By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Council largely followed the recommendation of staff on Sutter Place, unanimously rejecting the appeal by Alan Hirsch while following staff’s recommendation on a partial grant of the appeal by Sutter itself.
Following the July 14 Planning Commission approval of the second phase of a project at Sutter Davis that included the installation of 11 solar carport canopies with the removal of an additional 63 trees, both Sutter and citizen Alan Hirsch filed separate appeals.
Hirsch asked the council to overturn the Planning Commission approval and the Tree Modification Permit issued for the removal of 142 trees to implement the first phase of the project.
Following the meeting, Hirsch took solace in a small victory, telling the Vanguard, “That Sutter rejiggers their plans (saving 11 of the 63 trees)—it was a small but significant acknowledgment that city staff work was not the best, and that, more importantly, the community needed to be listened to.”
Instead, he said, “Council members Lucas (Frerichs) and (Will) Arnold communicated indirectly they understood something is broken.”
He added, “In the end, the city planning process ill-served Sutter, what should have (been) celebration of a hospital expansion was clouded by public controversy that (could have been) easily averted.”
On the other hand, Councilmember Dan Carson believes that the process overall could result in an improvement of tree cover.
By his measure, there were a total of 365 trees on the campus prior to the project, with 205 on-site trees removed.
One hundred forty-two of those would be replaced on campus, but he believes another 1271 can be purchased using the mitigation funds with $184 thousand at the cost of $145 per tree. Thus a net gain of 1573 trees.
“(The) total number of trees post-project is more than four times the original number,” he claimed. “The 1271 increase in trees exceeds the 1000 trees that are being added from (a) recent Prop. 68 state grant.”
From this, Carson concluded, “It’s clear that we have a pretty significant expansion of the number of trees in this city based on the mitigation dollars that the applicant will pay.”
Mayor Gloria Partida noted that the council already knew this was something that they had to start looking at.
She said, “I’m happy to hear that we will have a discussion about a change in our policy and I’m glad that Mr. Hirsch brought this forward because as this changes we do need to reassess how we manage how things that are important in this community—and obviously trees are important to us in this community.”
Indeed, she pointed out that when the ordinance was written the city was not thinking along the lines of reducing carbon footprint. Nor were they thinking about the importance of solar panels and the coexistence of solar panels with the city tree canopy.
“When Sutter started thinking about their planning, it was before this time,” Partida added.
Will Arnold noted, following comments from Roberta Millstein, “The value of trees is greater than their shade.” He added, “The value of trees is also greater to the city and ecosystem than solar panels. That’s a clear starting point.”
At the same time, he pointed out, like Gloria Partida, “this is private property.” He said, “As a general matter, the rights of private property owners will be respected and I don’t presume that we will tell them what to do with their property—provided it still fits within the zoning.”
Councilmember Carson noted how many trees were burned up in the Oregon fires of Labor Day 2020. One expert estimated in Oregon the number of trees per acre were 347—though Carson acknowledged the number in California could be a fraction of that.
“But even if you assume a much much lower number, this summer, we have lost hundreds of millions of trees if the director of Forestry in Oregon is even remotely correct,” he said. “It’s not all due to climate change … climate change made it easier for fires to start, made them spread further, made them far more destructive and the best solution that scientific research is telling us is to try to reduce greenhouse emissions.”
He noted that trees have many benefits, “but from the standpoint of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it’s not even close—and what we get from solar panels is that huge beneficial impact immediately.”
He said this “is a race against the clock” and if we don’t (hurry) “hundreds of millions of more trees are going to burn.”
The data he cited showed that the hospital expansion would add 542 tons of CO2 per year, but that would be more than mitigated by the installation of solar panels which would reduce the carbon footprint by more than double—1244 tons.
“This project would reduce twice the amount of GHG emissions that the hospital expansion would add,” he said. “According to the US EPA, that’s the equivalent of the CO2 emissions from 2,880 barrels of oil annually. EPA also calculates that it is the annual GHG reduction (that) would be equivalent of planting 20,570 tree seedlings and letting them grow for ten years.”
Carson thus reframed the issue: “It’s not an issue of 60 trees versus solar panels. It’s an issue of what is the best balanced strategy for addressing what (are) the stresses on our environment and on our lifestyle.”
Colin Walsh, who chairs the Tree Commission, told the Vanguard after the meeting, “I am encouraged by the City Council and City staff’s support for an idea I put forward some months ago. There needs to be a criteria set that defines when a project goes before the Tree Commission.”
He added, “I appreciate the work Alan Hirsch did to bring this issue to the forefront. The debate we have had as a result is a healthy one and will likely lead to better city process in the future”