by Wesley Sagewalker
I am writing to you to express my hope that you will favorably consider the appeals that have been filed by Mr. Hirsch with respect to the Sutter Davis Hospital Phase 1 Tree Modification Permit and Phase 2 Solar Project. I am writing to you not out of concern for the proposed project—installing solar panels in parking lots is an important part of achieving Davis’ climate goals and can help improve the bottom line for businesses considering them. They ought to be encouraged to the extent they are feasible. Instead, my concern lies with the process surrounding the approval of Sutter Hospital’s application which will result in the cutting down of 205 trees.
For context, 205 trees is more than half of all trees that Tree Davis planted in 2020. Given the long time horizon required for trees to grow to maturity, this damage to Davis’ urban forest will take potentially decades to repair. This assumes that the mitigated trees are properly cared for to allow them to grow and to thrive—an assumption that may or may not be justified.
For years now, citizens of Davis who are passionate about our urban forest have been calling for an update to Davis’ current tree policies. Little progress has been made since the city began the process of updating its Urban Forestry Management Plan and Tree Ordinance. The result is that proposals such as Sutter’s are being approved under the existing framework which I and many others believe does not give adequate consideration to issues around appropriate mitigations and the monitoring and enforcement of parking lot tree maintenance. Although city staff has demonstrated that the approvals and requirements being imposed on Sutter Hospital are consistent with current policy, I would urge you to consider this as an opportunity to reflect on the missed opportunities Davis is incurring by not having advanced and approved an updated Urban Forestry Management Plan and Tree Ordinance.
City staff notes that the requirement in Municipal Code Chapter 37.04.010 that all off-street parking lots in the City of Davis shall achieve fifty (50) percent shading within fifteen (15) years of the acquisition of a building permit was adopted at a time when there were no parking lot solar panel applications and that this section of the Municipal Code has not caught up with technological advancements. This not only speaks to the desperate need for an update to Davis tree policies, but creates an environment in which solar parking lot proposals operate on an ad-hoc basis. This creates the potential for applicants to receive differential treatment in a process that sidesteps the input and expertise of the Tree Commission. There are property owners who are currently considering installing solar panels in their parking lot who have had to go before the Tree Commission for review and it seems unfair that Sutter Hospital, which is planning to remove a large number of healthy and mature trees, is not being subjected to a similar level of scrutiny and public input.
Project after project in Davis is subjected to substantial public review and must engage in stakeholder outreach and consensus building. Sutter Hospital should not be allowed to sidestep this process due to an outdated code that provides opaque guidance on its responsibilities. I do not dispute the legality of this process. Instead, I urge the members of the Davis City Council to consider if this is the correct process for the Davis community which has many members with expertise and passion for Davis’ urban forest.
I respectfully urge you to consider the message this sends and to find a way to improve citizen and city commission input here to provide the appropriate public deliberation that defines the Davis planning process.