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Letter & motion from Tree Commission concerning Sutter tree cutting

Sutter Tree Removal Sets Terrible Precedent

Sutter lotA letter to the Davis City Council from Don Shor


To the members of the Davis City Council,

This letter is in support of the appeal by Alan Hirsch of the tree removal permit, issued for Sutter Health, for the removal of 63 trees in order to make room for the installation of solar panels in their parking lot.

My concerns are about the process, the city’s overall policy for tree conservation, the efficacy of the mitigation proposed, failure to account for the value and many intangible benefits of trees, and the disturbing precedent of valuing solar panels over trees.

We need a discussion of the city’s commitment to an adequate and sustained urban tree canopy, clarity about 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.


I do not fault the city staff for this. These are policy issues that have been brought to the fore by the sheer number of trees being removed via a single application. There should be some threshold at which a removal that affects the city’s urban forest to this extent is not simply done by administrative review.


The proposed mitigation needs to be evaluated by tree professionals. The recommendation by the NRC that the mature trees be moved reflects this lack of expert input. It is unlikely to succeed and would be a misdirection of resources.

Better planting of their entire parking area would be a better use of funds if it were done correctly. That includes new trees to shade as much asphalt as possible, with consideration given to the reduced options due to the presence of solar panels and shading issues. More open soil areas are needed to improve infiltration of natural rainfall and allow successful root development. Climate-ready landscaping should be installed wherever trees can’t be planted.

In fact, the city’s overall tree removal mitigation strategy needs to be evaluated with a particular emphasis on parking lots, both because they are especially important for urban heat island effect and because few, if any, of the parking lots in Davis meet the city’s 50% shading requirement.

Poor valuation of the benefits of trees.

A successful shade tree reflects a significant investment of time, resources, and expertise. From the production in the growing nursery, to the selection and planting, mitigation of environmental stresses, follow-up care, and years of growth, a mature tree takes a lot of inputs. Removal of a large number of twenty-year-old trees should have been much more carefully considered and all alternatives reviewed in a detailed and transparent fashion.

This sets a terrible precedent.

Unfortunately, this has become a binary choice between solar energy and shade trees. This is not a spreadsheet issue about carbon sequestration vs mitigation. Shade trees provide habitat, nesting sites, and food sources for wildlife. They significantly cool their surroundings by transpiring water, reduce urban heat island effect, capture fine particle matter and mitigate gaseous pollutants, cool the air by evaporative cooling, and have known mental and physical health benefits.

If a homeowner were to apply for removal of a healthy city street tree to install solar panels, would the Tree Commission grant approval? Unlikely. Would the council approve that on appeal? What if some of the other parking lot owners come forward with similar requests?

With solar panels increasingly affordable, even mandated, what will be the impact on our urban tree canopy if solar panels are deemed to take precedence over shade trees?

At the very least in this regard, it would be useful for this council to make an affirmative statement of the equal benefits of shade trees and make it very clear that removing mature, healthy trees for solar energy is not considered sound policy.

I respectfully request that the permit be rescinded, that the applicant be directed to submit their mitigation plans for review by the Tree Commission, that alternatives be evaluated in detail and the findings be returned to this council before the permit is granted.

Our goal should be to see Sutter implement an effective mitigation plan that will last for decades, that they show that the trees will be selected and planted in a manner that will actually work. My hope would be that those mitigation standards could be the foundation of a new citywide pavement shading strategy as part of a successful urban forest management plan.

Thank you for your consideration of this appeal.

I am a member of the board of Tree Davis, but the views expressed here are my own.

Don Shor

Redwood Barn Nursery


Janet Krovoza

Thank you, Don, for your informed and cogent assessment of this regrettable and avoidable debacle and for articulating a sound vision for moving forward. As a Master Gardener, my best answer to any plant-oriented question has always been, "Ask Don Shor." No exception here.

Lynette Hart

Yes, I support Don Shor as described by Janet.

Roberta L. Millstein

Thank you for this, Don. I especially agree that there have been problems with the process, with staff acting outside of the relevant commission review -- although unlike you, I do fault them for this, since it fits a pattern of staff sidestepping commissions -- as Alan Pryor wrote about here very recently: https://www.davisite.org/2021/09/part-2-d%C3%A9j%C3%A0-vu-council-and-staff-collude-to-limit-review-of-the-disc-2022-project-by-the-citys-advis.html

I also especially appreciate your highlighting that we shouldn't just think of trees in terms of carbon sinks: "Shade trees provide habitat, nesting sites, and food sources for wildlife. They significantly cool their surroundings by transpiring water, reduce urban heat island effect, capture fine particle matter and mitigate gaseous pollutants, cool the air by evaporative cooling, and have known mental and physical health benefits."

As we very rightly take increased action to combat climate change, we need to do so in a way that pays attention to larger environmental issues and other species. What you say here is part of that picture, in my opinion. And it's why we need solar panels AND trees.

George Galamba

This is an excellent, provocative opinion piece, but I respectfully question the basic thesis, at least as it applies to the current situation at Sutter Hospital. In this piece, Mr. Shor states that one of his concerns is, "the disturbing precedent of valuing solar panels over trees." And later he states, "Unfortunately, this has become a binary choice between solar energy and shade trees."
If Sutter were cutting down trees to install solar panels, full stop, then his argument would have some merit. But this is not the case. If you ask for permission to remove 60 trees but commit to planting some 140 trees, you are not choosing solar over trees; you are choosing both solar AND trees. It is true that the replacement trees will not be in the same exact location, but does that make their value less? Will the new trees provide less habitat for birds? Less sequestration of carbon? Less joy to those who walk under them? And although Mr. Shor does not seem to be a fan of solar energy, the removal of up to 1244 metric tons of carbon PER YEAR is significant. True, in the grand scheme of things, it is a drop in the proverbial bucket, but it IS a drop. And these drops are society's only hope of avoiding a nonviable planet.
As a retired teacher, I conclude with a one-question multiple choice question:
What is in the best interest of our community and our planet?
A. Trees
B. Nonpolluting solar energy
C. Trees AND nonpolluting solar energy
The city council will provide the answer tomorrow.

Colin Walsh

I would like to directly answer a few questions raised above:

"does that make their value less?
Yes, young newly planted small trees are much less valuable than larger more mature trees.

"Will the new trees provide less habitat for birds?"
yes they will provide less habitat, it will take years for the small new trees to provide the habitat currently provided by mature trees.

"Less sequestration of carbon?"
Yes, the act of cutting down mature trees releases the carbon stored in those trees. new small trees will take years of investment in water an maintenance to recapture the same amount.

"Less joy to those who walk under them?"
if trees are moved to where no one will be walking, as they are in the Sutter proposal, then yes, they will not be providing "joy to those who walk under them"

Toni Terhaar

Maybe it’s time to vote for new council members. In the future I will not vote for a council member who does not support CEQA and is not willing to listen to the public at meetings. I have been at commission meetings where the developers are given unlimited time to speak along with their supporters, and me, the public, is given a minute or three?

Don Shor

Not thrilled about the outcome last night, but it was a pleasant surprise to hear some of my letter read out in public comment by none other than Dr. Millstein! Thank you.
At least, thanks to the efforts of Alan H, Tree Davis, and Lucas and Josh, and others, several of the trees have been saved. Alan Hirsch deserves a big thank you from this community for his efforts on this issue.

Roberta L. Millstein

Thank you for your efforts too, Don. They are very much appreciated.

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