Staedler: Climate Smart San Jose misses the mark on the value of trees
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

    At the San Jose City Council meeting on May 18, the Climate Smart San Jose Plan semi-annual update took place.

    I turned on the council meeting while working at my desk that afternoon and I heard Kerrie Romanow, director of Environmental Services, make a definitive statement that made me stop what I was doing and watch the meeting.

    “The ROI on tree planting isn’t there,” Romanow said when answering a question from Mayor Sam Liccardo about the value of planting trees in terms of carbon sequestration. She stated that a tree planting initiative doesn’t rise to the level of Climate Smart San Jose. She also said that trees are very expensive to maintain.

    Her sentiment and ultimately this city policy defies common sense; trees are critically important in urban areas. Just Google “importance of trees in urban areas” and you will see a myriad of webpages stressing the importance of this issue. One that jumped out at me was the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Per their website:

    “It is clear that we are becoming a more urbanized nation. Because of these growth patterns, urban forests are more important than ever—they are the trees outside our front doors. They are dynamic ecosystems that provide critical benefits to people and wildlife. Urban forests help to filter air and water, control storm water, conserve energy, and provide animal habitat and shade. They add beauty, form, and structure to urban design. By reducing noise and providing places to recreate, urban forests strengthen social cohesion, spur community revitalization, and add economic value to our communities.”

    Our City Forest, an outstanding San Jose nonprofit, has advocated for the “Power of Trees” since 1994. Its slogan of “Changing our city, one tree at a time,” shows a deep commitment to the value of trees in our city. They even host Tree Amigo classes to educate the public and give residents a chance to volunteer with their teams.

    Let’s get back to basics and do smart things like plant trees and recognize their importance in the Climate Smart San Jose plan. There is also an equity component in this argument. Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco brought this up during the council discussion. She was spot on in her questions and comments on the subject.

    San Jose’s Department of Transportation has a new website showing the environmental benefits of street trees. It allows you to click on an individual tree and provides details of the tree, such as scientific tree name, height, carbon storage, carbon sequestration (lb/yr) and more. This is great information for our community to understand the benefits of trees.

    My hope is that we stop looking at trees in terms of ROI, but a cherished city resource that needs to be protected and expanded. The cost of doing nothing is too great for us to keep this mindset.

    There is a popular Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Never been truer than it is today.

    San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at [email protected] or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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