By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The City Council will hear the appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval to install 11 solar canopies as part of the Sutter Davis Hospital campus expansion.
On July 14, the Planning Commission had approved the second phase of a project at Sutter Davis which “included the installation of 11 solar carport/canopies over an existing paved parking lot and the removal of approximately 63 trees.”
Following the decision by the Planning Commission, the city received two appeals, with each requesting a different modification.
Sutter appealed and requested the “removal of the two conditions of approval that were added by the Planning Commission.”
Alan Hirsch filed the second appeal, asking 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.
The city staff recommends the denial of Hirsch’s appeal. They note that it refers to a permit issued on June 14, 2019, but says, “There was no tree modification permit issued on this date, but rather a Notice of Intent to Approve…”
Staff notes that the Phase 1 portion of the project is “fully-approved” and construction has commenced.
They add, “A combination of planting a total of 142 trees and paid tree mitigation fees in the amount of $73,472 mitigate for the 1,260.5 required mitigation inches for the removal of the Phase 1 trees.”
Back in July, in a phone interview with the Vanguard, Alan Hirsch felt that this was less about the trees and more about city process.
“This is not about the trees,” he said. “This is about city process.”
He added, “I find it absurdly farcical that basically that if I wanted a tree removed from my front yard, protect the tree, I would have to go through a city council, a public hearing for the city, for the tree commission, but Sutter hospital can remove … 205 trees and Sherri Metzker (City Planner) can say the tree commission has nothing to add or input on the process.”
He charged, “This was a conscious decision by the staff not to inform the tree commission or the public.”
Hirsch said he believes that this should be a council decision, not the city staff, and “I find this makes me distrust the entire city process.”
From a policy standpoint, Alan Hirsch told the Vanguard he believes this proposal can be improved considerably.
“I think they can save more of the trees,” he said. “I think some of the solar panels should have been put on the roof. Staff never inquired about that.”
According to Hirsch, Sutter Hospital believes that would be unfeasible.
“That means it costs too much money,” he said. “It’s about money. It’s not about energy, because if it was about energy they would put it on the roof regardless of the cost. We want to save money, we want to do it as cheaply as possible.”
The Planning Commission approved Phase 2 on a 6-1 vote, although the Commission “added and modified conditions of approval to address its concerns about having vegetation within the planter strips and to require the applicant to transplant all existing Phase 2 mature trees identified to be in good condition (43 trees).”
Staff notes: “There have been questions about whether this project should have gone before the Tree Commission but considering the tree removal is part of a discretionary application and not solely a tree removal application, the Davis Municipal Code specifies that tree removal with a discretionary application should be reviewed as part of the discretionary entitlement application.”
Staff does recommend the appeal by Sutter be partially granted with the removal of the condition of approval that requires that all 43 existing on-site trees be transplanted, but that the council “deny Sutter’s request to remove the condition of approval requiring planting additional shrubs and ground cover in the planter strips to ensure a fully vegetated planter at maturity.”
In response to Hirsch’s appeal, the city said that under CEQA, they can rely on the findings of the previous EIR that analyzed the impacts of the project so long as the current project remains within the scope.
The city notes that the 1993 EIR “did not contain any requirement for tree planting to reduce glare on the hospital property. The only reference to glare reduction was related to the highway—commercial zoned properties known as the Head Properties to the east of the hospital.”
Moreover, the city argues that the Hirsch appeal provides no evidence to support his claim that the project would increase the glare.
Further, while the appeal claims that the mitigation plan fails to compensate all the trees required in the 1993 project plan, “the appellant provided no evidence to support this claim.”
They note, “The 142 trees proposed to be removed in Phase 1 will be mitigated onsite by planting of 142 additional trees to comply with the requirements (of) Tree Ordinance.”
The city believes that these trees will be planted in locations that “maximize onsite tree planting areas.”
Third, the city disputes inadequate public process as being “not supported by the actions taken to approve the project.”
The city responds, “With respect to Phase 2, this part of the project was noticed under the City’s code requirements and has now been heard by Planning Commission and is before Council on appeal.”
Fourth, in response to tree shade requirements, “There are no specific requirements in the Davis Municipal Code (DMC) regarding the balancing of tree versus carport shading. The appellant failed to cite and/or provide the applicable Municipal Code section(s) and/or established processes that require a City Council action on a Design Review application.”
The city also found that they are in compliance with CEQA requirements as there “are no new or unusual circumstances related to the proposed project that would require further environmental review.”