EPA Awards Million Trees L.A. Initiative

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Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 8:00 AM

Last Thursday, two days after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave his "State of the City" address and touted his questionable environmental record, the United States Environmental Protection Agency appeared to throw the self-described "green" mayor a much-needed bone.

click to enlarge L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
  • L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Honoring the city of Los Angeles as one of eight "environmental heroes" in Southern California, acting U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Laura Yoshii singled out one of the mayor's more controversial programs -- the Million Trees L.A. Initiative -- as "creating a legacy of environmental activism," according to an EPA press release. So far, Villaraigosa has been uncharacteristically quiet about the seemingly distinguished award, and probably for good reason.

Throughout Villaraigosa's first term, the Million Trees initiative had been a sore point for the mayor. While he was flying around the country and the world, declaring that L.A. was planting one million trees, the reality was that the program got off to an incredibly slow start and received constant criticism from local media and environmentalists alike. Former L.A. Weekly scribe and now L.A. Times reporter David Zahniser, for example, wrote one of the most damaging pieces on the subject.

Officially launched on September 30, 2006, more than a year after the mayor first took office, Million Trees L.A. has planted only 189,567 trees, according to the city's Department of Public Works. As the L.A. Weekly's Steven Mikulan pointed out a few weeks ago, at the current planting rate, Villaraigosa "would not only be

long out of City Hall by the time the millionth tree is put in the

ground, but also out of the governor's mansion as well, should he end

up there."

Mikulan also found that "an analysis for

Million Trees L.A. shows that Los Angeles has a 21 percent 'tree canopy

cover,' lower than the national average of 27 percent."

Far from an heroic effort, Million Trees L.A. has actually been an embarrassment for the mayor, who tried to joke about the slow moving program during his "State of the City" last year.

"I'd be the first to admit," Villaraigosa said, "we haven't exactly reached our goal of planting a million trees. I think we may have busted a few shovels along the way!"

Despite all of these things, Laura Yoshii at the EPA still found this lagging program worthy of accommodation.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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