Phoenix considers asking residents to donate to plant more trees

The city has been criticized for not moving fast enough on the Tree and Shade Master Plan it approved in 2010. It focuses on creating a prosperous 21st century city through strategic investment of the urban forest and engineered shade. (Photo by Christina Estes/KJZZ)

PHOENIX – Phoenix is looking to collect donations from the public to plant more trees, but the proposal is being met with some skepticism.

Mark Hartman, the city’s chief sustainability officer, pitched the idea at a recent City Council subcommittee meeting.

“Residents will not be able to say exactly, ‘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 city staff members 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 proposal.

“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, which the City Council adopted in January 2010. It focuses on creating a prosperous 21st century 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. Hartman said Phoenix last measured the canopy in 2014, when it was 12%.

Last year, the City Council approved nearly $400,000 to plant more trees, and that money is expected to continue each year. Phoenix planted 4,509 trees in 2019 and estimates it lost 1,200 to such things as storms, accidents and poor health, so the city’s tree inventory grew by 3,309.

The master plan established a tree inventory, which is viewable online. It shows Phoenix 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 it gives specific examples. Some of the recommendations made 10 years ago are just starting to be addressed.

In April 2018, the director of the Phoenix Planning and Development Department presented three tiers involving trees to a council subcommittee. Two tiers included a new process for complaints, investigations and enforcement when it comes to tree health and maintenance. The subcommittee instead chose tier 1, which the department is pursuing now.

Tier 1 would enhance current codes for new developments, focusing on homebuilders and commercial contractors as they begin the city’s permitting process.

The proposal would strengthen language so developers are required to replace trees they cut down, and it require a landscape maintenance plan. But there is no complaint process or enforcement mechanism in this tier, so it’s unclear whether 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.