L.A. Controller Calls on City to Better Map and Maintain Street Trees

LOS ANGELES – L.A. Controller Ron Galperin released a report today on how the City can do a better job caring for hundreds of thousands of street trees it is responsible for maintaining. He called on City leaders to create an online, citywide street tree inventory and implement a centralized tracking system to guide proactive tree preservation work. Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, chair of the Public Works Committee, and representatives of TreePeople joined Galperin to unveil the report.

“Preserving our trees is essential to preserving the quality of life in our neighborhoods, but our urban forest is at risk,” said Controller Galperin. “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.”

The City’s Bureau of Street Services, Urban Forestry Division is responsible for maintaining street trees, which are located in parkways between curbs and sidewalks, and in medians. Galperin noted that, despite a concerted effort by City leaders to increase proactive maintenance, City trees only get trimmed once every 14 to 18 years, putting L.A.’s urban forest is at risk. Just three years ago, the City gave itself a “D” when grading the health of L.A.’s street trees. And the U.S. Forest Service and City arborists agree that disease and pests could kill 30 percent of the region’s trees within a decade without proper care and maintenance.

The best way to keep trees and the urban forest healthy is through regular maintenance. Last year, the City spent $49 million to maintain trees, with $20 million dedicated to the Urban Forestry Division, but $11 million of that was spent responding to tree emergencies and only $9 million on proactive trimming and care. Galperin observed that the City must take additional steps to modernize its management of street trees, including:

  • Create an online street tree inventory based on up-to-date data. The inventory should map the location of each tree, and identify what type of tree it is and when it was last maintained;
  • 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 chooses to supplement City tree trimming crews, so that L.A. can meet its tree preservation goals as quickly as possible.

“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,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. “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. Thanks to Controller Galperin for helping to create a comprehensive framework so we can continue to modernize BSS and UFD to build a healthier urban tree canopy.”

“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.”

“Trees are an essential part of urban infrastructure, said Yujuan Chen, TreePeople’s Senior Manager of Urban Forestry Policy. “They are just as important as roads, sidewalks and curbs. Therefore, a comprehensive tree inventory is needed for the City of Los Angeles. The tree inventory will serve as the foundation for sustainable urban forestry management because it can help us better understand urban forest resources, minimize potential risks and maximize our benefits from trees. TreePeople strongly agrees that it is a critical step towards the first urban forestry management plan for the City.”

Follow L.A. Controller Ron Galperin at @LAController on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.