Viewpoint: please consider bolstering city’s tree policies

A sampling of Claremont's highly regarded tree canopy. Courier photo/Peter Weinberger

By Bob Gerecke

On March 16, I sent the following comments to our city’s sustainability committee regarding its agenda item for March 18, “2024 priorities and work plan.” I subsequently forwarded them to our tree committee for its March 20 agenda item, “2024 city council priorities.”

I remember two time-worn but true sayings: “Timing is everything,” and “Strike while the iron is hot.”

Of all the sustainability issues that we face locally, our urban forest has become the item of greatest recent attention and controversy. Please take this opportunity to exert your influence.

The Claremont Community Services Department proposed sweeping tree removals by species, which violated city policies. It then deflected the attack on its violation by hiring a consultant to review the city’s tree policies and guidelines manual, but not the urban forest management plan.

Meanwhile, Claremont’s Community Development Department has been left out of the conversation, despite its responsibility for our master plan and despite our urban forest management plan’s assignment to it of many responsibilities (table 3: goals, objectives, and actions for Claremont’s urban forest); The Claremont Tree Committee consists of people who have no expertise in urban forest management or tree care; our newly renamed architectural and preservation commission and our newly proposed cultural resources preservation ordinance are focused on individual trees rather than on our city’s heritage as home to an extensive urban forest; the city’s reporting system justifies hundreds of tree removals because the trees are declining, diseased, dying, dead, or hazardous, but it fails to identify their specific diagnoses and why each of them fell into that condition, which is necessary to avoid further losses; and we have not developed and implemented a process to ensure adequate watering of public and private trees despite water conservation, as required by goal 5.4 of our sustainable city plan.

I ask the city to please prioritize a review of our principles, plans, policies, practices, and organization of responsibilities and expertise regarding preservation and expansion of our urban forest overall, and regarding preservation of individual trees, especially those which have already taken decades to mature, and which will take decades to replace their full benefits.

The staff report lists many urban forest items. Please look at them, add what’s missing, and make recommendations to help our city to clean up this mess. The deterioration of our urban forest will have economic, environmental, and social consequences — the three aspects of sustainability.

For your convenience, here’s a list of relevant items in the staff report.

Existing council priorities, approved in April 2022 are to preserve our natural, cultural, and historic resources; increase livability of our neighborhoods; and expand opportunities for our businesses.

I ask the city to please consider further moving forward with evaluating our urban forest master plan, policies and procedures, municipal code, and general plan to ensure consistency (in lieu of a private tree ordinance).

Work plan items informally established, presumably by staff, are to update tree policies and guidelines manual; update the urban forest management plan; and to develop a habitat restoration plan for Claremont Hills Wilderness Park utilizing grant funding.

I hope that this is helpful. Thanks for your dedication to Claremont and to sustainability.

Bob Gerecke, M.A. English, M.S. Public Administration, is a retired principal analyst of the Los Angeles County Economy and Efficiency Commission.


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