YOLO SUN OPINION :

If Woodland City Council was a dog, it should attend training and obedience school, for it fails to fetch what its community tosses, while piddling away its frazzled credibility.

Most City Hall poobahs and commissars likely believe they have slyly wriggled away from a potential fiasco, related to tree removal within the City Dog Park.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as we shall see.  In an amazing and distressing spectacle of civic irresponsibility, Woodland City Council has politely stifled popular concern about its failure to protect the City Dog Park.

As the wise saying goes, “the devil is often in the details;” in this case, pertinent details were overlooked or even suppressed, in a worryingly persistent style of municipal rushing to best please outside developmental interests, of whatever stripe, in this case the enormous Korean conglomerate, Hanwha Corp.

The city’s new solar-energy facility has six locations, one of which is so close to the city Dog Park, that this developer’s agents and arborists have suddenly determined that eight (8) trees within it had to be immediately removed, in order to properly abide “insolation” provisions of its agreement with the city.  In other words, nothing at all, at any time, could ever be allowed to get between the sun and this developer’s solar arrays.

Two Year Process

The city’s consultant, TerraVerde Renewable Partners LLC, describes a more than two-year long process of designing this solar-energy collection facility, “exploring just about every possible configuration” of the facility, indicates Doug Stecker of TerraVerde.

Well then, wasn’t there — ample time — to responsibly contact the many folk who frequent the Dog Park, informing them and collecting relevant concerns?

Apparently not.  Collecting solar rays totally blinded the city and its consultant  (paid almost a million dollars) against collecting views of Dog Park users, who were quite lucky to even have discovered this city plan and its dire impacts, at all, with many of their so recently (tardily) expressed concerns and proposals being meaningfully ignored.

Some citizens suggest the city should rename itself: Sunland.

It seems that, alongside displaying reckless civic behavior, ‘wagons are circled,’ and durable questions sloughed off and rebuffed.  Vice-mayor Bill Marble declared that these Dog Park folk “have been heard;” but let’s consider the actual details.

The real bottom line was, to his credit, accurately spelled out by city manager Paul Navazio.  “Given the nature of these trees, at some point they are going to be incompatible with the design of the current project.”

Dog Park Testimony

Very interesting and compelling citizen testimony was presented to the city council at this meeting (May 19).

Dana Schuyler got the ball rolling.  “We were very surprised when we got to the Dog Park last week, with the red Xs on our beautiful trees that give us shade now.

“Woodland is known for the City of Trees, [  ] there’s a sign right behind you guys.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that.”

Schuyler continued, explaining that she is disabled and she and her eleven (11) year old dog visit the Dog Park almost daily.  “The atmosphere is just really nice,” reports Schuyler, who believes key mental health values exist at the Dog Park, adding that such “outings for me” coincide with a very important socializing element, since she feels like she and others at the Dog Park are like “a family.”

Christine Shewmaker, a locally prominent “climate change activist,” emphasized that (among other things) Governor Brown has set new targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 40% over 1990 levels, by 2030.

“So, I’m going to advocate that you go forward and not hit the pause button on this project,” Shewmaker exclaimed, while also supporting at least a tree be planted for each tree being removed.

Claudia Barba brought vital arguments to this topic, including her view that, although she supported recent (2015) city bond measures for parks — there was no information provided about Dog Park impacts from this city solar project.

Barba is “all in favor of protecting the environment,” as well as addressing greenhouse gas issues noted by Shewmaker.

“We oppose,” however, “the specific siting of the solar panels in and around the Dog Park, when there are other areas that are available.”

Barba then described the Dog Park as an — “all-day use facility” — contrasted with the other five locations of solar arrays.

She recounted “urban heat-island” research indicating that solar panels increase nearby ambient air temperature by sixty (60) degrees; [so,] “we’re heating the area where we actually have human beings, pretty much all day, and these are people who have no other chance to go out off-leash at a park.  Some of them don’t even own dogs, but are driven to the Dog Park by [social service] agencies because they are disabled and they use this as an emotional and mental health break.”

It seems that none of this key information about the city Dog Park and impacts of this solar-energy facility played any role in city / consultant decision making.

Barba proposed shifting the solar array intended for installation next to the Dog Park, in an easterly direction, toward vacant land adjacent to some playing fields (a basketball court, in particular).

Shelly Duto testified to the city council that a one-to one (1 to 1) mitigation of planting new trees for adolescent or mature trees, is not equivalent mitigation, for purposes of either shade (cooling) or greenhouse-gas reduction.

“While the [city’s] plan is tree for tree, it definitely doesn’t catch up for many years,” expressed Duto.

Paul Hanes testified that: “Most of those trees out there are more like ornamental trees, not native trees to this area.  I don’t see any oak trees or any elm trees, or any big shade trees.  All I see are small ornamental trees.

“I live [by] Crawford Park and there are trees there that have been there for forty (40) years and aren’t even twenty-five (25) feet tall.  40 years and 25 feet, is not a tree.

“So, if we’re gonna plant new trees, I’d like to see shade trees planted, not ornamental bushes!”

Ann Winship’s testimony provided very useful insight into the stark level of inattention by the city toward its Dog Park.

“As it is, there are no trees planted to shade the areas where people sit.  We’ve had to take to bringing our own lawn chairs to find shade.  And it’s been an eight (8) year period waiting for the trees to give adequate shade, so we can enjoy them.”

Wendy Hildebrand testified that trees should be planted on the southern side of the Dog Park, relating concerns about tree-planting within the middle of the Park, regularly used for games of fetch.

City Staff: “Surprised,” But Not Contrite

City manager Paul Navazio stated: “I will tell you honestly, that city staff was surprised about the inclusion of trees [being removed] at the Dog Park.”

This surprise was, of course, completely due to the obvious fact that no attention was provided regarding the city Dog Park, in midst of the (two-year) preparation of this solar-energy facility – despite having such extremely close proximity — that 8 trees within the Dog Park were immediately deemed to be in violation of the city’s contract with Hanwha Corp.

City councilmember Jim Hilliard certainly was not contrite.

“We were kind of blindsided by that issue.  [  ]  I think this [all] can be accomplished without a tremendous amount of discussion or concern,” stated Hilliard.

Rather, councilmember: It was the city Dog Park which was truly “blindsided” — by the city.

Navazio offered that: “Efficacy of design, cost considerations and relative benefit of redesigning it, at this point,” all “strongly” argue toward retaining the current project alongside the impacted city Dog Park.

Other relevant city staff maintained, absent any form of evidence or detail, that there were perceived problems with locating solar arrays — “close to playing fields, because of possible damage that could occur.”

No city councilmember questioned this relatively odd assessment.

Thus, locating this facility in such a way as to prevent some slight (yet clearly avoidable) hazard was a — top priority — while obvious hazards to the city Dog Park were entirely ignored.

Dog Park users literally had to stumble over this situation, to even become aware of it.

City staff and council members demonstrated no semblance of actual responsibility or remorse about this egregious circumstance.

Remorse or acceptance of responsibility by the city, for failing to recognize and consider environmental impacts to the Dog Park from its solar-energy project, would have inclined this matter toward its doing as Park proponents requested, properly evaluating a shift of the problematic solar array.

Thus, no one related to the city would apologize for its egregious foul up.  Trust of the city is thereby injured, since process and factual material to properly satisfy Dog Park concerns was made unavailable; non-transparency was essentially invoked by the city, to avoid meaningful review of its various premises for this decision.

Just prior to council vote on this item, a voice could be heard from the rear of the chamber, presumably Claudia Barba, somewhat (justifiably) indignant about such non-transparency.  Marble told her that public comment was done.

Woodland Tree Foundation

Both city councilmembers and staff make a great deal of Woodland Tree Foundation’s involvement with this project.

Of course, this organization does much good.  However, two items regarding this matter should be illuminated.  Firstly, the one-to-one replacement of trees seems to have been endorsed by it, when such a course is plainly not equivalent.

Secondly, city staff and councilmembers rely to a substantial degree, on the fact that many trees, within the parking lot adjacent to the Dog Park, are “ornamental pear,” a variety susceptible to “fire-blight.”  Thus, removal of such trees is inevitable, as they become increasingly unhealthy.

Reliable sources indicate, however, that Woodland Tree Foundation was planting such “ornamental pear” trees, until only a few years ago.

There was a loud call in this council meeting, for skyline type trees (Sycamore, Walnut, Oak, etc.) to be planted – and “ornamental bushes” to be eschewed — unless required by planting context.

It will be interesting to discover how Woodland Tree Foundation responds to such challenges.

Only Barajas Displayed Real Concern, To No Avail

Only city councilmember Angel Barajas displayed some diligence on this political occasion, several times attempting to somehow discover a more proper outcome.

Initially, Barajas exclaimed his desire that the city council “revisit” this matter, at the later point of these 8 trees within the Dog Park being eventually extracted, per statements by Navazio.

Barajas was plainly (laudably) concerned about the civic texture of these affairs; however — in reality — there is nothing of significance to be done in the future — if the city’s contract with Hanwha Corp. is not presently amended to provide any recourse except such tree removal.

One day in a few years, Hanwha Corp. will simply demand that its “insolation” provision of the city contract be abided, and these trees will be eliminated, as Navazio described.

Barajas asked: “Do we need more time, perhaps, to think this out?”

Also, Barajas challenged vice-mayor Marble to request testimony be provided from the city’s consultant, TerraVerde, regarding: “Whether or not the project can sustain effectively a redesign at this stage,” in words of its consultant (Doug Stecker).

“We actually went through I don’t know how many iterations, but many, many iterations. [  ]  We’re faced with a whole host of tradeoffs around – how do get the best value, [  ] how do we sacrifice the least and still put a project together that [  ] is financially viable [  ] and do that in a way that meets the critical prerequisites of the project,” related Stecker.

Stecker explained that some configurations were “disqualif[ied], because we have challenges that can’t be overcome.”

Stecker anticipated that the city council would want to keep this discussion “out of the technical weeds,” while also stating that he is “happy to dive into all of the technical reasons and their financial counterparts.

“We did everything we could,” declared Stecker, “to meet the high level of challenges that existed at this site and still have a viable project with the current configuration, and the other configurations we explored simply didn’t give us that possibility.”

Solar Facility Project Would Collapse Over Minor Redesign?

On the face of it, TerraVerde’s assertion — that there was only one feasible option, upon which to predicate a viable project — appears absurd.

And let’s be clear —  at root, TerraVerde (the city’s environmental expert) is obviously to blame for not realizing (early on) that an issue existed regarding Dog Park trees (and more), then providing some reasonable process to best address / eliminate / avoid such issues,  After all, it is the expert consultant, paid a million dollars.

TerraVerde very likely, simply picked the easiest configuration to optimize, but with how much actual comparative advantage?  Where is relevant transparency?  TerraVerde seems to depend on councilmembers not wanting to “get into the technical weeds,” on this matter.  For a million bucks, it needed to better perform.

City council could have held TerraVerde to account, responding to the – blindsided – Dog Park folk — but it failed.  City staff is caught in the middle of this mess.

Regarding playing-field concerns: From the relevant diagram, the only proximate subject is a basketball court (which could easily be shielded with a net, from causing damage).  Wayward Frisbees, thrown for dogs to fetch, would also present a potentially similar hazard, correct?

TerraVerde should have recognized these Dog Park issues and established with the city a process of considering them, alongside its evaluation of various solar array configurations.

Clearly, both the city and TerraVerde would rather avoid even a minor redesign, despite their statements about such iterations being preliminarily considered and, presumably, relatively accessible for pertinent analysis.

Getting to the utter details of these circumstances would be the only way to evaluate the potential for this minor adjustment to the city’s huge facility, to best protect the Dog Park.

This effort would have meant a delay – as Barajas earlier proposed – yet could find no help creating, from his fellow councilmembers.

Marble Mishandles Testimony Situation

Seemingly, Marble was anxious to swiftly proceed.

Instead of properly asking Barajas, whether he was satisfied with this wholly vague, specifically unresponsive comment by Stecker, Marble abruptly dismissed Stecker from further testimony.

Barajas had to gently demand such testimony — to begin with — over Marble’s initial attitude of dismissal about any likely councilmember interest with quizzing TerraVerde (paid about a million dollars for this project).

Marble’s move, here, halted all relevant inquiries.

Barajas needed to ask specific follow-up questions, going to the heart of these affairs, but he seemingly wasn’t inclined to further buck Marble’s conduct of the meeting.  This is not a healthy and respectful political atmosphere, to our civic distress.

Apparently, Marble wanted to get to other, favorable, less contentious councilmember comment.

“There’s ways to do things without having to start over with the design part of it,” believes city councilmember Sean Denny.

Waiting a little while (with pruning) to remove these 8 trees, replacing them and erecting an artificial shade structure, says Denny, “will take care of all the issues.”

Really?

Despite abundant public testimony about the inadequacy of older tree replacement by new trees, as well as the likely time-period involved (much less than the 8 or more years needed for equivalent tree growth), Denny and the city council seem to believe that all is now fixed.

This view is plainly nonsense.  Trees planted later this year will take 8 years or more to become mature; while the trees to be extracted will be gone in only a few short years.  City councilmembers must think that our citizens cannot figure this out.

Artificial shade structures in the Dog Park did not arise as an option, let alone such a primary course, until this civic calamity.  Certainly, such structures are much more expensive and much less desirable than trees, in the City of Trees.

Somehow, though, the city solar-facility project (its consultant: TerraVerde), city staff and councilmembers failed to recognize or investigate these crucial Dog Park issues, during the entire two-year period of project development.

Now they claim, in Hilliard’s words, to have been “blindsided.”

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