LETTER: ‘Some council members want to tell us when we can trim our trees…’

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Waterland Blog nor its staff:]

Some council members want to tell us when we can trim our trees or take them down.  A new ordinance is being proposed that will require a clearing and grading permit if you want to trim trees for a view.  You cannot trim more than 25% of the tree.  We don’t know how much the permit will cost.  Arborists will need to be hired by the property owner.

As it was last I saw it, these restrictions will only be on steep slopes, other “critical areas” and right of way for now.  In a year or two it could be applied to all of us.

Are we bright enough to decide when we should trim or remove our own trees or do we need the city staff to tell us?

There will be a public hearing on this proposed ordinance on May 22nd.  The meeting starts at 7:00 pm.

– Jeanette Burrage
Des Moines City Council Member
Position #2

[Have an opinion or concern you’d like to share with our Readers? Please send us your Letter to the Editor via email. Include your full name, please remain civil and, pending our review, we’ll most likely publish it.]


30 Responses to “LETTER: ‘Some council members want to tell us when we can trim our trees…’”
  1. Wanker says:

    I think it’s a great idea. Anything that preserves the steep slopes from erosion and slides is a good idea. Sorry if your precious view is more important than my condo building staying put.

    • Redondo Neighbor says:

      What a number of people fail to realize is that those of us trying to get our views back having been paying high property taxes for view property this entire time. Our homes had a view when we bought them and now we can’t sell because of view loss. In the meantime we are paying for “Puget Sound View” property taxes to look at a mountain of trees. This has put many responsible homeowners underwater. So yes, our views are precious! We bought our homes when they had a view of the sound and choose to live in this community for the beauty of living near the water and the great neighbors that surround us. We are not trying to damage a hillside or put our neighbors in danger. We simply want to maintain the height of the trees that our community has been trimming for over 30+ years. We are happy to pay the high taxes that go with having a view and support our schools, police, fire, city, county etc.. ..however we should be allowed to maintain our views for that price!!

      Furthermore, this ordinance proposed by Des Moines affects everyone in and around Des Moines no matter where you live. People need to read further and do the research before they speak!

  2. Dan Kennedy says:

    Well now, there IS a difference between trimming a tree and cutting it down and causing erosion potential. Views ARE important to the residents of Des Moines, raising property values and quality-of-life here. The trimming of OUR trees (not the city’s), as long as it does not hurt anyone, shouldn’t have to be sanctioned by anyone in the DMC cartoon-factory.

    More nanny-state tom-foolery, treating the subjects of Des Moines like children (albeit, like rich, spoiled-rotten children who deserve to forfeit their allowance to the city).

    • Wanker says:

      I totally agree, but from a policy standpoint where does trimming end, and damage to the tree begin? Views are important, but stability of the hillsides is more important.

  3. Mac says:

    maybe the condo owners should sell and move to Seattle
    where there kind belongs …

    • Wanker says:

      My kind would love to sell and move north to get away from “Your kind” (notice the proper use of the word “your” as opposed to the incorrect use of “there”). However, like many people selling is not an option. We have lived among your kind now for 8 years, and while we know we are not worthy, we do dream of being accepted by your kind in the near future, but because our kind is so terrible, no one wants to buy our condo. Would you please have a little sympathy for our kind? Just an FYI, my kind has been occupying our building for 32 years, so it’s not exactly like condos are a new phenomenon in Des Moines.

  4. Mac says:

    If we need Permit all should be the same
    the City needs for each and every tree
    same for power company Plus must hire
    a Tree trimmer can not do on there own .

  5. Dan Kennedy says:

    This is just another scheme for the City to take your money.

    Trimming your laurel tree? NO ! You need a permit, and before you get your tree-trimming permit, you have to get a highly-paid arborist to, essentially an agent of the City, to conduct inspection of your property.

    What is next, you need a seasonal permit from Des Moines to mow your lawn with an EPA-approved mower?

    When does the government interference end and common sense begin? Mayor Kaplan? Councilman Sheckler? Councilperson Musser? Hello?

    • Wanker says:


      You are someone I normally agree with in regards to city happenings, but I have to point out that the original story states that this is only in effect on steep slopes, and that you cannot trim more than 25% of a tree. That is very few of the overall properties in Des Moines.

      I may be reading between the lines too much, but it sure sounds to me like they just don’t want to have people cutting more than 25% of a tree, possibly causing it to die on a slope that needs to be protected from erosion.

      If this was directed at the average homeowner on North Hill, or away from slide prone areas, I would totally agree with you.

      • Jeanette Burrage says:

        As the ordinance reads now there is a provision on page 17 for tree pruning on private developed or undeveloped property in a residential zone. Not sure if that will be in the final version, but it does not say only on a steep slope.

      • Tim Lehnherr says:

        You need to read a little closer. you are not effected unless you are effecting an area covering more than 100 sq ft. (10ft x10ft). This is the part I think I believe people living in DesMoines are missing, even those living in the North Hill area.

  6. Emily Harris says:

    PLEASE get the facts before you develop an opinion. This is City Council member who should know reason (considering she knows the law), but obviously refuses to read the actual ordinance her own council is reviewing.

    • Jeanette Burrage says:

      Have you been staying at my house so you know what is read and not read or are your referring to another council member?

  7. Melissa Musser says:

    “Some Council Members” actually worked very diligently for the past year to revise the existing language to RELAX the tree trimming permit process for the city of Des Moines and revising the language that is in place now to be LESS restrictive. Wanker is correct in is assessment (Holy Cow, I just agreed with Wanker) in that “some council members” have directed staff to revise language in regards to trees that are located in Critical Areas, Green Belt Areas and other protected land classifications. Please note the prior to “some council members” making these revisions… NO trimming for the sake of creating/ preserving views was allowed in these very select. environmentally sensitive, types of areas.

    All community members are welcomed and encouraged to attend the meeting on not only May 22 but all meetings so that all community members be informed about the all work being done by the council committees.

  8. Jeanette Burrage says:

    This tree trimming ordinance came up because 5 years ago some homeowners in Redondo wanted to trim some trees like they had done several times in the past over many years. Our city staff was not able to tell these people what they needed to do, if anything, to trim the trees for over three years. Then the people came to a City Council meeting and asked for a response to their inquiry. Then another year later they came to the City Council again. After some council members viewed the site the City staff told the people they needed to hire an arborist. After the arborist’s report came in the staff told the people they needed a more comprehensive arborist’s report and to pay about $3,500 in development permit fees. (There are a lot of trees involved).

    It is the homeowner’s whose homes would slide if there was an erosion problem. The Condo association below had and has given their permission. But now that Redondo is annexed into Des Moines that same tree trimming is now dangerous? It does not matter that they have trimmed these same trees before and none have died. No slope problem developed.

    In Redondo and other places, it is the property owner’s whose homes would suffer if trees were trimmed in a manner that killed them and made a slope less stable. They are not that stupid, are they?

    What is the purpose of the permits and their fees?

    • Joey Martinez says:

      Someone’s running for office!

      I do love how you’ve been to the Washington Farm Bureau’s campaign training class.
      This organization appears to be a far right organization pushing MORE than just Farm policies.

      The Farm Bureau:
      1) They are an anti-choice organization. I believe that medical decisions should remain between a patient and their doctor.

      2) They opposed protecting employees in and punishing careless employers. That’s just wrong.

      3) Supported a full repeal of Paid Family leave insurance. Again, anti-family.

      Candidate Burrage – your views and the views with whom you associate with do not match up with what the voters in the 33rd district demand and deserve.

      Joey Martinez (North Hill and Pacific Middle School Elementary Parent)

      • Conner says:

        Where are you getting this information from? I have never heard of the Farm Bureau taking a stance on the abortion issue.

        • Joey Martinez says:

          You didn’t ask the right question Connor. The question you SHOULD have asked (in my opinion) is WHY are they taking a stance on a NON-FARM issue.

          3rd of the way down on the 2nd page.

          Joey Martinez

          • Conner says:

            Well Joey, this isn’t exactly what I was expecting to see.

            Plenty of people, businesses, and trade groups opposed the abortion insurance mandate bill; not because they opposed women reproductive rights, but because of the potential increase in cost for ratepayers.

            Why should ratepayers be forced to pay for the abortions of those who make the irresponsible decision to not use protection during sex?

            Moreover, why should people who believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent life be forced to pay for a procedure they find deeply immoral?

      • Dan Kennedy says:

        LOL Martinez. You really must have your finger on the pulse of the 33rd, huh?

        Candidate Burrage is the ONLY Councilmember who actually uses her critical thinking skills to ask the right questions on the dais. Everyone else…lockstep with left feet.

        Considering the competition, I’m sure she will do an excellent job for the 33rd.

  9. Conner says:

    The argument that this proposed ordinance will protect homeowners from landslides is simply incorrect.

    While tree roots can help absorb ground moisture that lead to harmless shallow mudslides, they do nothing to protect from deep-seated landslides (like Oso) that pose a serious threat to life and property.

    Moreover, it is incorrect to suggest that pruning leads to the death of the tree. There is absolutely no evidence to support this assertion, and the trees that Des Moines is trying to regulate with this new ordinance have all been pruned in the past and “survived”. Regularly trimming trees to protect views is part of being a responsible homeowner and neighbor; Des Moines city council shouldn’t turn this harmless activity into a crime.

    The truth is that forcing homeowners to get permits and hire consultants in order to prune trees might be a money-maker for consultants and Des Moines city council, but it is not good deal for citizens.

  10. David E says:

    Danny, What is your opinion on the tree trimming ordinance? That is what this thread is about.
    Does anyone have a link to the actual ordinance?

  11. Jack Russell says:

    I don’t think anyone on here has provided an expert opinion. Where are the certified arborists and why are you all going to let the city council and city staff, write an ordinance about tree trimming when none of them have a degree in forestry or environmental studies? First of all, there shouldn’t even be an ordinance that hurts private property owners and second of all if there has to be, shouldn’t that ordinance be written and reviewed by a panel of certified arborists? The proposed ordinance not only regulates sloped land but also folks who want to cut down a few trees in their backyard. The tree trimming would be restricted to 100sqft. That’s not much!

    I’m no expert but the arborists have told me that is actually stabilizes a slope to trim the trees. When you trim maple and alder, they grow wider and sprout new shoots right away. Having tall heavy trees growing sideways out of a slope for years is a bad thing. The weight of the tree will eventually cause the roots to be exposed and the tree to uproot which will cause major erosion.

    We all pay high taxes to live in Des Moines, why are we going to let the city regulate our private property?!

  12. Tim Lehnherr says:

    4+ years ago Marine Hills residence tried to do things the right way when it came to trimming the same trees we had been trimming for 30 years. We went to the City of Des Moines and ask for permission to do this topping. Just as we had been doing for 30 years with out any problems. Always with the permission of the land owners permission.

    Last year after 3 years of trying to get city approval. The City of Des Moines required Marine Hills residence to hired an Certified Arborist. As required a Certified Arborist at a cost of $1200.00 was hired to walk the total area, taake pictures and write his report. This report was given to the City of Des Moines June 2013. The city felt they needed a 3 party natural review. The city then hired their own in house under contract AMEC geologist and a land scape architect (not an Arborist) to be the 3 party natural reviewer. is that a word? The report from AMEC did not to include any subsurface exploration, soils testing. or engineering analyses. The report from AMEC did give opinions regarding stability of the slope and health of vegetation. Nothing about the effects of our trimming (topping) of the same trees we had been topping for the last 30 years. The City has never had a Arborist look at the site.
    The City then decided they needed rewrite their requirements regarding tree trimming.(they don’t like topping) so that it was “easier for staff to understand”and today over 4 years later we are still waiting to try and do thing the right way.

    We will most likely end up in court protecting the rights of the others in Des Moines regarding this subject. At the cost to those who don’t even live or pay taxes to the city of Des Moines.
    We hope not that’s why we are still trying to work this out.

    • Dave says:


      As a retired arborist with over 20 years of experience I feel obligated to share my expertise. Maintaining urban arboriculture areas is imperative for arboriculture preservation as well as maintaining public safety. When arboricultural areas go unmaintained several serious hazards will arise. Hazards range from an unhealthy arboriculture area to serious public safety concerns. Safety concerns ranging from fire prone areas, falling limbs, slope erosion, and even landslides are just a few that coincide with zero or improper maintenance. Neglecting to adopt arboriculture maintenance of these areas puts cities and property owners in potential liability situations.
      The good news is that most of these hazards can be avoided with proper and regular maintenance. Adopting a regimented schedule of pruning, trimming, and topping of arboriculture will actually increase the health of areas and help avoid potential litigation.

      For an arboriculture area to thrive, 3 things must happen.

      1) Increase the airflow and sunlight to the area. By increasing the airflow and natural sunlight in a forest it will decrease and warrant off fungus propagation. Fungus is a leading killer of arboriculture and steps taken early are critical for survival. Arboriculture needs a healthy environment to grow, and when forests become over crowded it becomes a recipe for disease and eventually kills the arboriculture.

      2) Weight reduction (if on a slope.) Decreasing top heavy trees weight will decreases the unnecessary force put on slopes and potential slide areas. It is imperative to reduce weight being put on slopes. In the arborist community we refer to overweight trees on slopes as the “Pendulum Effect.” This is when the top of the tree becomes heavier than its root structure and it will eventually topple a tree and uproot the life force of the tree. When arboriculture is kept lower to the ground it increases root propagation and aids in slope preservation.

      3) Removal of dead limbs and addressing exposed root structures is essential for health of the arboriculture area. Dead limbs and branches connected to trees have died for a reason. The above mentioned airflow, light, and fungus, are usually the reason disease has set in and it is imperative to address and remove deceased vegetation before disease spreads further.
      When an exposed root structure is seen (most common on a slope) it is due to the top weight overpowering the ground and pulling the root structure in an upward direction (Pendulum Effect.) Removing weight from the top of the arboriculture will help the root structure grow deeper and wider underground versus continuing to grow in the superficial layer of ground.

      Last, fire hazards are always a concern in dense urban forests. Fires spread extremely fast where arboriculture is densely populated. When there is an abundance of a fuel source (arboriculture) fire transfers quickly and easily making firefighting more difficult. Removing and slowing the ability for fire to transfer from tree to tree by removing the fuel source is key to prevention.

      In addition, densely populated forests make it challenging for fire fighters to combat fires. Creating access points and fire lines for fire fighters as a preventative measure are key for fire prevention.

      Good luck – Just my view point


      Dave “The Arborist”

  13. Sara Morton says:

    How convenient that Dave the Arborist shows up and supports topping right now. Completely counter to the national arbor groups at that…

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