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Richmond Guts Urban Forest Program
March 11, 2002
Without informing the City Council of the consequences, the administration has gutted the Urban Forest program, moving $50,000 designated by the City Council for street tree planting to other unspecified programs, eliminating a lead tree worker position, and essentially eliminating the position of parks superintendent by dividing the duties between two other positions. Recently departed Parks Superintendent Tony Norris, a professional landscape architect and possibly the best qualified parks superintendent this city has ever had, left for a more tree friendly position in Solano County.

I recite the above with the caveat that none of it has been confirmed by an administration that refuses to discuss any of it with me. My effort to place the matter on the City Council agenda was even thwarted, hence my need to resort to the E-FORUM.

Why am I so concerned about this? Street trees contribute greatly to a city’s image and quality of life. Street trees actually add value to property and increase the tax base. They make neighborhoods more healthy, walkable and attractive. They are an investment in the future, not an expense. In the 2001-2002 budget session, the City Council allocated a modest $2.00 per Richmond resident out of a General Fund budget of $88 million to enhance and maintain the City’s urban Forest. This was the minimum funding level required to qualify for matching grants from Trees USA, a non-profit source of additional tree funding. Now that is even gone.

Consider cities that realize the value of investing in street tees, otherwise known as the “urban forest.” Stockton was recently recognized as the “Best Tree City” in the west for its urban forest. An article in the March “Sunset” describes Stockton’s dedication and the rewards that come from that dedication (also see attached PDF file):

“Stockton began a concerted municipal tree-planting program in the 1920s. Today, the city lists each of its 100,000 trees in a database whose individual entries look something like medical records, cataloging everything from planting and pruning dates to calls for maintenance. You can see the result when you drive through town: Even modest neighborhoods look gracious when large shade trees line the sidewalks.”

“For such a tree program to be successful, city government has to be committed for decades, and zealously protect its budget for maintenance and replacement. (Stockton plants about 2,500 new trees per year.) That can be tough, since city administrators know cuts to the green budget are rarely noticed in the short term.”

“But Stockton has persevered. Its commitment has paid off in a city filled with magnificent Chinese pistache, valley oak, and Modesto ash trees. Along with some 70 other species, they bear witness to the power of planning and patience. See for yourself by driving or bicycling Stockton's finest tree-lined streets any time after the first of April, when deciduous trees unfurl their leaves.”