On February 15, Urban Releaf joined forces with, the Unity Council, the office of Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo, students from Holy Names University, the Girl Scouts, the Original Scraper Bike Team, the East Bay Bike Coalition, the City of Oakland’s Parks and Rec Dept., Cal-FIRE, the U. S. Forest Service, and the Urban Forest Council for “Invest From the Ground Up,” a tree-planting event on San Leandro Blvd. in Oakland.
Around 10.a.m., the various groups began to gather at the parking lot of 4 Caminos restaurant, where about 60 trees, mulch, soil, and fertilizer awaited. The Holy Names students were at it bright and early, arriving at 8:30 am, an hour-and-a-half prior to the official starting time. Now that’s dedication!
As at many previous Urban Releaf events, the tree-planting began with an invocation by Aztek dancers, who performed an indigenous ritual ceremony, calling for protection, peace – and more much-needed rain. The sight of indigenous dancers, dressed in traditional ceremonial garb—one of the dancers had a headband with what looked like a baby crocodile’s head– literally dancing in the streets of San Leandro Blvd., must have been quite the eye-opener for passing motorists and bicyclists to witness the scene, which came complete with drumming, chanting, and sage-burning.
After the Azteks turned to all four directions, completing the ceremony, Urban Releaf Founder and Executive Director Kemba Shakur addressed the assembled folks, about 100 in all, and explained the logistics of the tree-planting. Shakur was followed by Claudia Burgos, of Councilmember Gallo’s office, who gave instructions to the non-English speaking tree-planters.
And so, the planting begun. It was quite an operation, as people formed small groups and fanned out across the neighborhood, to sidewalks where concrete cuts had already been performed, in anticipation of the arrival of the trees. Holes were dug, and dirt was cleared. Tree after tree was then placed in each hole, as formerly barren blocks—many also marred by graffiti tagging, abandoned sofas, and other obvious signs of blight—suddenly gained a not-insignificant tree canopy.
During the planting, Urban Releaf staffers drove from site to site, inspecting the proceedings (along with aborists from the Urban Forest Council), unloading trees, distributing stakes, and helping volunteers where needed. Most of the residents were pleased with the trees – several of them asked for trees on their properties, too; one neighbor remarked he’d lived on his block all his life– those sidewalks had never seen trees before, he said.
However, inexplicably, one property owner vetoed a request by his tenant to have trees planted in front of the house the tenant lived in. It later turned out the man owned several blighted buildings in the area, which he was apparently loathe to improve, even when informed that property values would rise as a result. Efforts were made to reason with the man by Program Manager Kevin Jefferson and others, yet he remained steadfast in his opposition to trees being planted in front of any of his properties.
Undaunted, the Urban Releaf crew and the volunteers planted all the remaining trees, pounded stakes in the ground to hold them, then tied the trees to stakes. They would be back another day, to plant an additional 40 trees which still needed concrete cuts.
The tree planting was covered by the Oakland Post , which noted the Oakland event was part of a statewide effort to plant as many as 1,200 trees in a single day. The Post article quotes Shakur as saying, “Planting this many trees in a single day is a significant undertaking, and one which the community will benefit from for years to come – both in terms of environmental impacts, and making the Fruitvale District more aesthetically-pleasing to look at and live in.”