Council finalizes 6-month ordinance banning large-tree removal; OKs planning board appointment schedule

Edmonds City Attorney Jeff Taraday, bottom row-right, discusses tree ordinance language with the city council and mayor Tuesday night.

It’s official: The City of Edmonds now has an interim six-month ordinance on the books that prohibits the removal of large trees on private property.

The Edmonds City Council at its Tuesday night meeting reviewed a resolution outlining findings of fact that support continuing the ordinance, which was discussed in detail at last week’s meeting that included a required public hearing. The council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to continue it, with Councilmember Diane Buckshnis — who has advocated for even stricter tree-cutting regulations — voting no.

The idea behind the ordinance, which the council approved March 2, is to give the city time to work on additional, more detailed tree regulations to be included in city code — stage 2 of a two-stage process for updating the city’s tree regulations.

The interim ordinance prohibits the removal of larger “heritage trees” — defined as 24 inches in diameter at breast height — unless those trees are deemed hazardous. As an emergency measure, it became effective immediately after its March 2 passage.

While discussion on the tree ordinance was short, the council did have lengthy debate about other matters, which cut into the alotted meeting time and necessitated the postponement of some agenda items to a future meeting.

A main topic of conversation Tuesday night was a proposed code amendment to realign the appointment schedule for the Edmonds Planning Board, which is comprised of seven members and one alternate — all appointed by the mayor with city council confirmation. While city code specifies that the positions are staggered and that two positions on the board expire each year, at some point in the past five of the appointed terms got off track.

In an effort to correct this, City Attorney Jeff Taraday proposed two options for council consideration, and after much discussion the council ended up voting 6-1 (Council President Susan Paine voting no) to approve alternative ordinance 2. Approval came after an amendment by Councilmember Vivian Olson passed on a 4-3 vote (Councilmembers Luke Distelhorst, Diane Buckshis and Kristiana Johnson joining Olson in voting yes). Under the amended ordinance, three of the seven planning board positions (2, 3 and 4) will temporarily become five-year terms to get the appointments back on track.

In other action, the council:

-Approved a policy change to the city’s Paid Family & Medical Leave policy. The program, required by state law, took effect on Jan 1, 2020, and allows anyone working 820 hours in a year (about 40% of a full-time, 40-hour week job) to take leave to care for a baby or family member, with up to 90% of regular pay covered by the State of Washington. These payments are funded by payroll deductions and employer contributions that began in 2019. Under city policy, employees can supplement their state payments by using eligible paid leave balances; however those payments are capped at 100% of gross weekly wages. City Human Resources Analyst Emily Wagener told the council that this 100% cap negatively impacts employees who work part-time or earn lower wages, for several reasons, including the fact they receive far less in supplemental leave payments. To address this, the council approved a staff proposal to increase the cap on total wages to 150% for those employees who are unable to continue to pay at the 100% level.

. -Okayed an April budget amendment that included the following: $50,000 allocated to the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Deparment to cover hiring a consultant to provide parks planning support; $20,000 to the parks department for “wetland delination services” to meet permitting requirements for Edmonds Marsh restoration volunteer work; $80,000 to the Street Department to purchase a mini excavator for use by the city’s sidewalk crew; $90,000 to hire a consultant to assist in developing formal policies for the city’s utility fund reserves; and $227,400 to cover cost-of-living adjustments included in recently extended labor contracts.

– Authorized a consultant agreement with Conservation Technix for $143,000 to oversee the city’s Parks, Recreation & Open Space (PROS) Plan update

– Approved a staff recommendation to reject all bids received for the Civic Field renovation project and re-bid the project as quickly as possible to address confusion arising during the original bid process.

You can view the April 27 council meeting video at this link.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. And any rationale basis for the tree ordinance? Doesn’t seem to be. Without which the ordinance, and it’s declared emergency will not survive a court challenge. It sounds like one of the callers last night will be forced to sue the City, since they are expending hundreds of thousands due to the City impeding their property rights. And sure, let’s do a park in Esperance. Good grief.
    How on earth did the planning board terms get out of whack in the first place? How hard can that be?

    1. Good points Diane. Planning Board appointment laws were adopted via Ordinance. The Mayor’s office is responsible for this failure to faithfully enforce our laws and ordinances. Instead of seeking accountability, City Council allows the problem to become its burden to clean up.

      Regarding trees, I submitted Public Comments Tuesday night that included the following:

      City Council should immediately repeal flawed Ordinance 4217 and start over from the beginning.

      Ordinance 4217 makes the following false Declaration of Emergency:

      The City Council hereby declares that an emergency exists necessitating that this Ordinance take effect immediately upon passage by a majority vote plus one of the whole membership of the Council, and that the same is not subject to a referendum.

      Majority vote plus one has not applied to Edmonds since Edmonds City Council adopted the powers of Initiative and Referendum in 1985.

      Are all Ordinances put forth as an Emergency Ordinance subject to Referendum if they do not receive a unanimous vote? Please explain the answer and provide legal support for the answer.

      Ordinance 4217 states in Section 1. that “The purpose of this interim regulation is to temporarily protect certain landmark trees from tree removal as that term is defined in ECDC 23.10.020.S.” This is an error. The reference should be to ECDC 23.10.020.T.

      Ordinance 4217 has another error in Section 3. Nuisance Tree is defined in 23.10.020.L, not 23.10.020.K.

      Please stop passing new laws that contain errors. We already have plenty of errors in our city code, a code that has needed to be rewritten since at least 2000.

      Please go back and address all Ordinances voted on in the past under the false representation take they could take effect immediately upon passage by a majority vote plus one of the whole membership of the Council, including Ordinance 4189.

  2. So now that the tree “emergency” has been extended for six months for private property/homeowners, one must trust that the same moratorium extends to developers/contractors/HASCO. Right?

  3. Seattle since 2008 has prohibited the removal of large trees (defined as exceptional and over 30″ in diameter at 4.5′ above the ground for trees like Douglas fir, western red cedar and big leaf maple} It has worked fine. It covers trees on property not undergoing development. If an exceptional tree is determined to be hazardous it can be removed. All exceptional trees and trees over 24″ in diameter removed by developers must be replaced with a tree that is equivalent at maturity.
    Portland, Oregon now requires developers to replace all trees 12 to 24 inches removed during development with 2 trees or $1800 per tree fee in lieu and all trees over 20 inches in diameter must be replaced inch for inch or pay a fee in lieu of $450 per inch.
    Large trees are providing environmental services to city residents, including removing pollutants from the air, reducing stormwater runoff, mitigating the heat island effect, reducing building heating and cooling costs, providing habitat for birds and wildlife and providing mental and physical benefits to city residents. Too often these community benefits are taken for granted until large trees are removed. Responding to these environmental and health benefits that are lost affect people’s health and increase homeowner and city costs for water runoff projects, mitigating air pollution, responding to pollution in Puget Sound and dealing with climate change impacts.

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