NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, December 20th, 2021

Second set of Seattle tree protection poll findings affirms voters value urban forests

Back in Sep­tem­ber, our team at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute joined forces with TreeP­AC to unveil polling show­ing that vot­ers across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum are in enthu­si­as­tic agree­ment that Seat­tle should be doing more to pro­tect its tree canopy and favor a num­ber of ideas for updat­ing Seat­tle’s tree ordinance.

Today, we’re delight­ed to be able to share an addi­tion­al set of find­ings that affirms vot­ers’ strong and deep enthu­si­asm for keep­ing the Emer­ald City emerald.

These find­ings come from our Octo­ber 2021 gen­er­al elec­tion poll of the Seat­tle elec­torate, con­duct­ed for NPI by Change Research from Octo­ber 12th-15th.

Read­ers may recall that the elec­toral seg­ment of our Octo­ber sur­vey found Bruce Har­rell ahead for May­or, Ann Davi­son ahead of City Attor­ney, and Tere­sa Mosque­da and Sara Nel­son ahead for Seat­tle City Coun­cil. All of them went on to win their respec­tive races, demon­strat­ing that our polling had suc­cess­ful­ly chart­ed the city’s elec­toral land­scape as vot­ing was begin­ning across the metrop­o­lis.

As is our usu­al prac­tice, we fol­lowed up our elec­toral ques­tions with issue-based ones. From hav­ing stud­ied and ana­lyzed the results of our July 2021 Top Two sur­vey of the Seat­tle elec­torate, con­duct­ed before the August qual­i­fy­ing elec­tion, we knew that tree pro­tec­tion was among the caus­es that most res­onat­ed with Seat­tleites, regard­less of their polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion, age, income, or ethnicity.

We want­ed to see if the larg­er uni­verse of gen­er­al elec­tion vot­ers would respond the same way, so we asked respon­dents about an addi­tion­al set of ideas for updat­ing Seat­tle’s tree ordi­nance and safe­guard­ing urban forests.

Like in July, we got an over­whelm­ing­ly pos­i­tive response. It is abun­dant­ly clear that Seat­tleites val­ue trees and urban forests and want their elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives to adopt poli­cies that will strength­en the city’s tree canopy.

What we found par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing was that big majori­ties of both Bruce Har­rel­l’s sup­port­ers and Lore­na González’s sup­port­ers backed pret­ty much every idea that we asked them to respond to. It was strik­ing: This tru­ly is an issue that Seat­tleites on both sides of the city’s mar­quee race are in agree­ment on.

Questions and responses

Let’s now take a look at each of the ques­tions that we asked and the respons­es that we received. Our first ques­tion asked if Seat­tle should fol­low in Port­land’s foot­steps and require devel­op­ers to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive Tree Sur­vey and Tree Plan at the begin­ning of the build­ing devel­op­ment process.

This sys­tem, which you can learn more about on the Rose City’s web­site, ensures that Port­land’s elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives and city plan­ners have sound, reg­u­lar­ly refreshed data they can use to guide devel­op­ment decisions.

QUESTION: Port­land, Ore­gon requires devel­op­ers to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive Tree Sur­vey and Tree Plan at the begin­ning of the build­ing devel­op­ment process. Devel­op­ers enter the Tree Sur­vey infor­ma­tion into a spread­sheet, which facil­i­tates data col­lec­tion on tree loss and replace­ment. Sup­port­ers say Seat­tle could fol­low suit to ensure the city main­tains a healthy tree canopy, while oppo­nents say it would be yet anoth­er reg­u­la­tion that would slow down devel­op­ment. Do you sup­port or oppose requir­ing devel­op­ers in the City of Seat­tle to com­plete a Tree Sur­vey and Tree Plan pri­or to con­struc­tion per­mits being approved?

ANSWERS:

  • Sup­port: 74% 
    • Strong­ly sup­port: 50%
    • Some­what sup­port: 24%
  • Oppose: 18%
    • Some­what oppose: 9%
    • Strong­ly oppose: 9%
  • Not sure: 8%

About three quar­ters of respon­dents said they said sup­port­ed bring­ing a Port­land-like sys­tem to Seat­tle, with half in strong sup­port. (Many oth­er large cities also require devel­op­ers to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive Tree Sur­vey and Tree Plan before green­light­ing con­struc­tion.) Few­er than one in five vot­ers said they were opposed.

Vot­ers in all age groups were sup­port­ive by more than three-to-one mar­gins, but vot­ers six­ty-five and old­er, who over­whelm­ing­ly backed Bruce Har­rell for may­or in our sur­vey, were par­tic­u­lar­ly excit­ed about this tree sur­vey and tree plan idea. A whop­ping 84% of that age group expressed sup­port, with a mere 8% opposed.

Vot­ers in Seat­tle’s south­ern­most zip codes, where the tree canopy is less robust, were also quite enthu­si­as­tic. 79% of vot­ers in zip codes that for the most part cor­re­spond with the 1st Dis­trict indi­cat­ed sup­port, while 72% of vot­ers in zip codes most­ly cor­re­spond­ing with the 2nd Dis­trict expressed sup­port. 73% of vot­ers in zip codes most­ly cor­re­spond­ing with the 3rd Dis­trict expressed support.

Only one dis­trict north of the Ship Canal was enthu­si­as­tic as the like­ly south­ern coun­cil dis­tricts: the like­ly 4th, where sup­port was 77%.

Our sec­ond ques­tion asked Seat­tleites if they’d like to see envi­ron­men­tal poli­cies and tree man­age­ment brought under the juris­dic­tion of a new city department:

QUESTION: Over­sight of trees in Seat­tle is cur­rent­ly over­seen by nine city depart­ments. Do you sup­port or oppose cre­at­ing a new Seat­tle Depart­ment of Envi­ron­ment and Cli­mate that would include a con­sol­i­dat­ed urban forestry division?

ANSWERS:

  • Sup­port: 72% 
    • Strong­ly sup­port: 44%
    • Some­what oppose: 28%
  • Oppose: 18%
    • Some­what oppose: 6%
    • Strong­ly oppose: 12%
  • Not sure: 10%

More than sev­en in ten vot­ers backed this idea overall.

González vot­ers were espe­cial­ly enthu­si­as­tic, with 54% of them express­ing strong sup­port and anoth­er 25% some­what sup­port­ive, for a total of 79%.

38% of Har­rell vot­ers offered strong sup­port while anoth­er 25% said they were some­what sup­port­ive, for a total of 67% supportive.

As with the tree sur­vey and tree plan ques­tion, Har­rel­l’s old­er vot­ers were even more enthu­si­as­tic. 49% of those ages six­ty-five and up expressed strong sup­port. Anoth­er 25% were some­what sup­port­ive, for a total of 74% supportive.

Our third and final ques­tion asked about five ideas for updat­ing Seat­tle’s tree pro­tec­tion ordi­nance, which has been await­ing a makeover for twelve years.

QUESTION: Please indi­cate your sup­port or oppo­si­tion for each of the fol­low­ing ideas for updat­ing Seat­tle’s tree pro­tec­tion ordinance.

IDEAS & ANSWERS:

Give pri­or­i­ty to plant­i­ng native and cli­mate resilient trees

Sup­port: 89%Oppose: 6%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly5%
66%23%3%3%———

Charge devel­op­ers replace­ment fees for trees that they remove and don’t replant, with the amount of the fee cor­re­spond­ing to the size of the removed tree to make up for lost canopy

Sup­port: 77%Oppose: 15%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly8%
56%22%7%8%———

Increase build­ing set­backs to allow larg­er, street-fac­ing trees to be planted

Sup­port: 67%Oppose: 20%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly14%
38%29%10%10%———

Reduce the num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant, non-excep­tion­al trees that can be removed by pri­vate prop­er­ty own­ers from three (3) per year to two (2) in three years

Sup­port: 55%Oppose: 28%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly17%
29%26%14%14%———

Low­er the upper lim­it for excep­tion­al tree pro­tec­tion from thir­ty (30) inch­es in tree diam­e­ter to twen­ty-four (24) inch­es in diameter

Sup­port: 50%Oppose: 25%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly25%
29%21%12%13%———

Sup­port for these ideas ranged from 89% in favor of giv­ing pri­or­i­ty to plant­i­ng native and cli­mate resilient trees to 50% for low­er­ing the upper lim­it for excep­tion­al tree pro­tec­tion from thir­ty inch­es in tree diam­e­ter to twen­ty-four inch­es. Even the least pop­u­lar idea found a two-to-one mar­gin of support.

Charg­ing devel­op­ers replace­ment fees for trees they remove and don’t replant is, aside from pri­or­i­tiz­ing native and cli­mate resilient trees, the most pop­u­lar of the ideas we test­ed. Every age group real­ly liked it. It’s also anoth­er idea that is extreme­ly pop­u­lar in Seat­tle’s west­ern and south­ern neigh­bor­hoods, with 87% of vot­ers in like­ly coun­cil dis­trict #1 sup­port­ive, 81% of vot­ers in like­ly coun­cil dis­trict #2 sup­port­ive, and 85% of vot­ers in like­ly coun­cil dis­trict #3 supportive.

85% of González vot­ers also favor charg­ing devel­op­ers replace­ment fees. They are just as keen about mov­ing for­ward with this idea as the old­er vot­ers ages six­ty-five and up (84% sup­port­ive) who told us they most­ly favor Harrell.

Increas­ing set­backs got a thumbs up from two-thirds of respondents.

Mak­ing adjust­ments to the rules for removal of sig­nif­i­cant, non-excep­tion­al trees, and broad­en­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of what an excep­tion­al tree did­n’t get sky-high lev­els of sup­port, but were nev­er­the­less backed by sol­id majori­ties of our poll respon­dents. No idea we test­ed had more oppo­si­tion than support.

Survey methodology

  • Change Research, a Pub­lic Ben­e­fit Cor­po­ra­tion based in Cal­i­for­nia, sur­veyed 617 like­ly Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion vot­ers in Seat­tle from Tues­day, Octo­ber 12th to Fri­day, Octo­ber 15th on behalf of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute. All respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed online.
  • Change used tar­get­ed adver­tise­ments on Face­book, tar­get­ed adver­tise­ments on Insta­gram, and text mes­sages sent via the echo19 and/or Scale To Win plat­forms to cell phone num­bers list­ed on the vot­er file for indi­vid­u­als who qual­i­fied for the survey’s sam­ple uni­verse, based on their vot­er file data.
  • Regard­less of which of these sources a respon­dent came from, they were direct­ed to a sur­vey host­ed on SurveyMonkey’s web­site. Ads placed on social media tar­get­ed all adults liv­ing in Seat­tle. Those who indi­cat­ed that they were not reg­is­tered to vote were terminated.
  • As the sur­vey field­ed, Change used dynam­ic online sam­pling: adjust­ing ad bud­gets, low­er­ing bud­gets for ads tar­get­ing groups that were over­rep­re­sent­ed and rais­ing bud­gets for ads tar­get­ing groups that were under­rep­re­sent­ed, so that the final sam­ple was rough­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pop­u­la­tion across dif­fer­ent groups.
  • The sur­vey was con­duct­ed in Eng­lish, and has a mod­eled mar­gin of error of 4.1% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

Addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about the sur­vey’s method­ol­o­gy is avail­able here.

Voters agree, now it’s time for City Hall to agree

Whether they told us they were vot­ing for Bruce Har­rell or M. Lore­na González for may­or — or for any oth­er set of can­di­dates, for that mat­ter — vot­ers in Seat­tle are in agree­ment that the city could use a stronger tree ordi­nance that gives the Emer­ald City a bet­ter shot at ensur­ing it lives up to its name as it grows.

The take­away is clear: the Seat­tle City Coun­cil and incom­ing May­or Bruce Har­rell must pri­or­i­tize the work of updat­ing the city’s tree ordi­nance. This is imper­a­tive to imple­ment­ing a true equi­ty-focused envi­ron­men­tal and social jus­tice agenda.

In addi­tion to tak­ing steps to pro­tect exist­ing canopy, the city needs to accel­er­ate its efforts to grow the canopy by plant­i­ng more native and cli­mate resilient trees.

The need­ed work can’t keep get­ting rel­e­gat­ed to the back burn­er as it did under May­ors Durkan and Mur­ray. Pro­posed updates to the city’s tree ordi­nance have been in bureau­crat­ic pur­ga­to­ry for twelve years and counting.

Mean­while, the cli­mate cri­sis is get­ting worse.

We know that neigh­bor­hoods with­out suf­fi­cient tree canopy are far­ing worse in heat­waves and exhibit­ing more extreme heat island effects than their leafi­er coun­ter­parts. It’s no coin­ci­dence that the neigh­bor­hoods with the fewest trees have high­er con­cen­tra­tions of Black and Brown and low income inhabitants.

May­or-elect Har­rell and the Coun­cil should resolve to com­plete the process of updat­ing the city’s tree ordi­nance with strong new pro­vi­sions by July of 2022 so that the city’s poli­cies can be bet­ter aligned with its val­ues as soon as possible.

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