Last week, several officials from Cal-FIRE, the state’s forestry and fire-prevention department, visited Oakland for a tour hosted by Urban Releaf. The Cal-FIRE team included John Melvin, Glenn Flamik, Darla Mills, Lynnette Short and Jimi Scheid;  All are Regional Urban Foresters (except for John, who is the State Urban Forester). The tour passed through many of the locations where Urban Releaf has planted trees over the years, through the major corridors in West Oakland, including Market St., San Pablo Ave., and 31st. St;  and North Oakland, including Claremont Ave. For the officials, who work all over the state, it was a chance to see some of the urban forestry projects they funded years ago, with the trees now having grown to adult size.

But the officials also got an eyeful of the overall state of urban forestry in Oakland. Many flatland areas are lacking in sufficient tree canopy. Although state guidelines mandate a 40% tree canopy for cities, Oakland’s canopy of 12% is less than 1/3rd below the recommended level for compliance with California’s climate action and greenhouse gas reduction law, AB32. Thousands and thousands of trees need to be planted to properly “green” Oakland’s flatlands, areas which have some of the worst air quality in the entire state.

Following the tour, given by certified arborist Akeem Davis and Project Manager Kevin Jefferson, the officials enjoyed a homemade lunch prepared by Executive Director Kemba Shakur’s neighbor,Raymond Jacobs. Salmon salad, pasta salad, and fruit salad were all on the menu. It was so good, everybody had seconds.

After lunch, it was time for a little chat about the state of urban forestry in 2014. Thanks to the cap-and-trade provisions in AB32, which created the state’s greenhouse gas reduction fund, and the requirements that set-asides be earmarked for disadvantaged communities, as outlined in SB535, Cal-FIRE officials said, there is a pipeline of funding available for new urban forestry projects throughout the state.

This could be potentially good news for Oakland. However, officials cautioned that the money available must be disbursed throughout the entire state of California. There is expected to be stiff competition for urban forestry funding, they said, although innovative projects which address the need for environmental mitigation in the most at-risk areas while providing community and economic benefit are likely to be prioritized.

The implication from the state officials was that Oakland, which hasn’t done a tree inventory in eight years and currently has no master plan for urban forestry—its tree services department currently doesn’t plant any street trees—needs to step up its game, if it is to receive part of the cap-and-trade windfall.  While Urban Releaf, which has planted almost 17,000 trees in 17 years — the majority of them in Oakland’s flatlands — is doing all it can to plant more trees in a city which needs them badly, an outpouring of community support could go a long way to convince elected and local officials to support Urban Releaf’s efforts in a more meaningful way.

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