The "City of Trees" showed Tuesday night just how much an acre of trees is worth.
The Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to spend more than $200,000 to replace an acre of cottonwood trees cleared last fall from a retention basin in Sutter's Landing Park, near the American River.
A city utilities crew cut down the grove of cottonwood trees in September to evict a large homeless camp that had sprouted up under the canopy. The decision to cut down the trees was made without notifications to either the public or the City Council.
In response, the council formed an eight-member committee of neighborhood and environmental activists to study the incident. A report issued by that committee recommended planting dozens of trees in the area where the cottonwoods had been torn out and in an adjacent area.
That plan, scheduled to be carried out over the next five years, will cost the city $206,000 in planting and maintenance costs. The city spent another $30,000 hiring a consultant team to help the council-appointed committee, and eight city officials assisted the committee.
The report also urged the city to more aggressively seek state and federal grants for the park and to establish clearer policies regulating maintenance of Utilities Department properties.
Councilman Steve Cohn called the clearing of the trees a "disheartening, very disappointing event."
"We did have a failure here in how the city was managing its resources," Cohn said. "But we were big enough to correct it and hopefully come up with procedures to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again."
Utilities officials cut down between 100 and 200 cottonwood trees after homeless campers were found to be cutting a hole in a fence surrounding the former landfill at Sutter's Landing. County officials told the city that the fence cutting created a security risk.
The tree removal upset some council members, who formed the 28th Street Landfill Tree Removal Mitigation Committee.
Committee members worried that the trees which represented most of the trees in Sutter's Landing provided essential nesting for wildlife.
According to a tree committee report, the area where the trees were removed "is located in one of the richest areas for raptors along the American River Parkway, especially for the Swainson's hawk, which is a threatened species."
"We've concluded there was definitely some wildlife habitat that was lost," said J.P. Tindell, a planning and development manager with the city's parks department.
"We can debate what the value of that is," Tindell said, but added that planting trees and creating more habitat on an adjacent 2.3-acre plot "is a really good opportunity."
Committee members said maintaining the vast Sutter's Landing Park, situated within view of the downtown skyline, was vital.
"It's a tremendous asset and a gateway to the American River Parkway," said Corey Brown, the committee chairman and a member of Friends of Sutter's Landing Park.
Cohn said replacing the wildlife habitat could be "kind of a watershed moment" for the park.
"I think we are finally reaching that tipping point where we are recognizing that this is a very special place and that we have the possibility of a future that creates a park like no other park in the region," he said.