Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Million Trees in LA?

I don't live in Los Angeles. The closest that I got was the Univ. of Redlands. Still, I have had enough pleasant association with the City of the Angels to refrain from referring to is a "La La Land." That is, until now.

I have just become aware of Mayor Villaraigosa's Million Trees LA plan, announced in May, 2006. Maybe that is also a good thing, because it is a bone headed idea, one of those things that sounds good when someone proposes it, gets a lot of attention due to the big numbers of the grand vision, and makes very little sense when one looks at what it really means.

In the official announcement of the project, Mayor Villaraigosa is quoted as saying:
The trees will provide shade and save on energy costs, clean the air and help reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, capture polluted urban runoff, improve water quality, and add beauty to our neighborhoods
Now, some of that is true. But the total positive consequences are so trivial and the long term negative consequences are potentially devastating to the state.

Let me give a good example: Home Depot announced that it was going to plant 300,000 trees in various cities across the US to absorb CO2 and reduce the impact of global warming. According to the non-profit Architecture 2030, "The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized (500 MW) coal-fired power plant, in just 10 days of operation, will negate this entire effort." By extrapolation if LA were to plant One Million trees, it would take 34 days of operation to negate the effect of those Million Trees. So far, that aspect of the plan seem to be woefully small.

Mayor Villaraigosa warns us about the need to provide "provide long-term stewardship of one million trees, planted all over the city with a focus on areas that need it most."

LA is nearly a desert. At best, you could consider it's climate as Mediterranean. It is now in the middle of a drought with voluntary water cut backs and, given that this year appears to be equally dry, there is not short term supply of water for those trees. In fact, the best scientific information about our future in a warmer world indicates that the rainfall averages for these two years may be considered normal in the next century. So, again, the question is one of where the water for those trees is going to come from. Oh, yeah, maybe the dwindling show pack in the Sierras where they turn millions of gallons of water a day into man made snow for the ski slopes.

I just wish, for once, that politicians would provide some thoughtful leadership rather than splashy big project backed with a lot of publicity and which provide little or no benefit.

In 1902, the Los Angeles Board of Water Commissioners reported that "we must not expect this City can hop to reach a low per capita consumption, as measured by that of Eastern cities(and it is not desirable that she should, a bountiful supply of water being necessary to the maintenance of the beauty for which she is famous."

In his 1990 book, Miracle Dreams, Kevin Starr referred to Los Angeles as "the most exquisite invented garden in history."

It looks like the good Mayor is playing a part in the same miracle play, the miracle of abundant water just there for that taking. If this is his thinking, then he truly lives in La La Land.

In contrast to Mayor Villaraigosa's cloudy vision, the LA County Green Party has just endorse the Sustainability Principle defined by the California Water Impact Network. I have written about this before. Yo can read them here. Now, maybe the LA Greens are the ones living in the real world.


Erin said...

While it's true that many trees take up significant amounts of water and can cause safety issues (like palms) - my understanding is that the Million Trees LA campaign is promoting the planting of native and shady trees - such as the oaks that were native to this area.

I should be finding more documentation to back up these claims, but am not in the mood to hunt right now. However, TreePeople, a campaign partner, explains that planting trees actually has significant water benefits:

Erin said...

I messed up the link above

Wes said...

Erin, Thank you for correcting the link. If you put a link on a single word, such as "benefits" then the display shows OK. Long URL's without being in a link become problematic.

However, I find the Tree People are a bit too anxious to make their point and not above shading the facts. What they say about trees and water is this...

Trees Save Water
Shade from trees slows water evaporation from thirsty lawns. Most trees need only fifteen gallons of water a week, the equivalent of two toilet flushes. What’s more, as trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.

I don't know about your home, but no high effeciency toilet only need 1.5 gal/flush. So, they should have said 2 flushes per day.

So, what about all those lawns that need shaded. Is it a God given right that all suburban homes MUST have a lawn? In Las Vegas, people are being paid to permanently take out their lawns. Golf courses are being re-designed to narrow strips of grass in the desert.

In times of decreasing water supply, increasing costs to deliver ever larger quantities to our suburban oasis it still does not make very much sense.

Richard Henry Dana, writing in Two Years Before the Mast described San Pedro with the words "except the stalks of the mustard plant, there was no vegetation." The vision of Los Angeles as a paradise garden was the creation of man, not nature.

Anonymous said...






Lisa said...

I've been in Vegas often and aside from wondering, why don't all these new developments have mandatory solar; it is encouraging to see the lawns being torn out.

LA: now that is a different nut to crack. I would guess the mayor and others would say tearing out lawns is too drastic a first step, that they need to ease people into thinking about water conservation and shade trees are easy.

We would need some PR genius to convince Angelenos that we really live in a desert, and that we need lawns like Vegas.

Lisa said...

P.s. My informal analysis, living in LA for 20 yrs, there are many more lawns that have gone xeriscape and drought tolerant.

10-20 yrs. ago they were practically non-existent, now on the Westside you see many, beautifully done by the way, and I prefer the way they look to the traditional suburban lawn.

From what I can tell, this is all from individual initiative, nothing LA City is doing. Although, wait, in Santa Monica it is encouraged and classes are even taught by the city as they do with composting, etc.

Anonymous said...

Anyone that thinks that Villaraigosa has a genuine interest in planting a million trees is a fool. This is just plain dirty politics. It is true that thousands of trees have been given away and no one knows how to account for them. It was just the photo op for the mayor!!!! All of those involved know it very well, many city employees volunteered on paid time to plant some of these trees! Huizar said his district alone would have 100,000 new trees alone. Go and see them at the projects, they are all dead!