Tree Commission Responds to Community Concerns on Trees

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By Renee Applegate

DAVIS – On Thursday, June 17, the Davis Tree Commission met to review a street tree removal request regarding a Honey Locust tree located on 1112 Radcliffe Drive. The resident who sent in the request cited “limited growing space” as the reason for removal.

As stated in part in the opening statement at The Tree Commission meeting:

“The Tree Commission provides guidance to the Urban Forest Manager and to the City Council regarding tree removal and replacement requests. 

The Tree Commission provides for the protection, preservation and enhancement of Davis’ urban forest.  The Tree Commission is charged to recommend the removal of a City tree on a case-by-case basis fort he following reasons:

  • Poor health, identifiable diseases, exceedingly slow growth, large scale limb failure and decay;
  • Potential for hazardous conditions that are caused by the street tree and cannot be mitigated without the removal of the tree

The Tree Commission does not have the authority to recommend the removal of a City Tree for its debris such as leaves, fruit, nuts, pollen, pine cones, needles, etc., nor does it have the authority to recommend the removal of a tree for its potential as an allergen or for solar collector installation per Municipal Code Section 40.38.00.  The Tree Commission does not have the authority to remove a tree if it is healthy. ”

 To begin the review process, Urban Forestry Supervisor Justis Nichols briefed the commission about the street tree removal request from the resident located at Radcliffe Drive.

In the removal request, the resident, or “customer,” cited safety concerns about the Honey Locust tree in light of the fact that one of their neighbors “with the same kind of tree had a limb fall on their driveway ten years ago.” 

In the complaint, the customer added that the next-door neighbor’s tree, no more than fifteen feet away, leaves insufficient canopy space for both trees. 

“We’re getting one canopy from two trees,” said the customer at Radcliffe Drive during the public comment period. The customer wants to remove the tree and plant a replacement tree at a different location in their front yard. By planting a tree and providing canopy coverage elsewhere, the customer believes it would benefit the whole neighborhood by “getting the maximum shade canopy from the trees we have.”

“If we had a different tree elsewhere, we would get additional canopy or shade — not just one canopy from two trees. This would also give us the opportunity to plant a more climate-ready tree,” the customer contended. In doing so, they believe this would “provide maximum exposure for the tree canopy.”

To emphasize their concern, the customer said they would be open to contributing financially to pay for the removal of the Honey Locust tree and the planting of a climate-ready tree in a different location on their property.

Furthermore, during the street tree removal request discussion, Nichols also went over the staff evaluation of the tree with the members of the Tree Commission. While going over the staff report, Nichols confirmed that there were no alarming health issues regarding the tree. In fact, he asserts that the tree in question is in good health — without mistletoe or a history of limb failures. For these reasons, Nichols recommended the commission to maintain the tree on Radcliffe Drive.  The Tree Commission is not authorized to remove healthy trees.  As a matter of fact,

“The two trees coexisting next to each other isn’t necessarily a problem for them to form into one canopy,” Nichols clarified. He said that the two trees being fifteen feet apart and forming a single canopy is a common occurrence, and neither poses safety concerns nor increases safety risks.

Before opening the meeting up to public comment, Tree Commission Chair Colin Walsh highlighted the fact that the “tree had previously been asked to be removed in 2019, but was retained with unanimous vote” due to being in good health. In the 2019 request, the customer had also offered to plant a different tree. During their public comment, the customer established that they wish to plant a climate-ready tree in a different location of their front yard and asked that the commission approve their request to remove the tree.

Commissioner John Reuter expressed skepticism about removing the Honey Locust tree due to the tree’s size and age. “This is a fairly old tree,” said Reuter. “This tree probably took decades of time to achieve its height and canopy coverage.” 

“I’m afraid that by taking this tree down and replacing it with a small tree, the timeline it would take for the small tree to grow and provide the same service that this tree provides now is way too long,” Reuter said.

Commissioner David Robinson motioned that the Tree Commission follow the staff recommendation and retain the tree. Commissioner Tracy DeWit seconded the motion. Robinson, Reuter, DeWit and Walsh unanimously voted to pass the motion.

“I can understand the desire to have climate-ready trees, broader shade, having shade located in different locations. But from my perspective, it’s not something that we’re in power to do to remove a healthy tree,” Walsh explained in his closing remarks. Walsh also mentioned that decisions made by the commission can be appealed to the City Council. 

Another issue important to many downtown businesses was raised at this meeting and that is the use of  twinkle lights in trees in downtown Davis.  What some business owners may not realize is that all of the twinkle lights placed in city trees downtown are illegal and don’t comply with city code.  A representative from the Davis Downtown Business Association (DDBA) attended the meeting and spoke to the commission on the issue.  The commission made recommendations for how to adjust the policy to both protect trees downtown and have twinkle lights.

What was very apparent from this meeting and other Tree Commission meetings is that the urban landscape in Davis plays a very important role to home owners, business owners and the community at large.  Davis is a city that loves trees and works hard to maintain them.

 Renee Applegate is a fourth-year student at UC Davis, currently majoring in Political Science (Public Service) and minoring in Environmental Policy & Planning and Professional Writing. She is from San Clemente, CA.

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8 thoughts on “Tree Commission Responds to Community Concerns on Trees”

  1. Bill Marshall

    Given some of the Commissioners comments, am surprised that no compromise was proposed… plant a new tree, get it started, and and after it reached a certain height/canopy, the other tree could be removed.

    Nah, the ‘druids’ would thank the owner for the new tree, and require the other to remain as well…

    Commissioner Walsh’s comment is interesting…

    “I can understand the desire to have climate-ready trees, broader shade, having shade located in different locations. But from my perspective, it’s not something that we’re in power to do to remove a healthy tree,” Walsh explained in his closing remarks. Walsh also mentioned that decisions made by the commission can be appealed to the City Council. “

    Yes it is within their power, as it is subject to appeal, even by staff, to the CC… or Walsh may have been giving a ‘hint’ to the applicant is not satisfied with the decision, they have recourse to the CC… will be interesting to see how this plays out… at least the Commission went with staff recommendation… often, historically, even when staff recommended removal, the commission would go for ‘preservation’… even when the tree was causing significant private or public property damage.

  2. Alan Miller

    Just say it might fall on a child and take it to the City Council.  (I and many others forever bitter about the beautiful tree removed at Eureka & College Park using the ‘but it might fall on the children’ argument.  That tree never should have been removed.  Note:  that was a past City Council)

    1. Bill Marshall

      And, we have a young Mom dead because there were repeated concerns about a tree in Slide Hill Park, but no action taken… knowing what will actually happen in any given case is a ‘crap-shoot’ at best…

      Alan M may be well correct, and the argument “it’s for the kids” is specious (discrimination against adults?  They can have trees/limbs fall on them, but kids can’t?)… I wonder what the arborists recommendation was in the case Alan M cites…

      It’s all about risk management and trade-offs…

  3. Don Shor

    This is the not-fun part of being on the tree commission, I’d imagine. Owner wants a tree removed because they consider it a nuisance, don’t like the litter, want to do something else with their yard, want solar panels, etc. The commission got this exactly right, even though these are not popular decisions.

    The application for tree removal has the following verbiage:

    The Tree Commission provides leadership and guidance to the Urban Forest Manager and to the City Council regarding tree removal and replacement requests. The Tree Commission provides for the protection, preservation, and enhancement of the Davis urban forest.

    The Tree Commission is charged to evaluate the need to remove a City tree on a case by case basis for trees in the following condition:  Poor health, diseases, exceedingly slow growth, large scale limb failure, decay, and continued invasive root problems;  Potential for hazardous conditions that are caused by the street tree and cannot be mitigated without the removal of the tree.

    The Tree Commission does not have the authority to recommend the removal of a City Tree for its debris, such as leaves, fruit, nuts, pollen, pine cones, needles, etc., nor does it have the authority to recommend tree removal for solar collector installation per Municipal Code Section 40.38.00.

    The Tree Commission does not have the authority to remove a tree if it is healthy.

    All Tree Commission decisions can be appealed to the City Council for their consideration. Appeals must be made within 10 Days of Tree Commission ruling notification.

    I see nothing in this article that suggests this tree is within the parameters by which they could approve the request. It is not a species we recommend any more for various reasons, but none of those reasons have to do with risk or safety.

  4. Bill Marshall

    The Tree Commission provides leadership and guidance to the Urban Forest Manager and to the City Council regarding tree removal and replacement requests.

    Sounds like the decision making lies with the Urban Forest Manager, which is also subject to appeal to CC.  Contrast that to the proposed revision:

    A. Tree Commission. The Tree Commission shall review and approve or deny Tree Removal Requests; hear appeals from decisions of the Urban Forest Manager regarding public nuisances; hear appeals regarding denials of Tree Modification Permit Applications; and review and make recommendations to City Council regarding designations of Landmark Trees.

    There appears to be no provisions for an appeal to CC if the Commission denies an application… only if they approve one…

    637460643461970000 (cityofdavis.org)

  5. Ron Glick

    I went by and looked at the tree. This is a perfect example of the absurdity and over reach of the ordinance. Yes, the tree looks healthy but its not that big a tree. If the owner of the home is unhappy with it they should be able to remove it and plant something else. The sooner they do so the sooner any lost shade canopy can start to recover.  The owners argument about the two tree canopies abutting one another is accurate.

    “Commissioner John Reuter expressed skepticism about removing the Honey Locust tree due to the tree’s size and age. ‘This is a fairly old tree,’ said Reuter. ‘This tree probably took decades of time to achieve its height and canopy coverage.’” 

    The tree may be “fairly old” but its no 1000 year old redwood or anything close to something a reasonable person would argue should be considered a landmark tree.  I don’t even think its two feet in diameter DBH. The shade canopy loss wouldn’t be that significant as the companion locust tree would immediately start to spread out and occupy the space through a process of phototropism whereby plants grow toward the light and would fill the gap created by taking the tree down.

    I just shake my head at the idea that this is going to go to the City Council. I’m hopeful that the CC would defer to the desires of the homeowner. Sure, its a nice tree but its not significant enough that the desires of the homeowner should be vetoed by the community.

    One thing the story didn’t say was whether any neighbors turned out to oppose the removal?

  6. George Galamba

    I have always been bemused by our willingness to value life based on age.  You can cut down a young tree, but an old tree has a greater claim to life.  But when the ship is sinking, it is “Women and children first,” or as Bill Marshall notes above, if you want to remove a tree, you have to argue that it might fall on a kid, not an old man.  Just an observation.

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