Council to Hear Appeal of Sutter Place Planning Commission Approval

Courtesy Photo

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

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.”

Sutter claims that these two “conditions are cost prohibitive and present substantial confounding issues that jeopardize implementation of the Sutter Davis Hospital solar array installation.”

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.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ron Glick

    “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 …”

    Easier said than done. It might be easier and more successful to replant with trees in large containers.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Trick question, for the audience, but the answer is better from you Don… if you had a choice, between a replanted tree, a ‘boxed tree’, or a 5-10 gallon tree, which would you recommend to a client, for best long-term results?

        I’m no expert, but have heard the same answer from 3 arborists over the years… (most tree species)….


        1. Don Shor

          5 – 10 gallon. The smaller the better. Dollar for dollar, I’d rather plant ten one-gallon trees, or five bare-root trees, than one fifteen gallon. I’d rather plant three fifteen gallon trees than one 24″ box tree. Bigger box trees have a greater likelihood of root problems due to the stages of transplant they’ve gone through, and they’re more difficult for landscape crews to plant properly. I can say from experience that the 15-gallon size is something wholesale growers generally do well with most species, so it is the best size to spec in landscape plans — especially in places with public access. They’re big enough to withstand minor vandalism and injury and usually have a head-start on proper training of the branch structure.
          Some species can be transplanted pretty readily even when mature. There’s a whole subset of the nursery industry that moves mature palms in Southern California (sold by the foot of height, based on the species) and similar nurseries up here sell and move mature olive trees. Moving 20-year-old Zelkovas and plane trees, especially ones that had been poorly maintained by Sutter, is a waste of time and resources.
          This whole thing is a travesty, but the planning commission’s recommendation on this aspect is ill-informed.
          The permit should be rescinded. Put the solar panels somewhere else. If not, vastly increased mitigation and effective oversight of that mitigation is necessary, with consequences for failure. The Tree Commission would have given much better advice.
          Given how poorly many of the trees in that parking lot have performed with their current installation and maintenance, I am not confident that simply requiring Sutter to plant a bunch of trees elsewhere will achieve the desired and mandated goal of 50% shading of the parking lot within ten years.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Thanks Don… EXACTLY the same answer I learned from several arborists… and reinforced by Tree Davis folk!

          Thanks for helping teach folk that “bigger is not always better”…  just thought it would be more persuasive coming from you.

          I have a someone different view as regards the permit, and the panels, which will actually provide more shading than the trees ever will.

          I also have a ‘problem’, with the “problem with process”… If a process is followed, however flawed, it is the process.  Change the process… but not retroactively… that goes against basic tenets of law and fairness.  Staff  (or commissions, or CC) should not proactively change the process once application is made, and deemed complete.  That would be an abuse of process, and basic rights.

          1. Don Shor

            which will actually provide more shading than the trees ever will.

            The problem is that the ‘shading’ provided by solar panels is not effective in reducing urban heat island effect, which is the primary goal of the 50% shading policy. Solar panels don’t cool the air.
            The 50% shading requirement should be revisited since it is not working well in large parking lots in Davis. Mostly that has to do with inadequate design, installation, and maintenance specs.

  2. Ron Oertel

    How many trees have been removed so far, and how many remain pending final decision?

    I assume the one in the photo no longer counts as “remaining”. Man, that really looks like hell (and kind of sad).

    1. Don Shor

      142 trees were removed for the expansion of the Sutter facility. 63 are slated for removal in this permit application for installation of solar panels. 43 of them are considered to be in good condition.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Thanks.  I saw those numbers referenced throughout the article, but did not see them presented clearly.

        So at this point, we’re talking about 20 trees that should probably be removed anyway?  And 43 that could be saved.

        Seems like it’s too “late” other than to “mitigate”.  (Hey, I could have been another Johnny Cochran.)

        Left out of this ongoing story is the reason that Sutter is (suddenly) planning to replace trees in a parking lot in the first place.  Since the parking lot is remaining, it does not seem to have a direct connection to the remodeling.

        For sure, it’s a waste of money to try to move semi-mature trees like this. And as you pointed out, would they be cared for – even if they lived? (Also, assuming that there weren’t plans for the property that they would be moved to, either.)

        I’d suggest some other mitigation, not sure what.

        1. Don Shor

          There is substantial mitigation: planting new trees and paying a fee. Some of us feel that it is insufficient, and feel that the whole thing could have been avoided in the first place. So this becomes a springboard for a discussion of the city’s commitment to an adequate and sustained urban tree canopy, which commissions would be best for actual oversight on an advisory basis, and how the process of removing large numbers of trees should be evaluated by staff, commissions, and the council.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Definitely lessons to be learned, and from what I gathered in the article, probably insufficient mitigation (even if “substantial”).

          And thanks for Alan H’s efforts, as well as everyone else involved (including you).

          As far as other mitigation, I’d semi-seriously suggest a “goodwill/voluntary” contribution toward resurrecting the Davis arch (in reference to the Davisite article, today).  No connection to trees, but a nice contribution for the community.

          Trees will increasingly disappear in Davis, as more development/infill occurs, and the use of solar panels increases.  Just the way it is.

          And putting them on some lot outside of the developed areas generally doesn’t benefit people.

          So the question will increasingly become “where” to mitigate for tree removal as the city becomes more developed.

          There will always be street trees, however.

          Once the Sutter trees are gone (and replaced by solar panels), you’ll never even know that they were there.  They won’t be missed, as time goes on.

          The only reason that there’s a controversy is because the trees preceded the solar panels.  If it was designed with solar panels “from scratch”, there probably wouldn’t be a controversy.

          I’d feel differently regarding heritage oaks, for example. Such as the one in Mace Ranch park. What a beauty, and I assume predates the city (by far).

          But these semi-mature sycamores? Not so much.

        3. Ron Oertel

          As far as other mitigation, I’d semi-seriously suggest a “goodwill/voluntary” contribution toward resurrecting the Davis arch (in reference to the Davisite article, today).  No connection to trees, but a nice contribution for the community.

          Just wanted to head-off a possible response, from any traffic engineers out there:  I realize that something like this can’t just be plopped-down without analysis, and that there was a reason to remove it (as it existed) in the first place.  It was just an idea.

          In any case, there’s other possible “beautification” efforts that can be made, other than mitigation using trees.  (Much of the appeal of trees is aesthetic.)

        4. Ron Oertel

          Richard_McCann September 20, 2021 at 2:03 pm
          Ron O
          As a resident of Woodland with no visible interests in Davis, you have no standing to voice your opinions about what the City of Davis. It’s as though someone from Texas is telling Californians how to run their state.
          Ignore Commenter

          ReplyReport comment ↓

          Ron Oertel September 20, 2021 at 2:09 pm
          I’ve never said anything regarding my residence on this blog, nor have I said anything about any connections to Davis that I may or may not have.
          In any case, you’re commenting in an article regarding the housing element, which had a corresponding committee which included a non-Davis resident.
          Some of the city staff do not live in the city of Davis.  Are you suggesting they should be fired?
          Are you a fan of Measure D, given your preference to limit the discussion regarding housing to only those who are current residents of Davis?  I ask because your comments have indicated otherwise – even when you acknowledge voting against a Measure D proposal, yourself.
          What relevance does any of this have regarding the substance of any comment or question?

          ReplyReport comment ↓

          Ron Oertel September 20, 2021 at 2:12 pm

          And as far as Texas is concerned, there appears to be plenty of people (from outside of that state) who are concerned about policies and laws in that state.
          For that matter, there is an intimate connection between communities such as Davis and Woodland, in regard to the housing market, “technology” parks, school systems, relationship/connections to UCD, etc.  Does this actually need to be explained to you?
          Seems to me that the ONLY purpose of your continued comments along this line are to discredit, without regard to substance of this comment. Do you think that reflects well upon you?
          I can assure you that I’ll continue to comment on here, and will continue to be involved in campaigns in Davis – despite your attempts to bully me off of here. I will also continue to weigh-in at the council level.

          You can no longer edit this comment.

          ReplyReport comment ↓

          Leave a Reply

        5. Ron Oertel

          In addition, Richard – are you claiming that the only patients that Sutter will accept are those who currently live in Davis?

          If so, that would not be correct. Does this ALSO need to be explained to you?

        6. Ron Oertel

          Are you seriously asking that question?  Where do you think the trees are located?

          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.

          Why do you waste time and energy (not just your own, but those whose comment you’re responding to)?

          Isn’t there already more than enough trolling that occurs on here?

  3. Bill Marshall

    The 50% shading requirement should be revisited since it is not working well in large parking lots in Davis. Mostly that has to do with inadequate design, installation, and maintenance specs.

    Absolutely agree!  It has been a bad joke for 40+ years.  Trees, planted in MH barrels (or 4′ X 4′ planters), getting 50% shading in 20 years?  Very bad joke.  Witness Oak Tree Plaza. Oakshade Commons, etc., etc.

  4. larryguenther

    I am on the Tree Commission and the Board of Directors for Tree Davis, but am speaking on my own behalf.

    One big issue – at least for me – is this process of ‘leapfrog mitigation.’ Trees take 10-15 years to get established and really start generating benefits. In the case of the Sutter proposal, the trees are being removed just as they begin to give their benefits. The replacement trees will not be giving their benefits for 10 years after they are planted. So these ‘trees to mitigate the trees that mitigated the bad effects’ of the negative impacts of the original development have also eliminated 10 years of beneficial impacts from the existing trees. And many of the new trees are going to a place that is ripe for development itself. So in 10 years, when Sutter expands again, these trees will be cut down and others will be planted to mitigate those. Meanwhile, the City never actually gets any benefit.

    And staff’s assertion that the appellant did not document that solar panels will cause more glare than trees? Holy moly. A great example of building a case on a legal quibble.

    1. Ron Glick

      The shade benefits of solar panel canopies are almost immediate. I recently picked up the kid at the high school. It was around 100 degrees F. I parked under the solar panels in the parking lot and the relief from direct sun was welcomed immediately upon docking.

      This is a debate between old and new technologies for shading parking lots. The new technology is superior. I’m still waiting for a cost benefit analysis that shows the superiority of less than mature trees over solar panel canopies. I have been asking for such an analysis since this conflict surfaced. I’m still waiting.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Or, considering all costs/benefits, even mature trees, vs. solar panels.

        Trees good.  Solar panels good.  Something called “balance”?  ‘Trade-off’?  Total ‘cost/benefit’ analysis?

  5. Bill Marshall

    But not “mid-game”, not after permits have been approved/issued.  That is at least, even more, unjust, unless it can be clearly shown that the approvals/permits occurred contrary to the rules, policies, procedures in effect when they were applied for. [me]

    Bill M
    The actual question is whether the current process was actually followed as is spelled out in the current ordinance. [Richard McC]

    Damn, thought I said that, hours ago… duh!!!

  6. larryguenther

    Apparently it has to be said many times. The idea that this is a binary choice is generally, and in this case specifically, false. There are multiple options for having solar panels AND keeping trees. The question the City should be asking before approving applications is, “can we do this without taking out trees?” If we start with a desire to maintain existing trees, to say nothing of increasing our canopy, most of these contentious issues will go away. Trees and solar both provide necessary benefits. There is no reason we can’t have both, but we have to want to try.

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