San Diego Adopts Urban Forestry Program With No Manager
The San Diego City Council on Tuesday voted to adopt a five-year plan to better grow and maintain the city's urban forest, but the program faces budget constraints and recently lost its manager to another city.
The program does not contain any new funding or binding policies. Rather it's an attempt to consolidate the city's existing policies, as well as forestry management best practices, to improve the program's efficiency. Best practices include choosing the right species and placement of trees so roots don't damage streets or sidewalks.
In a report to council members, staff said the economic recession and budget constraints have limited the city's ability to plant new trees, trim its existing trees and educate the public on the program. They said the city needs more money "to implement a management program to achieve a healthy urban forest, particularly for street tree planting, watering and pruning."
The report also acknowledged the creation of an urban forestry manager position in the city's Planning Department. The person who was hired for that position in August 2015, however, left San Diego this month for a job in his home state of Minnesota. The city's tree warden position is also vacant.
San Diego has a well-documented problem with recruiting and retaining qualified personnel. Mike Zucchet, general manager of the largest union representing city staffers, said in an e-mail that he wasn't familiar with the specifics of the program manager's departure, but that "it is usually a safe assumption when someone good leaves the City (especially after such a short time)" that retention challenges played a role.
Councilman Scott Sherman acknowledged the city had a chronic problem with filling vacant positions, and said he hoped the jobs relating to the forestry program could be filled quickly.
"The sooner the better, because this is one of those things we just need to get started on," he said. "It's been neglected for a long time."
Increasing San Diego's urban tree canopy is one of five strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city's Climate Action Plan. It makes up only 1 percent of the plan's overall reductions, dwarfed by the goals of switching the city to renewable energy and increasing the share of people who commute to work on mass transit. But trees are also popular as a way to enhance quality of life, and the shade they provide is considered a way to build more resilience to a warming climate.