Members of the Davis Tree Commission are not happy with the way the city has handled the penalty it assessed Select Commercial Brokers, owned by Davis resident Jim Kidd, for illegally cutting down trees on city property last year.
The company removed two Chinese hackberries — one completely and one partially — and one coast live oak, worth a total of about $40,000, from the east end of Olive Drive in April 2012.
Public works staff calculated at the time that $12,000 would be an appropriate fine to levy to replace the total inches of diameter lost by removing the trees.
But after the fine was handed down, several commission members learned that the city manager’s office began to work with Kidd behind closed doors toward a mutual objective, possibly to develop the area at the end of Olive Drive instead of collecting the cash.
“This is not being handled in a conventional manner,” said commission member David Robinson. “… Nobody disagrees about what happened. Nobody disagrees (that) what happened was illegal.
“My concern is the lack of openness about this. This should have been as straightforward as a parking ticket and it’s turned into something political. Mr. Kidd should just be writing a check and that should be the end of it.”
Other commissioners have said they were concerned that the funds, which originally were assigned for the preservation of trees, would be used for other city services.
Local art advocates and city planners long have had an interest in molding the industrial-looking turnaround where the trees were cut down at the end of Olive Drive into a more attractive entrance into the city.
Some have envisioned placing a tall figure or sculpture there to transform the offramp into something more representative of the community.
City Manager Steve Pinkerton said last week that, in fact, the city had been discussing plans to develop the area with Kidd, who owns property adjacent to city land in that part of town.
But Pinkerton explained that there never was a question about whether Kidd was in the wrong or whether he’d pay for the infraction.
“He was going to pay either way; it was just the manner in which he was going to pay,” Pinkerton said, adding that it was the city’s intention to get as much out of the situation as possible.
Those discussions eventually broke down because it became apparent to Kidd, who Pinkerton said has an interest in expanding his property onto city land, that he would have to pay more than the $12,000 he was fined originally.
Pinkerton also said that as far as the collection of the money, the city views it as a general fund expense and that no special funds for tree preservation exist. But he added that the money will be utilized for trees one way or another.
Still, commissioners aren’t thrilled that it has been 13 months since the trees were illegally removed and that Kidd still hasn’t paid what he owes the city.
“It’s more the secrecy of all of this and the fact that it has dragged on for so long that has annoyed those of us in the tree community,” Robinson said. “I (also) think that this sets a very bad precedent that this is going on in the dark.”
According to City Planner Bob Wolcott, Kidd was scheduled to meet with city officials several weeks ago, check in hand, to pay off the debt, but the local developer failed to show.
Wolcott added that if Kidd doesn’t pay soon, it could become an issue. However, Pinkerton pointed out later that the city doesn’t want to take any action that would cost Davis more than the fine amount.
Multiple attempts to reach Kidd for comment on the matter have been unsuccessful.
Perhaps further complicating the issue, Kidd is in the process of applying to the city to build a new development on B Street. The project, as most recently proposed, would replace two existing bungalows that sit between Second and Third streets just north of the Black Bear Diner, 255 Second St., with a three-story 14-unit condominium complex.
Kidd has said he wants the complex to serve senior citizens.
The Davis Planning Commission was scheduled two weeks ago to hear the proposal and to make recommendations to the City Council on the project, but Kidd pulled the item from the agenda. Wolcott said he was not aware of the reason for postponing the hearing, which has been rescheduled for late June.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash