Guest Commentary: Five Places Sutter Hospital Can Place Solar Panels to Avoid Cutting (at least some of) Mature Trees

By Alan Hirsch

The Davis Enterprise and Vanguard have now run five articles on Sutter Hospital’s Tree-to-Solar-Panel proposal to cut its most mature trees and install solar panels in the main parking lots. As noted by these articles, Sutter’s proposal has quietly advanced below the radar for the most part.  Phase I was official approved by city staff administratively in 2019 without any public notice, and Phase II was approved without review of Davis Tree Commission or input from Tree Davis. In fact, city staff seem so cavalier about the process it issued a cutting permit for Phase II four month before the solar panels were approved.

Environmentalist do not object to the cutting of any trees per se. We simply request a public hearing and discussion to gather input and ideas from our community, which includes not just arborists but solar panel designers and patients, doctors and nurses who might view the tradeoffs of trees vs solar panel differently than the engineers who proposed the solar design.

And as the accompanying diagram shows, there are choices. Use of the thirty acres Sutter owns north of the hospital has never been discussed.

What is confusing is over 90% of proposed tree cutting are  unrelated to the expansion of the hospital building, they are related only to replacing tree with solar panels in the parking lot.  “Sutter phase I” from 2019 artificially conjoined two projects: the hospital building expansion (in largely treeless area) and a parking tree-to-solar project.

Then the new “Phase II” had no hospital constructions only  trees-to-solar.  Phase II what is under appeal.

Yet the media and commentary miss this complexity.   The writing about Sutter’s tree to PV proposal, including several letters to the editor and a Channel 13 TV news report, have jumped to the simplistic conclusion this is a binary either/or proposition: trees or solar.  Some Letters in the Enterprise have labeled those who want trees even considered “false environmentalists.”  Other misinformed individuals have jumped to the conclusion that the quest to save a few trees will halt the entire physical hospital expansion plans.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Now is the time for the City Council to pause the tree cutting a few weeks to allow a Tree Commission Meeting, at a minimum, to discuss the alternatives. City staff could even speed thing by preemptively putting  in on Tree Commission agenda on August 19th before the Council hearing.   This would allow Sutter to move forward in a responsible and sustainable manner.

We believe Sutter medical staff and leadership have been badly advised by its contract engineers, architects, and about public process by process by city staff.  We hope the medical facility and other leaders to join the Davis community in making a request to council to inquire if we can have both solar panels and trees.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Ron Oertel

    Environmentalist do not object to the cutting of any trees per se. We simply request . . .

    On a broader level, what is it that “we” request, anyway? (Environmentalists, that is.)

    Or as Admiral Stockdale once said, “Who am I – why am I here”?

    Or more accurately, “what” are we?

    And bringing it back to this issue, trees vs. solar panels – an increasingly tough choice? (At least, when there’s a blank slate.)

  2. Ron Glick

    Alan is barking up the wrong tree.

    I read yesterday in the light overbelly of Davis news that Sutter is putting in a helicopter pad. I hadn’t heard about this before but recognize it as a huge noise impact on the area. Having lived in the Redwoods when Nancy Davis was telling kids to just say no and Operation Camp was mixing green weed with napalm  in giant cop open pit smoke outs  I can attest that helicopters landing and taking off can be a huge nuisance if you live nearby.

    I wonder is it too late to weigh in on helicopters at Sutter?

    1. Bill Marshall

      Never too late… another egregious example of lack of notification and gathering input from affected ‘stakeholders’/public… for sure, anyone in the flight path of those helicopters, Natural Resources Commission (carbon emissions, compared to bicycle conveyance of those in need of critical care), Audubon folk (birds get traumatized, sometimes killed or injured by those blades), etc….

      I was wrong when I said ‘never too late’… there are statutory appeal period limits (‘gotta change THOSE regressive, un-democratic laws), so, act now!

      Meant in the same spirit as yours, Ron G… I caught your ‘drift’… just trying to embellish… I should have leaf-ed it alone, lest this thread branches out too far, but decided to go out on a limb…

  3. Matt Williams

    The graphic in the article gives five alternatives.  I believe there is a very good sixth alternative, which would be a collaboration between Sutter and the City of Davis to create solar on the site immediately north of the 30 acres that Sutter owns.

    That parcel which currently houses a water tank for the City of Davis water system, could easily add a solar farm which could meet Sutter’s needs, as well as provide renewable electrical power for the City’s use.  That water tank site has the added advantage of having no trees on that parcel.

  4. larryguenther

    I don’t believe Alan should speak for all environmentalists. For me it is definitely about cutting trees! Alan has said before that this is not a tree issue, it’s a process issue. It’s not a binary choice – it’s both. And – again – as far as I’m concerned, this absolutely about cutting trees.

    I completely agree with Alan that solar and trees are not a binary choice. This is actually a perfect opportunity for both. Leave the trees and put solar where there aren’t trees.

    Sutter has to want this, of course. From a completely business perspective, with no regard for community, beauty, the increased recovery speed of their patients, or the environment, trees cost money and solar is an income stream.

    As to Sutter’s response that putting solar on the roof isn’t “feasible.” That seems suspect for at least two reasons: 1) everybody else does it, 2) solar is an income stream. Assuming that “not feasible” means ‘costs more to do it that way’, the question is not ‘if’ it will pay itself off, the question is ‘when’. If it costs more, the payoff is longer, it’s not never.

    I’m also not sure that it is more expensive to put solar on the roof. There’s no earth work involved (i.e. trenching and pavement patching for running power lines, no foundation pads for structure, etc.) Putting the solar on the building would be far easier than putting it in undeveloped land. Given the same sort of structure they would use for the parking lots, they wouldn’t even have to find homes for the mechanicals that are on the roof – just put the panels over them.

    But this is about cutting trees. In a Pandemic year, Tree Davis and the City of Davis have planted 379 trees from 10/10/20 – 04/06/21. 205 trees at Sutter + 83 trees at Cousteau Pl. + 114 trees at Bretton Woods = net tree loss in a record-setting planting year. This does not even account for the fact that the trees cut down were/are mature trees and the ones being planted won’t be giving significant environmental benefit for 10-15 years. The climate clock (the time before we warm the Earth 1.5°C average), is less than 7 years away. NOAA has already confirmed that the U.S. is 1°C warmer.

    When, exactly, are we going to actually start doing things that decrease our environmental impact?

  5. Alan Hirsch

    Thanks for all your feedback. I learn so much listening to others

    I think the comment on the heliport is interesting. I may go and look at 1992 EIR if it was covered.

    Larry G is right. Yeah, I don’t speak for all environmentalist. Not even everyone who speak for trees.  I also believe many in the community are more pro-tree than me. Don Shor is the real Lorax is town (Oops! I outed him…he still in the closet on that.)

    I do want to fine tune my  above piece.

    I did a public document request of city to get a copy of tree cutting plan and a copy of the building plan from 2019.

    I got back I got unrelease documents- a pile of barely readable blueprint sized sheet shrunk down 50% .  unreadable legend and text.

    So much for transparency.

    But I being a nerd scan in the sheets in parts (they were 11 x 17) and and zoomed them up 200% and printed them out in parts and taped them together -I reconstructed a reconstructed the original blue print sized sheet.   (printing out eight 8 x11 sheet and taped together in a mosaic.

    I then examine these reconstructed – now readable -blue print sized sheet –and compared it to another blue print that showed where the building expansion was.   (not so easy, remember, modern blue prints they print out from CAD already have  micro-size type. )    What I discovered after a bit of study, there were quite a few of the 205 tree removals were smaller tree around the edge of building – tree that will have to be cut to expand the hospital.  So my article above has a misstatement: I would now guess 30-35% of tree canopy reduction and 50% of tree count related to expansion of hospital. The rest is related to tree>solar conversion.

    My question NOW is: I was told the 205 tree cutting number by the city planning office, and it has be out there for 4 weeks now. I have called city planner multiple times. yet they never mentioned an analysis that tied any of the trees to hospital expansion.  Staff had a chance to respond at Planning commission Meeting.  So why has city or  Sutter not clarified this distinction in newspaper interview, or at least provided a readable document that would have clarified it?

    Is the problem transparency- or did city staff just never interograte analyze why a tree should be cut so they don’t have the numbers.



  6. Alan Hirsch

    re:Heliport  No public notice on was give the public in the 6-14-19 notice to public or approval given in 12-9 19  letter from city to Sutter.  A large number of tree are being cut for this reason, but this was not disclosed.

    I have no idea if it was OK’ed in concept in 1992 EIR.

    When I review the reconstruction of the 2019 blue prints I got from my public records request, it was only called out once with words “EMS landing”.

    Did URC and other apartment and building across the street exist in 1992?  Does that matter?  Should we discuss in public now vs later?




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