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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.