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L.A. Needs Better Care of Urban Forest, City Controller Says

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin released a report today on ways the city can better care for its street trees, including creating an online, citywide street tree inventory and implementing a centralized tracking system.

“Preserving our trees is essential to preserving the quality of life in our neighborhoods, but our urban forest is at risk,'' Galperin said. “While there has been a concerted effort to better care for our trees, the city needs to embrace a modern, data-driven approach to mapping and maintaining street trees so that they remain healthy and safe.”

Galperin's report comes several months after another one commissioned by City Plants, a nonprofit organization overseeing a public-private partnership between the city of Los Angeles and six other nonprofit organizations, concluded that trees are not valued in city budgets and planning, urban forest budgets are far below necessary levels, and an estimated budget increase of $40 to $50 million is needed to manage the urban forest at a sustainable level.

Galperin unveiled his report at a news conference on a street corner in Canoga Park with Councilman Bob Blumenfield, chair of the Public Works Committee, and representatives of TreePeople. 

“Since I became chair of the Public Works Committee, I'm proud to have significantly increased the Urban Forestry Division's budget because a strong urban tree canopy is so much more than just beautification,” Blumenfield said. “While trees sometimes cost the city millions of dollars in infrastructure damage and lawsuits, they also save the city millions through reduced heat island effects and community development. Together with Director Adel Hagekhalil and the Bureau of Street Services leadership team, we have been working toward bringing these services into the 21st century.” The Bureau of Street Services' Urban Forestry Division is responsible for maintaining street trees, but Galperin said it does so without an accurate inventory and still uses outdated paper logs to track its trimming and maintenance work.

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Galperin noted that despite recent efforts to increase proactive maintenance, city trees only get trimmed once every 14 to 18 years, and three years ago, the city gave itself a “D” when grading the health of L.A.'s street trees. The U.S. Forest Service and city arborists also say that disease and pests could kill 30 percent of the region's trees within a decade without proper care and maintenance, Galperin said.

The city spent $49 million to maintain its trees last year, with $20 million dedicated to the Urban Forestry Division, but $11 million of that amount was spent responding to tree emergencies and only $9 million on proactive trimming and care, the report notes.

Galperin's report says the city should create an online street tree inventory based on up-to-date data; implement a centralized electronic management system that helps prioritize the city's day-to-day tree trimming work and track jobs completed; and consider revamping the contracting process in case the city decides to supplement city tree trimming crews.

“Maintaining and caring for our trees and urban forest is a priority and critical to the quality of life in our communities” said Adel Hagekhalil, director of the Bureau of Street Services. “Under the direction of the mayor, City Council and Board of Public Works, we are investing more in our trees, protecting and planting more trees and developing tools to inventory and manage trees proactively across our city.”

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