Antonio’s Pale Green Record: Why a Million Trees Don’t Grow In L.A.

“Each tree planted needs water and care for its entire
life. It’s worth the work. Over its lifetime, that tree will pay you back in
lower energy bills, higher property values, cleaner air and water. “

Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa, May 2006

That was the commitment Antonio Villaraigosa made to the people of Los Angeles when he announced he was America’s greenest mayor and would plant a million trees.

“I love this amazing city, and I know you do too. As part of a larger effort to make Los Angeles greener, cleaner, healthier and more beautiful for us all to enjoy, I have launched the Million Trees LA initiative; the plan is to plant one million trees over the next several years,” the mayor promised.

How’s he done?antionio-trees.jpg

For a man with visions of high office, fantastically. He got great publicity on NPR and other local and national media.for his million trees and sparked imitators like New York Michael Bloomberg who’s meeting his tree planting targets.

But Antonio always has begrudgers.

When he passed the 200,000 tree mark last year and staged a press event for planting 55 more, the LA Weekly mocked his effort under the headline “55 Down — 799,945 to Go” and said, “At L.A.’s current planting rate Mayor Villaraigosa would not only be long out of City Hall by the time the millionth tree is put in the ground, but also out of the governor’s mansion as well, should he end up there.

Best laid plans like Antonio’s ambition to be governor haven’t worked out any better than his million trees initiative.

At this point, he’s handed out less than than 300,000 seedlings without knowing if they actually got planted or are surviving today — or what it would take to accomplish such a feat in a city so over-built there’s only room for 1.3 million trees, according to a U.S. Forest Service aerial reconnaissance and computer analysis reported by the Washington Post.

The Forest Service found “the space is actually quite tight” and that “realistically” the only places available are in the yards of private homes.

A study on “Trees of Los Angeles” early in this decade noted LA didn’t have a sidewalk repair program for 22 years, leaving 4,300 miles in sidewalks broken in 2001 while 262 miles were being fixed annually, “preserving approximately 7,000 trees
that would have otherwise been removed.”

“The City of Los Angeles included trees as one of the major infrastructure elements in the General Plan Framework in the 1980’s,” the study city and Forest Servive experts noted.

“Although expanding the City’s ‘green infrastructure’ was a stated policy in the  Plan, implementation of this major step lagged behind. Frequently, trees were the last consideration during design and development but the first consideration for removal when they conflicted with other infrastructure.”

So the neglect of basic services and critical interests of the community didn’t start with Antonio but he’s taken it to new heights of political posturing while gutting basic services to depths never before reached.

The problem is that the mayor has slashed funding to nothing for tree trimming and maintenance, resulting the loss of untold numbers of trees,  and cut staff so deeply into the budget that the city’s trees on street lawns are dying or left dead in place by the tens of thousands.

Here’s what he called for in his budget for this year:

Reduced Services
Street Tree Maintenance (3,330,732) (4,705,008)
Delete funding and regular authority for 60 positions due to the
City’s fiscal constraints. These positions were previously assigned
to perform proactive street tree maintenance. Tree pruning
services will be provided with the remaining staff on an emergency,
as needed, basis. This service reduction will increase the annual
tree trimming cycle to an undetermined number of years. Related
costs consist of employee benefits.

Far more damaging was the loss of trained staff to the sweetened Early Retirement Incentive Package and the transfers of dozens of tree specialists to the Department of Water and Power.

Sorry, city workers now say, if they aren’t an imminent
danger, dead trees are just left standing there, no staff to chop them
down, remove stumps or plant new ones. Of course, residents can file
applications, pay fees up to $400 for each of those privileges and pay a
contractor to do the city’s work.

But don’t
fear, America’s greenest mayor has a plan to tap into his cash cow, the DWP, to serve his purely political purposes
even as he shines off his responsibility to provide a basic service to
the public.

Here’s Item 28 on the agenda of the obedient DWP Commission for Tuesday:

“Recommended by Chief Operating Officer and Senior Assistant General Manager – Sustainability Programs and External Affairs) (Approved by General Manager)
Resolution authorizing execution of the Memorandum of Understanding with Board of Public Works of the City of Los Angeles to fund a single Citywide Tree Planting Program in support of the Million Trees Los Angeles Initiative. Funding shall not exceed $4,450,000 for a term of two years.”

Get it? There’s no money to maintain the basic service of trimming the city’s trees, keeping them alive, chopping them down or replacing them on street lawns — a core city service.

But the money you pay in soaring rates for water (another increase on Tuesday’s DWP Commission agenda) and power is coming in handy to keep his failed million trees fantasy alive..

Like the sidewalks that are crumbling, the mayor’s and City Council’s solution is to rid themselves of all responsibility and charge property owners of that what a decent neighborhood — the same people who pay a lot in taxes for tree trimming, tree maintenance, tree replacement, sidewalk repair.not to mention libraries and parks and street sweeping and everything else that has been sharply cut or eliminated.

What passes for the rule of law in Los Angeles works something like this:

If you’re an ordinary person, you pay through the teeth and get no services but if prop up your failed city officials with your money or political clout, you get whatever you want.

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16 thoughts on “Antonio’s Pale Green Record: Why a Million Trees Don’t Grow In L.A.”

  1. I have many beautiful full grown trees on my property in the Valley. My lot is over two acres. In order to water them, I’d have to go over my one acre allotment of water. Since the penalties for going over 110 HCF’s is too high, I’ve opted not to water the trees. So far, three have died and one looks a little challenged. My hope is that the rains will revive it.
    My hedges are long gone and a number of twenty year old rose bushes died too.
    I guess that’s the price we have to pay to conserve.
    Can someone tell me if LA has a similar law as Glendale (or is it Burbank) where we have to have a certain percentage of green versus dirt/rocks/concrete outside?

  2. Wrong-headed decisions are being made at a rapid rate in California’s largest City.
    Changes in the zoning laws to take away control and PLANNING. We might as well let go of all of the City Planners since every project will be “by right.”
    The selling off of City Assets (very Republican of you Antonio and the rest of the City Council). Yes, let’s privatize everything for a one-time party in 2011/2012. Then our children are left with nothing.
    What about competitive bidding? Its a Charter Requirement for selling off of assets. But for a private development at 1601 North Vine or City-Owned parking lot properties. No let’s give it to our good (and wealthy) buddies. The good ole boy network.
    No concern for long-term sustainability. Like the Roaring 20’s, let’s party like there is no tomorrow. Better yet, let’s party like its 1984 Mr. Orwell.

  3. Without a tree to prop a leg,
    Bruno and I do dread.
    What left for us to do?
    But learn to pee while taking a poo.
    Bruno’s Pal, G.

  4. This was the dumbest idea the Mayor touted. He has staffer making over $135,000. I want to see how much money all the studios Antonio pitched to donate to this sham of A Million Trees have given and where is that money? LA Slimes is touting the Failure of a Mayor’s Summer NIght Lights program. Is the LA Slimes the spinners for the Mayor to help him? Must be because they just now putting out the sham figures that we all know are bogus? The educated, active community members in this City are more in tune with the truth and what is really going on in City Hall and the corruption we need to post everything we hear and read on blogs.

  5. Dear G.
    Rather than resorting to peeing while pooing, have you considered substituting the legs of politicians for those non-existent tree trunks?
    Prescilla the Poodle

  6. Tree People have been dumping the Mayor’s “million trees” into Griffith Park for some time. They can’t be bothered to find places in town for them.
    Way to green up Los Angeles, Tony!

  7. Here’s another failure for the Mayor that is posted on
    The 10 biggest cities running out of Water.
    #1 Los Angeles, CA
    Major Water Supply: Colorado River Basin
    Population (U.S. rank): 3,831,868 (2nd)
    Population Growth Rate: 3.7%
    Average annual rainfall: 14.77 in.
    In the 1980’s, Los Angeles suffered a major crisis when the city was forced to stop using 40% of its drinking water due to industrial runoff contamination. Like Las Vegas, the city now relies on importing water from the Colorado river via hundreds of miles of aqueducts. The Colorado may only be a temporary solution, however, as the fastest growing city in the country continues to increase its demand at an unsustainable rate. In its utility risk rating, CERES gave the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power the highest likelihood of risk among the cities it assessed. That list included Atlanta and the Ft. Worth Area. On top of this, The Hoover Dam, which is the main source of electricity for LA and much of the greater southwest, is also producing at a lower rate than it has historically. Some scientists suspect this drop-off will continue to a point where its electricity production is too small to sustain the dam economically. Los Angeles, even if the dam doesn’t cease production in 2013, as some predict, it still faces serious water shortages.

  8. You forgot to mention the damage the wrong street trees, (Ficus for example) can do to a sewer main or sewer lateral. The costs homeowners and the City pays in fines, repair, cleanup, are in the thousands of dollars, due to the sewers being backed up by street tree roots.
    When the 1 million tree initiative was declared, was there an environmental document filed?

  9. I don’t know what he counted as planting of trees for his initiative, but there is no doubt that hundreds of new trees were planted in the median and among the sidewalks as part of the rebuilding of Santa Monica Boulevard in Westwood between Beverly Hills and the 405. Many of the trees are doing quite well and have dramatically enhanced the appearance of the area as well as theoretically serving to clean the air from the increased traffic on the road. Perhaps that was a state DOT project and they should get the credit, but someone clearly thought about it and made an effort to incorporate new trees into the design.

  10. James McCuen, you have raised some pertinent issues. Could you also add the demand for an Infrastructure and Growth Report before the city approves a single new development.

  11. In response to November 1, 2010 2:03 PM,
    Of course a report should be prepared, as required by law on the infrastructure and growth.
    But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist at PWR to understand that they infrastructure has been neglected for decades and based on water supply alone, LA cannot afford endless growth.

  12. Million Trees L.A. Initiative people are using the numbers of trees planted before them- before they were even born. Million Trees L.A. Initiative and the mayor are what I call thieves of character- they say a million trees but do not tell you how many they were any part responsible. About those seedlings- they were 99 cent store leftovers that were so dry that they could not survive. Now think cost- after a couple of years a tree planted should be able to survive on rain water but not at first. The water use must be very high for this program- but the millionaire mayor does not pay the citizens water bills. Terrible program with as many hungry and homeless there are in LA.

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