the same location I saw a woman in a wheelchair try three times to get over and around the danger you see in the sidewalk. Looked like a City Code violation. I reported it to Code Enforcement, and they confirmed my suspicions and sent a letter in late January to the property owner stating:

“6.20.042 Health and safety nuisances.

The following actions or conditions have a direct impact on public health and are declared to be public nuisances.

  1. Vegetation. The following actions and/or conditions shall be public nuisances:
  2. Any dead, dying or other hazardous tree which is in danger of falling or endangers the traveling public on a street, alley, sidewalk or other public right-of-way. The word “tree” shall have the same meaning as is provided in ECDC 18.45.040.”

A closer look at the history of this issues shows the city had issued demands for a fix at least as far back as September 2019, over a year ago!

There were a series of requests, extensions, and even a lapse in the permit process. Looking at the correspondence and responses to my request for updates the city was not very persistent to fix this safety issue. The current status is the city sent yet another letter this week with a deadline of Oct. 9 to submit a permit application.  This is the same type of permit that took 5 weeks to issue last year and after six months it lapsed. My bet is the city will monitor this issue better than in the past.

Every time I look at this picture and recall the struggles of the lady in January it is truly disappointing that such a clear violation of our code that impacts the safety of all of us who walk in this area has taken so long to address. There is nothing wrong with our code, no rewrite is needed. What we need is proper enforcement.

Trees are nice, but the safety of our citizens, especially those in wheelchairs is far more important.

— By Darrol Haug

Darrol Haug is a longtime resident of Edmonds





  1. I feel the same concerns about the sidewalks in front of and around Edmonds Landing on 2nd Avenue. The sidewalks are buckled and cracked and there are so many people with various mobility issues in that immediate area. Something needs to be done there too. It’s a safety issue for all.

  2. Thanks for submitting this commentary Darrol. My opinion is that it critical to the proper functioning of our City government that our Mayors perform their duty (ECC 2.01.010):

    The mayor shall see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city.

    When Mayors choose to not perform their duty, city government does not function properly.

    I submitted public comments for the September 1, 2020 Council Meeting that concluded as follows:

    Hopefully, all can see how dangerous the tool of Code Enforcement can be if the Mayor, City Attorney and City Staff are allowed to practice Selective Enforcement. Best to keep it simple and follow State and City laws that say the Mayor SHALL see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced, and that law and order is maintained in the City.

    I’ve sent numerous emails discussing this duty of the Mayor to elected officials over the years.

    1. Thanks Ken for your insights. Council often passes codes that are either hard to enforce or they do not provide funding for enforcement. Cat Leash and Dog Leash are two examples. The Fireworks thing just passed is another. One of the big ones is parking enforcement. Our code is tricky and to enforce it would require 18 hour a day enforcement as the code is written. When Council change the parking code a couple of years ago they did add some enforcement dollars but not to the extent the code could be fully enforced.

      Some codes appear to be “written for show” with no expectation upon Council to enforce them.

      Tough issues when looking at the entire code but that is why when I “stumbled” on to the problem shown in the picture I decide to do what every good citizen should do and sort out “what is all this about” and see if I could help with improving safety for walkers and wheelchairs.

      I am optimistic that we will all be a little safer in this area in the next several months.

    1. Hi Bill, The tree has damaged a city sidewalk and a private sidewalk serving the building directly north of the tree. The curb is not damaged and is at the correct elevation. Look at the area both north and south of the wheelchair and look at the area west of the curb under the tent sign. The orange paint give an idea of the uneven areas.

      If the sidewalk is removed and replaced to match up with the curb level then the roots which are visible both north and east of the tree would have to be removed and some form of wall would have to be constructed at the west side of the sidewalk. Removing the roots would likely make the tree unstable.

      This is an example of what the Tree Board is telling us all about “right tree in the right place” This tree is the wrong tree in the wrong place. I would likely not be approved if this property were developed all over again.

      There is a plan to plant another tree in the area but it is not clear from the record what that will be or when.

  3. To Mr. Haug,
    Thank you for your post.
    The tree was also examined by Davey Tree, and it has a girdling root, which will kill the tree in the long run.
    This tree has also raised the concrete on the adjoining building and now the corner of the building is about 3″ out of plumb, luckily it has not effected the main portion of the building, but the sidewalks will still have to be taken out and replaced.
    5th Ave. South, from Walnut to the fountain, has many areas that need to have the trees removed and the sidewalks replaced, and then the correct species of trees replanted.
    Glad that there will final be a correction to this ADA violation soon.
    Thank you again.

  4. Well, I hope that you offered her assistance . We gotta look out for one another!
    These are private sweetgum trees in front of Chase Bank on 5th Ave S.
    These are old trees and quite large.
    I think the City of Edmonds does a great job downtown in keeping up the sidewalks.
    When you have “street trees” , those controlled by either private or public entities, you are going to have sidewalk maintenance needs.
    The benefits of street trees , socially and environmentally , outweigh the costs of maintaining those trees. And surrounding sidewalks.
    I wish the City would institute a planned and budgeted proactive street tree planting plan.
    I would like to see more street lined avenues in downtown Edmonds ; as well as on major arterials throughout Edmonds.
    There are currently far better tree root grating technologies, then when those sweetgum trees were planted. There are double sidewalk grate systems that give roots space to expand without buckling the sidewalks.
    And yes, there are better species of teses to plant along streets that don’t cause as many problems.
    Currently , the Tree Board has hung street tree identification signs on select trees along Main St. and 5th Ave. S. These signs highlight the environmental benefits of street trees.
    We know that we can enjoy tree lined Avenues while maintaining safe sidewalks.

    1. Yes I did stand by to help the lady in January. But I am told that folks like to manage on their own and if they need help the will ask. My goal in January was to sort out the issue in a way that protected all of us in the future from this danger. Unfortunately my effort to date were not sufficient to help the guy in the picture. I am hopeful this will be fixed in the near future so prevent pictures like this again.

    2. “I think the City of Edmonds does a great job downtown in keeping up the sidewalks.”
      “We know that we can enjoy tree lined Avenues while maintaining safe sidewalks.”
      With statements like the above I can only conclude that you never walk the downtown area of Edmonds, Wa.

  5. Good grief. You now can’t drive thru Edmonds without sideswiping a shiny new restaurant patron sitting in a parking stall dining room and you can’t walk thru Edmonds without tripping over a root-heaved sidewalk obstacle. Keep fighting the good fight Darrol, because all I can see is the humor and futility. You are a good man. I only wish I had your stamina and patience for it all. Maybe it’s just time for me to drown myself in the fountain, in the middle of the street, next to the bar stools, in the parking place, in front of the pub. Carry on public servant man. We need you. I’ll just stay home and wallow in my alleged creepiness and elitism.

  6. Do you mean the fluorescent pink paint means the sidewalks have been repaired and one won’t trip over the uneven edge? Edmonds is very much behind is upgrading our sidewalks to improve public safety. Just a fact. I live and walk downtown often. Look at the bottom of Walnut between 7th and 6th – there aren’t any sidewalks at all.

  7. Hi Frank, I will take you paint question as posed. No the paint does not repair the repaired. The city does do the “grinding” repair step around town. Here are the basic steps that I have observed both DT and elsewhere.
    1. City learns of a uneven joint in a side walk, they spot it, someone tells them or whatever.
    2. They note it down so they know where it is.
    3. They paint it to help folks “see the issue” so as not to trip. That improves safety.
    4. They then sometimes smooth the transition between sidewalk panels by grinding the area to provide a smooth transition, thus reducing the “trip hazard”
    5. Sometimes they may try to fill the transition between panels.
    In the picture you can see an example right under the wheelchair of a “grinding” and “painting” of the area. You can also see in the picture some “filling” between the sidewalk and the panel to the west.

    The does not “fix” anything but it does provide a cost effective way to improve safety. In this case that “fix” is not enough and that is way the city is talking enforcement actions to repair the sidewalk in a way to make a major improvement in safety.

    The city has many miles of roads, and fewer miles of sidewalks. The issue is how do we want to spend our limited tax dollars? We know what we should be spending annually to keep our roads in proper repair and it sounds like the public would like to expand our sidewalk system. All we have to do is ask Council to fund roads and some “added” sidewalk plan. Council can just put it in the budget.

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