Camas, WA — It was standing room only Monday night at Camas City Hall as residents listened to a public presentation on the proposed Camas Urban Tree Program, and spent more than an hour expressing their opinions about tree planning. It ended with the Council voting to have the City Attorney draft an official Urban Tree Program ordinance that will be voted on in the near future.

Senior City Planner, Sarah Fox, presented the tree program, which has been in progress since 2016, and explained its key points. The city views trees as public assets.

Here are some highlights of the proposed Urban Tree Program:

  • Street tree permits. Residents looking to remove street trees from their private property would need a permit.
  • Changes municipal code for park and open space trees.
  • Sets a minimum of 20 trees per net acre.
  • Adds very specific tree preservation language to municipal code.
  • Changes the fine and fee schedules for removing trees. Currently, from $500-$1,000, the new proposal is a scale that is based on size. The fine could be higher based on size for trees in critical areas.
  • Replaces Chapter 18.31 in the city code.
  • Amends Chapter 18.13 for landscaping.

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Following her presentation, City Councilors listened to more than an hour of public comment on the program.


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Public Comments

The first citizen to address the council was Karen Weiss, who is concerned with preservation of older trees.

”Smaller trees can’t replace the older growth trees,” she said. “How do you define critical trees? Can a 100 year-old tree be replaced by a bunch of smaller trees? I’m also curious about who governs the fines? I’m worried that people will simply pay the fines and developers can get rid of the trees. How can you protect super old trees?”

Residents expressed concerns that fines weren’t high enough.

Geri Rubano asked for fines to be increased four-fold, and recommended that tree density should be up at 30 per net acre.

“The plan you have now definitely provides more protections than we have now,” said Cassi Marshall, who was appointed to the work on the program as a citizen representative. “It’s a great place to start.”

Longtime Camas resident, Lynne Lyne stole the show Monday night with an impassioned plea to stop clear-cutting.

“Why on Earth has it just been the past two years that the Council has said ‘hey maybe we need to look at the way we’re developing our town?’ I agree with Geri completely … why the heck do you allow clear-cutting, non-stop clear-cutting …? Clear-cutting with houses crammed together … is that the quaint, wonderful town of Camas we want to create for ourselves? I would think it’s not … I’m dumbfounded that this has been allowed to go on for so long.”

Public consensus, based on those who spoke at Monday’s meeting, is to raise the number of trees per acre unit from 20 trees to 30. The public also wants to make the fines greater, and a better explanation of how fines are processed and decided. There was a great deal of concern about clear-cutting.

Following the public comment time, council members and city employees answered several citizen questions, which included how fines are processed, what percentage of trees would be required to be evergreen, why clear-cutting is allowed, and when this would take effect.

Fox said fines would be put into the fee schedule that would be assessed by a code enforcement officer. She added that “generally unauthorized tree removal isn’t from our development community, it’s from our citizens who go into open spaces behind our houses, which are really the city’s open spaces and parks, and they’re cutting down a tree for a view — usually that’s the reason …”

She said the proposal allows the officer to respond to the illegal activity and deal with the issue, and enables them to write a ticket on the spot. The fine would be based on the size of the tree. The next step provides guidelines on how to assess the actual value of the tree, which would be an additional fine. The violator is also required to replant.

Fines would go into a city tree fund.

Fox said the program requires 50 percent of new trees be evergreen, and also requires the other trees be a native species, as well.

Councilor Greg Anderson indirectly addressed a clear-cutting question from Camas resident, Keith McPhun.

The new ordinance would only apply to new developments, and would not be retroactive to developments already agreed to.

”I would love it if the fines were higher, and it was 30 instead of 20, and I understand why the compromises were made in looking at all the factors but I think this is better than what we have now,” said Councilor Deanna Rusch.

”I feel my question about clear-cutting was only partially answered,” said McPhun.

The council’s vote on Monday mandates the City Attorney draft an official ordinance, which will be based on the Camas Urban Tree Program presentation by Fox.

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