Guest Commentary: Does Downtown Davis Need Trees? A First Step in Implementing Urban Forest Plan

By Alan Hirsch, the Davis Lorax

Tuesday night at the City Council meeting is a celebration.  After hundreds of hours of volunteer time by members of Tree and other city commissions, the Urban Forest Master Plan (UFMP) is set to be approved by City Council.

This is a breakthrough after over a decade of inaction/gridlock/resource starvation of the city tree program, which has struggled just to do basic pruning and keep over 25,000  street and park trees safe.  A period during which we had a near financial failure of Tree Davis.  We are just now recovering from the cutbacks following the great recession of 2008.

The result of this lost decade is clear. Davis has an aging canopy in need of renewal, a decades-old tree species selection list and lack of a codified “best practices” planting standards, and a near total lack of enforcement of tree protection ordinance — except against homeowners.   Even as we have some of the best tree scientists in the world at UCD and at Tree Davis,  city staff was so stretched it did not time to engage these resources.  The  “strategic plan” was reduced to just ad hoc tree planting.

But  now that we have a $250,000 strategic  Urban Forestry MASTER Plan

But while the UFMP Plan is a great blueprint, it has so many “to do” it’s not clear where to start.  This lack of focus has dogged the implementation of the City of Woodland own $350,000  UFMP it approved  3 years ago.  I am told they have hardly scratched the surface.  I confirmed this when I visited the Woodland’s Sustainability Advisory Committee this week:  they said their plan has largely sat on the shelf. Not just a waste of money but Sad.

So Tuesday Night, the Davis Council need to not just to OK the UFMP document, but also ask staff to come up with a prioritized implementation plan – one out at least  5 year or more of due dates to which the department’s performance can be measured against.

Add to the UFMP document a requirement the department to prepare an as annual “state of the urban forest” report to report – change in shade canopy cover, planting and removals, and progress implementing the UFMP recommendations.

I also have a third suggestion: the implementation plan begins by prioritizing the most visible tree in our community – the Downtown trees.

The recently passed Downtown Specific Plan needs a  tree component added to its building code. and we need a tree inventory and planting plan. Seeing as the city council has already allocated $1.2 Million in grant funding to Downtown Davis Business Association (DDBA) for undetermined “landscaping:” we have funds to make this start almost immediately.

Below is my presentation to council on tree issue seen in our Downtown. It shows we have an opportunity to make a dramatic difference.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Matt Williams

    I defer to wiser minds than me on this subject.

    It’s a “serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” thing.

  2. Richard_McCann

    Great summary of the issues-thanks!

    I think there’s a growing notion among some of us that there are many things in this city that are left undone due to a staff shortage. We are interested in taking more of these tasks as volunteers. Perhaps implementing a Downtown tree plan could be one of them. We need to get the City to agree to let citizens step in and help their community and that will take leadership from the Council. But organizations like Tree Davis, Cool Davis and the League of Women Voters can provide a foundation to get started.

  3. Don Shor

    Thanks to Alan Hirsch for this article and his ongoing efforts on behalf of trees!

    Copy of comments I presented at the December city council meeting regarding the Downtown Davis Specific Plan:

    I am here tonight speaking on behalf of the board of directors of Tree Davis. Our executive director and president have also sent a letter.

    It has been a somewhat frustrating process to provide comment and then see this plan fall far short of specifics with regard to conservation, replacement, and planting of new trees downtown.

    We understand that this has been a long planning process and this is not the time for a major rewrite.

    We believe the council shares our appreciation of what trees do for the community and supports a healthy downtown tree canopy, and request that you reaffirm that support tonight.


    Most of us who are professionals in this field recognize that there are serious issues with the downtown trees, that it is really a microcosm of the issues we’re facing citywide:

    ·      Aging cohorts of trees, including some safety issues

    ·      Inappropriate species for the long term

    ·      Insufficient soil volume

    ·      Poor follow-up maintenance of young trees

    ·      Insufficient numbers of large trees.

    The downtown needs its own set of goals with respect to

    ·      percentage of canopy over asphalt,

    ·      tree species diversity,

    ·      soils management,

    ·      follow-up care, and more.

    Our nonprofit is ready to plant and help provide follow-up care. But in the downtown, this will require considerable cooperation between public and private entities.

    Alan Hirsch has done a great job of identifying potential planting sites, 82 of them, downtown and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for those efforts.

    Tree Davis respectfully requests that the city arborist, our organization, the Tree commission, and important stakeholders be given latitude to develop sets of recommendations addressing these issues.  

    A follow-up downtown tree plan needs specificity and enforcement mechanisms.

    In short, while the downtown plan is insufficient with respect to tree issues, we understand that this is not the end of this conversation.

    Meanwhile, we plan to keep planting trees to plug as many of Alan’s 82 tree holes as we possibly can.

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