A couple of months ago, when the visitors bureau replaced the “City of Trees” logo on the huge I-5 water tower with the words “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” it generated some protests on social media. The Sacramento Bee and Inside Publications publisher, Cecily Hastings, supported this change.
As a degreed arborist who has lived and worked in Sacramento for the past 26 ½ years, I would like to weigh in on this discussion. What does it mean to be a City of Trees? Is it how many trees you have and the number of trees planted annually, or that you have a nationally recognized non-profit like the Sacramento Tree Foundation?
No, being a “City of Trees” is an attitude backed up by action. It is an attitude that the trees are not just an amenity but are an important part of a livable city and aren’t readily removed unless diseased, structurally unsound, or in severe declining health.
In 1940 Sacramento spent two percent of the city budget on tree care. Unfortunately, as Sacramento’s urban forest grew, the general fund budget for trees decreased to .65 percent in 2000. Currently, the majority of the City’s Urban Forestry section is funded directly by the property owners under a Landscape & Lighting Assessment district, which in 2013 was $4,842,351. The city also relinquished the care and maintenance of approximately 50,000 street trees. What started out as a temporary moratorium in July 1990 became permanent when the City Council adopted the Urban Forest Management Plan in November 1993. The 50,000 trees were located in the front yards on residential streets without a City park strip between the curb and sidewalk. Thousands of these trees have been removed due to the lack of professional care and many have not been replaced.
The City of Trees attitude is that trees can co-exist with development/infrastructure improvements and they are incorporated into the project. It means protect and preserve, not remove and replace. The City, in 2007, removed its only heritage size Bunya-Bunya tree (Araucaria bidwilli) for the Crocker Art Museum expansion project. In 2011 when the K Street Mall was converted to allow motor vehicles, the City’s Public Works Department proposal designated seven street trees for removal. These were permanent removals with no replacement trees planted back at that location. Fortunately, a concerned citizen filed a tree appeal. Public Works reconsidered and decided on the removal of only two trees. However, I looked at the site and determined the proposed passenger drop off zones could be installed without the two trees being removed. Tree preservation required the relocation of a bench and street light. An appeal was made before City Council and these two trees were preserved.
The Sacramento Commons project, which was approved in July 2015, will remove 199 trees on the current Capitol Towers 10-acre downtown property. Trees4Sacramento, an advocacy group, fought to preserve the trees. Its consulting arborist determined it would take at least 25 years to replace the lost canopy with the proposed replacement tree planting plan. There are numerous downtown sites where all the trees, including City Street trees, were removed for a development project.
So where is the “City of Trees” attitude?
Sadly, it resides in only a few of the neighborhoods, with Curtis Park being at the forefront. Curtis Park residents know that trees are important not only for the shade, health benefits, and character it gives the neighborhood but also in combating climate change. Residents readily speak out when a tree is posted for removal or a construction project which will impact trees. SCNA spends approximately $14,000 every three years to protect elms in the park from Dutch elm disease. Curtis Park is definitely the “Neighborhood of Trees.” However, Sacramento can no longer boast that it is the “City of Trees.”