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Phoenix To Collect Public Donations To Plant More Trees

By Christina Estes, Mark Brodie
Published: Monday, January 13, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2020 - 12:36pm

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trees in Phoenix
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Some Phoenix residents are pushing city leaders to do more to add trees and shade.

Phoenix is looking to collect public donations to plant more trees. But the idea is being met with some skepticism.

During a recent city subcommittee meeting, Chief Sustainability Officer Mark Hartman pitched the process.

“Residents will not be able to say exactly to say I want a tree in front of my house or along this street,” he said. “But they will be able to designate to either tree planting projects in neighborhoods like Love My Block, donate to trees on streets, or in parks.”  

Councilwoman Laura Pastor raised the issue of equity which was echoed by Vice Mayor Betty Guardado.

“You know there’s a lot of parts of our community that are not going to have time to give that input and actually need the trees as well so I think definitely working with the council for us to help, to help you guys figure out where the needs are and making sure that it’s balanced and everyone gets their fair share,” Guardado said.

The subcommittee directed staff to provide details about how donations will be designated and projects chosen before the full council discusses the plan.

Stacey Champion, a Phoenix resident, expressed frustration about the idea.

“I’m embarrassed for us quite frankly,” she said. “I totally appreciate all the work that the subcommittee has done, but if the big hurrah today is we’re going to have a portal for people to donate money to buy the city trees, like that’s, that’s ridiculous.” 

Champion and others have criticized the city for not moving fast enough on the Tree and Shade Master Plan. It was adopted by the City Council in January 2010. It focuses on creating a prosperous city through strategic investment of the urban forest and engineered shade

The 62-page plan contains specific recommendations on how to reach 25% tree and shade canopy by 2030. According to the city’s chief sustainability officer, Phoenix last measured the canopy in 2014. At that time it was 12%.

Last year, the City Council approved nearly $400,000 to plant more trees. That money is expected to continue each year. In 2019, Phoenix said it planted 4,509. They estimate they lost 1,200 due to things like storms, accidents and health, so the city’s tree inventory grew by 3,309. 

The Master Plan calls for a tree inventory which you can view online. It shows the city has more than 92,000 trees along streets and sidewalks and on city property. 

The Master Plan also recommends updating city code and zoning ordinances to increase the urban forest on both public and private property and gives specific examples. Some of the recommendations from ten years ago are just starting to be addressed.

In April 2018, the planning and development director presented three tiers involving trees to a city subcommittee. Two tiers included a new process for complaints, investigations and enforcement when it comes to tree health and maintenance. The subcommittee did not choose those options. Instead it chose Tier 1 which the department is pursuing right now.

It focuses on enhancing current codes for new developments — we’re not talking about your house, we’re talking about homebuilders and commercial contractors as they start to go through the city’s permitting process.

The proposal will strengthen language so developers are required to replace trees if they tear them down. It would also require a landscape maintenance plan. But there is no complaint process or enforcement mechanism in this tier so it’s unclear if anyone would follow up to make sure trees are healthy and maintained. 

The City Council is expected to discuss and possibly vote on the Tier 1 proposal this spring.

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