By Alan Hirsch Alan@DavisLorax.org
On Wednesday, 7/14 the City Planning Commission approved a request by Sutter Davis Hospital to remove an additional 63 mature trees. If you missed the fact the city had already OK’ed the removal of 142 tree for solar panel panels you are not alone: the Tree Commission and Tree Davis were unaware either. City staff revealed at meeting that they had quietly issued permits for the removal this small forest of trees two years ago. Sutter claims this location is cheaper than installing them on the roof, but did not discuss how much, or why they couldn’t install the panels in treeless area between Sutter and Communicare Clinic, or the largely treeless parking lots in the far north.
At the meeting the city defended Sutter and argued that the permits were all “legal” even though they never ran it by the citizens on the Tree Commission that have legal authority to review all tree removals.
The relative size of the cutting (205 mature trees) is huge: the City of Davis only plants 200-500 new saplings a year and they don’t all survive and mature.
At the meeting, Planning Commission Chair Cheryl asked city staff about getting input from the Tree Commission. She had concern that Sutter’s plan was precedent setting for Davis: it would be a statement that hospitals and clinics can be nature-free zones and that it would be a city policy to reject the science that trees create a healing environment. Essex was challenging an official “finding” by city planners who claimed in their report that the tree removal would “enhance the character of the neighborhood” and was a “minor alteration” for trees to be replaced with solar panels.
In response, the City’s principal planner Sherri Metzker stated flatly that the Tree Commission had nothing to add. The Chair of the Tree Commission Colin Walsh has sent me copy of the Davis Municipal code that states that one of Tree Commission’s job is to review all tree removals.
Tree Commission not informed by decision makers
In personal conversations with me, members of the Tree Commission expressed surprise at learning of the existence of this project. City Arborist Rob Cain never shared this project in the two years he has been providing staff support to both the Tree Commission and Natural Resource Commission while they write a new tree protection ordinance that includes the tradeoff between trees and solar panels in parking lots.
Tree Davis has subsequently made a courageous statement rejecting the city staff finding. This non-profit depends on the city for a majority of the funds for it programs and salaries. The power imbalance is best reflected in the fact that while the City Arborist is on their board, Tree Davis’s Executive Director Erin Marineau told me she was never informed that the removal was permitted two years ago. It is unclear what the Arborist Cain’s personal position on the project is or if he was following the direction of his bosses. The city’s Director of Community Development, Ashley Feeney, not Cain, has the legal authority on the removal process under the city ordinance.
My sense is Sutter Hospital was taken aback that anyone could question tree cutting for solar panels, or that the tree cutting approval process they were following, at the direction of city staff, would offend many people in the community. They seem to be misinformed by city staff about the need to work with stakeholders like Tree Davis and go thru the Tree Commission.
What you Can Do
The 205 Trees at Sutter, while yet uncut, are approved for removal unless a citizen appeal is accepted by City Council. You can support the appeal by 1) signing the Change.org petition at http://chng.it/mft8fNRGmF and 2) writing to city council. While the issue on the appeal is about Sutter Trees, this will happen again unless city council sends a clear statement about the city’s respect for public process and instructs staff to following the tree protection law that, among other things, empowers the Tree Commission.
The Inconvenient truth that the Tree Commission must review all removals invalidates the cutting permit issued by the city but Sutter could still go ahead to cut the first 142 tree unless someone gets an injunction. Which volunteer or organizations has the time and money to do this? Email me if you want to help…
Alan Hirsch is a long-time council watcher and advocate for the trees under the alter ego “the Davis Lorax”. He also tables in the farmer market giving out lawn signs like “Support Science” and “Love your Neighbor”. He can be contacted at his “office hours” at the Saturday Market.
The Science linking Trees to Health
Research suggests that being around trees is good for our mental and social well-being. A google search quickly uncovers multiple studies, including major literature review articles in Scientific American. None of this was touched on in the precedent setting Sutter proposal or in city staff’s analysis.
U.S. Cities Lose Tree Cover Just When They Need It Most -- Urbanization is on the rise; so is the urban heat island effect—a situation that is worsening with the decline of tree cover in U.S. metropolitan areas Sci Am May 7. 2018
Does Being around Trees Help People Feel Good? -- Recent research has shown that trees clean the air, and our feelings Sci Am. July 7. 2015
How Hospital Gardens Help Patients Heal -- Hospital gardens turn out to have medical benefits Sci Am March 1, 2012
The Health Benefits of Trees -- They prevent $7 billion in health costs every year by filtering air pollution—not to mention their psychological effects. New research says the closer you can live to trees, the better off you are. Atlantic Magazine July 28, 2014