Letter: Sierra Club Yolano Group Supports a Community Dialogue on Solar PV Displacing Trees at Sutter Hospital

Sutter Parking Lot Shade Trees 1 – Courtesy Photo

By Alan Pryor

Dear Council members and Commissioners –

The Sierra Club Yolano Group is aware of the current controversy surrounding the placement of solar photovoltaic panels in parking lots at Sutter Hospital. To be clear, the Yolano Group supports both solar electrical generation and trees and realizes that sometimes these interests will conflict and compete with each other with respect to land use.

For instance, we actively supported Yolo County’s rapid expansion of ground-based solar PV systems but adamantly opposed their placement at Grasslands Park south of Davis on Mace Boulevard where it displaced a vernal pool and rare and endemic plants. We supported the deployment of wind turbines in southeastern Sutter County but opposed their placement in the Pacific Flyway near Clarksburg where their spinning blades could kill migrating and nesting birds. In each case there were acceptable alternative nearby locations where the alternative energy systems could be placed without adverse environmental impacts.

It appears that such an analysis of alternative placement sites for the PV panels at Sutter Hospital has not been performed and we support such a process to help ensure that the maximum environmental benefits of PV deployment are obtained. We understand that two city commissions are currently looking at this exact same question, the Tree Commission and the Natural Resources Commission, and that such a review will be completed and recommendations issued within just a few months.

The Davis community has numerous alternative energy and tree experts who can provide valuable input into these investigations for a measured deliberation which expertise should be fully utilized. We therefore request the Davis City Council defer final approval of the Sutter Hospital PV project until this Commission review, along with community input, is finalized and their final recommendations are issued.


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17 thoughts on “Letter: Sierra Club Yolano Group Supports a Community Dialogue on Solar PV Displacing Trees at Sutter Hospital”

        1. Bill Marshall

          I wonder about the process. (RG)

          Missed that first two times… nice riposte to the previous thread!

          The City of Davis has a requirement that a development shade 50% of their parking lot with tree canopies within 15 years of issuance of the building permits. This is reviewed at plan check, but is not enforced thereafter. Nevertheless, it is city code. [DS]

          Unpacking a bit… review at plan check… yeah, right… the landscape architects use 15-20-25 canopy estimates to show compliance @ plan check… then have the trees planted in 48 ” MH barrels (Oak Tree Plaza, close to 50 years old), or in 4 X 4 foot planters (Oakshade [?] Commons, ~ 30 years old)… in both situations the rest of the soil adjacent is compacted to 85-90 % of max density… correct me Don, but I thought for most species used in landscaping, including for shade, canopy diameter is roughly the same as ‘room’, and friable soil… and look at the evidence at those two sites, after all those years, supposedly compliant with the tree ordinance you cite.  Landscape architects can generate great ‘pictures’ via CADD, showing ‘future canopies’… reality is different… many of City staff have known this for decades, but were effectively silenced during plan check (Planners are not arborists… neither are engineers, but we understood the arborists concerns… but had no ‘standing’ during plan check of tree planting plans (or, should I say ‘schemes’?).

          According to City Ordinance?  Law?  As it relates to civil or constitutional property rights?  Do you really want to go there?  Not going there now, but that would be a “no-brainer” to cite a plethora of local, state laws that existed in the past, and many still do, or will soon be enacted, that violate civil rights or arguably violate constitutional property rights.  Too easy…

          Many of those laws/ordinances have not been ‘tested’ in the Courts… why not?  Too easy to, like ‘the tree ordinance’ to feign compliance, knowing you’d not likely “get caught” violating the INTENT of the ordinance, and citing “well the City reviewed and approved it” as a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

          The “mature” 20 year old pictures of the Sutter Hospital parking lot… given the species involved, they have done better from the room they were given… but Don, are those trees bearing the canopy you’d expect if they were planted appropriately?

          There are pros and cons on this issue, but the reality solar panels will do MUCH more towards 50% (they might get to 75+%) shading of asphalt concrete, PCC, in the parking lots, than those trees ever will… and some think solar panels are aesthetically ‘cool’… we love trees, have a small forest in the back yard… those trees are around 20-27 years old… except for one or two, they are robust, and were allowed to grow unfettered by restricted ” tree wells”, and without heavily compacted soils in their root zones…

          Just saying… this issue is a matter of ‘trade-offs’, but earlier today you ‘cherry-picked’ some of those, with an understandable ‘bias’… it isn’t rocket science, but it is complex… and I lean somewhat towards private property rights absent compelling arguments to set those aside… just not seeing those, at this point in the narratives.

          Time will tell.


    1. Bill Marshall

      You are correct RG… nada on the website… leaves me to conclude it is not a front burner issue for the Yolo Group, to date, and the “we” is either “royal form”, or based on some conversations with some of the members.

      Doesn’t mean the concerns are invalid, based on previous positions of the “Group”, but the article sure seems to imply more “consensus” than has transpired, at least to date.  I’d give the article a “pass”, with “more than a few grains of salt”.

      One thing no one wants to talk about… when trees lose their leaves, die, and/or disposed are disposed of (including, “left to rot”), what happens to the carbon “sequestered”?  Does it re-enter the biosphere?  I strongly suspect, over time, it does.

      Composting releases CO2, as does rotting… I suspect only unmined coal and diamonds are the only two forms that keep carbon ‘sequestered’…

        1. Bill Marshall

          Thank you for elaborating on my list… I do not disagree… but new state laws push for newspapers/cardboard to be diverted from landfills… as we export a lot of paper waste (paper recycling) to China/Asia not sure where that ends up… might even be ‘fuel’… but reality is, it took millions of years to sequester carbon in carbonates, un-mined oil, gas, coal, and diamonds… not sure we can replicate that within our lifetimes… and then, much more so…

          And if I recall, we also have bi-carbonates (alka-seltzer?), and carbonated beverages… CO injection (except for ‘brewskis’), for the latter… if you let your drink go ‘flat’ or drink it, then burp, or experience flatulence… CO2 returns to the biosphere… actually, never really left it…

          I will take you amendment as a ‘friendly clarification/amendment’…

  1. Tim Keller

    What a startlingly reasonable proposition on this topic.   I’m actually surprised.

    Still..  this is one of those “Only in Davis” issues….   I give it 2 out of 5 toad tunnels

    a simple carbon offset analysis should be performed.  It will likely show that the lifetime CO2 reduction impact of the solar is greater than the absorption of the trees…. But who knows… if you include manufacture, transit and installation… it might not.   I’m 100% confident that the baseline numbers to do this analysis are readily available.

    the hospital should pay to have a 1.5x number of trees planted elsewhere anyway…. It’s so cheap as a remediation alternative why not do that…

    1. Don Shor

      a simple carbon offset analysis should be performed.

      This isn’t a spreadsheet issue unless you can quantify the following:

      Benefits of trees:
      Cool local surfaces.
      Reduce urban heat island effect.
      Reduce wind locally.
      Trap and remove pollution and fine particles from the air.
      Trap and reduce dust.
      Provide habitat, food sources, and nesting sites for wildlife.
      Provide food for pollinators and beneficial insects.
      Reduce energy usage by cooling the air.
      Increase property values, appreciate over time.
      Have proven psychological benefits.
      Aesthetic values: beauty, leaf and bark textures, seasonal flowers, fall color.
      Sequester carbon.

      Solar panels:
      Produce electricity.
      Offset carbon use by conventional sources.

      the hospital should pay to have a 1.5x number of trees planted elsewhere anyway…. It’s so cheap as a remediation alternative why not do that…

      That’s the problem. It shouldn’t be cheap to remove 20-year-old trees.

      1. Tim Keller

        Don, point taken.

        Analyses like those quickly devolve into “what is important” debates about what goes into the metrics.

        I experienced this when calling out the cork industry over their green washing campaign where they really abused a lifecycle analysis by taking credit for the sequestration performed by the cork trees (trees that would be sequestering that carbon whether or not you stripped the bark off them for wine closures)

        But at least when you are having THOSE debates, you are arguing about facts and trying to weight them appropriately.   When the alternative is just digging into unsubstantiated positions at best, and as-hominem attacks at worst…. I’ll take the debate about the environmental excel sheet!

      2. Tim Keller

        That’s the problem. It shouldn’t be cheap to remove 20-year-old trees.

        This is where the property rights part of the conversation comes in.   Assuming that Sutter planted these trees themselves on their own land…. If they relocate the aspects of the trees that provide communal good, and increase that communal benefit by planting a greater number of trees elsewhere….  Then what are they taking from US that we should have any right to an opinion on what they do on their own property?

        Is there something I’m missing?   Are these “city trees” like most of us have in our front yard?  Is this parking lot not Sutter property?

      3. Ron Glick

        You can do this the hard way or the easy way. I think we should start with the easy way.

        First how much energy is Sutter planning to generate/day?

        Next how much carbon dioxide would be made by an efficient gas powered plant generating the same amount of electricity/day?

        Finally how much Carbon dioxide/day  could be expected to be sequestered by the trees through photosynthesis.

        Once you have some idea of the Carbon balances then you can argue about the rest.

  2. Dave Hart

    I love the general experience of driving into the Sutter Hospital parking lots because of the tree canopy there.  I’m a tree lover. Like everywhere else, as a Sac Valley summertime shade connoisseur, I also find it hard to find an actual parking spot with shade.  Those few spots fill quickly for obvious reasons. Trees planted in parking lots rarely provide even a majority of spaces with actual useable shade.  I parked at Davis High School to get a Covid test a couple days ago and appreciated the reliable and plentiful shady spots under the panels, so I’m conflicted in favor of  the solar panel conversion mostly because it’s August and it’s hot and shade is important when you need to drive somewhere.  And as Mr. Keller stated above, if the city has leverage to get Sutter to plant 1.5x as many trees as they remove, I’d consider it a good deal.  Getting to carbon neutrality or even negative carbon impact is a goal, that if taken seriously, will impact everyone, possibly even including tree lovers like myself.

  3. Richard_McCann

    I suggest those interested in the issue of revising the City’s parking lot shade ordinance, you can attend the Temporary Joint Subcommittee that meets next on Wed August 25 at 5 pm.

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