Tree-planting project off to rocky start

Tree People representatives speak at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Photo by Alex Dominguez

Tree People representatives speak at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Photo by Alex Dominguez

DOWNEY — Tree People – the organization spearheading the planting of more than 3,000 trees in the city of Downey – took the hot seat at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, presenting information on the controversial currently-in-progress project.

The work is part of a larger program in which 11,000 trees will be planted in Downey, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs, Commerce and La Mirada over the next five years.

The project is funded by the California Department of Transportation, to offset the carbon footprint resulted from the I-5 expansion.

The incoming trees have proven to be a hot button issue as of late, with some city staffers saying that they were not anticipating the substantial pushback they have received from residents over the trees.

The Council – especially members Claudia Frometa and Alex Saab – were not shy about addressing many of their constituents’ concerns, including potential property risks, upkeep past the two-year span with Tree People, and desire – or lack thereof – for a tree in general.

Saab specifically asked about homes that do not have a traditional parkway or sidewalk. According to Tree People’s representative at the meeting, those cases would require “more engaging and talking with the residents to inform them what’s part of the city and what’s not.”

Trees will be planted in the city’s right-of-way and maintained weekly for two years by Tree People, after which the responsibility for upkeep will shift to the city.

The uproar has only increased recently as Tree People has begun to map out and select where each of the trees will be planted.

Suzanne Dodd, a resident of Downey since 1975, said she was upset to find a small circle painted on the curb in front of her home, which many have reasoned to believe signifies an incoming tree.

Suzanne Dodd outside her Downey home. Photo by Alex Dominguez

Suzanne Dodd outside her Downey home. Photo by Alex Dominguez

“Trees are good for the environment; I get that…I realize the city has a 12 ft. legal easement,” said Dodd. “My concern was we get no say so at all, period. A lot of people have planned their lawns with what they want it to look like, and how much care they want to put into it… what if people have allergies?”

“I’m being given no choice in the matter… I don’t want a tree. If I had wanted a tree, I would’ve planted a tree when I redid my yard.”

However, of the outspoken residents against the project, none of them appeared to speak on their opposition Tuesday.

Instead, a group of individuals – who spoke on topics ranging from ICE raids to Mayor Rodriguez’s Downey residency – came out in favor of the project, citing concerns of global warming.

Cesar Flores, one of the individuals who addressed the council at the meeting, said afterward that “we are in a global crisis.”

“The closest level of government that interacts with the public is city government, and I think that the city of Downey must inform their residents that there is a global crisis going on,” said Flores. “I think that people are saying, ‘I don’t need trees because it’s a cosmetic issue, my property is going to go down;’ we’re all going to go down if we don’t implement trees somewhere.

“The City of Downey, they need to talk about climate change, and whether their residents like it or not, this must happen.”

Flores – like several of the group which spoke - does not live in Downey.

Residents have reported markings on their curbs, presumably where trees will be planted. Photo by Alex Dominguez

Residents have reported markings on their curbs, presumably where trees will be planted. Photo by Alex Dominguez

In the end, it was recommended by City Manager Gilbert Livas that the Tree People come back at a later time with a more specific layout of where trees will be planted.

“I think what we ultimately want to do is decide where the trees will go, what neighborhoods they go,” said Livas. “I think that one of the things that would be incumbent upon us is to take a pause for a moment, take at look at where exactly it is that you’re going to be planting those trees, offer suggestions in terms of the neighborhoods…I’m talking about having a more detailed discussion about where they are at.”

Completion of the tree planting is scheduled for this upcoming January.

NewsAlex Dominguez