Los Angeles' Tree Initiative Progresses
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Here in Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched an initiative, a little more than a year ago, to plant a million trees. At the time, environmentalists hailed the idea of planting so many more trees in our sprawling and smoggy city.
Reporter Gloria Hillard has this look at how the initiative has taken root and where it hasn't.
Unidentified Woman #1: So you want the pine trees?
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman #1: Okay.
GLORIA HILLARD: If it were a little later in the season, you might think we were at a Christmas tree lot, but this is the parking lot of the L.A. Zoo and the dozens of five gallon trees all lined up in the bright sun are up for adoption.
Unidentified Woman #1: So, do you want a free tree in it? We have medium and large.
HILLARD: This tree giveaway is part of the Million Trees LA initiative. Public Works Commissioner Cynthia Ruiz says since kicking off the program last September…
Commissioner CYNTHIA RUIZ (Board of Public Works, Los Angeles, California): I'm proud to say in the first year, we've planted about over 100,000, about 110,000 which is significant. Mayor Villaraigosa would like to make the city of Los Angeles the cleanest, greenest, big city in the nation, and hopefully even the world.
HILLARD: Now anyone who has flown into Los Angeles in the daytime knows that's a pretty big job.
Mr. LARRY SMITH (Executive Director, North East Trees): It's pretty gray and concrete asphalt. Even from in from satellite views you see how much of a gray footprint it has in Los Angeles.
HILLARD: Larry Smith is the executive director of North East Trees, one of the non-profit organizations charged with helping to carry out the task of planting just some of those million trees.
Mr. SMITH: Trees provide shade, protect against skin cancer. They store water, they clean water so we have - we'll have more drinking water, we'll have cleaner water.
(Soundbite of vehicle)
HILLARD: Driving through one of the poor areas of Los Angeles, you don't see many trees, let alone tree-lined streets, just a landscape of power poles and graffiti-marred billboards.
We're on our way to the projects in Boyle Heights were a number of trees where planted earlier this year.
Resident Maria Rivera(ph) points with pride to a well-cared for tree outside her small apartment.
Ms. MARIA RIVERA (Resident): I love trees. We needed them.
HILLARD: But just across the street it was a different picture.
How many are left like this?
Mr. SMITH: I don't know.
HILLARD: The small tree, its plastic city ID bracelet still attached, has turned brown and brittle from lack of water. Down another block, nearly half of the newly planted trees have died; others have been ripped from the ground.
Mr. SMITH: It's not a given that people see the value in trees.
HILLARD: Half of the more than 100,000 trees were given away at street fairs and tree adoption events were people sign pledge cards promising to care for the trees. But there's been no follow up by the city to see how many trees actually made it into the ground or survived in the drought-stricken city.
(Soundbite of vehicle)
HILLARD: Continuing our drive one can see that it's not easy being a tree in Los Angeles. They are spray painted, stapled and badly pruned. Tree advocates, while applauding the mayor's planting initiative, also point to a lack of protection from mature trees cut down by the city because of buckling sidewalks or street widening for commercial development.
Mr. SMITH: They widen the street. They are often take out of parkway that has mature trees. That happened all over the city and it's a very insidious, sad process. We're losing canopy just because of that.
HILLARD: Los Angeles' mayor hopes to reach his million tree goal in less than 10 years. Seven hundred thousand of those trees are designated for private property planting through continued weekend giveaways like this one.
Unidentified Woman #3: But this one here is a Chinese plant. It's a medium tree that grows up to 40 feet.
Unidentified Woman #4: Okay. (Unintelligible)
Unidentified Man: Okay. I want to get this tree.
HILLARD: Christina Thompkin's(ph) tree was in the back seat of her car.
Ms. CHRISTINA THOMPKINS: I think it's wonderful, you know, to give back what we've taken away. It gets great.
HILLARD: And a family of four, lugging a small pine tree, said it would be a perfect Christmas tree.
For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.
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