It seems we struck a nerve at the Los Angeles Mayor's Office the other day when we wrote about Antonio Villaraigosa's long-suffering Million Trees LA project. The much-publicized program kicked off in 2006, and few people, if any, know exactly how many trees have been planted by the city government since then.
A mayoral aide and mayoral appointee sent us emails hinting the much-maligned project is actually a major success, but not because a million, new trees are thriving in L.A. Instead, they suggest the big victory is that Angelenos are actually making friends!
Los Angeles Board of Neighborhood Commissioners President Al Abrams, who just happens to run a public relations firm called Abrams Creative Services and who is a Villaraigosa political appointee on the neighborhood commission, sent us an email with the subject line: "Here's one reason why the Mayor's Million Trees initiative is actually a big success."
In the email, Abrams (who didn't disclose his connection to Villaraigosa to us, we figured that out on our own) provides a link to a Huffington Post piece written by Kristi Blicharski, who is president of another P.R. firm, Bliss Media Public Relations.
In that post, Blicharski raves about recently planting trees for Million Trees L.A. and says the "healthy feelings of giving, of connecting in person, and coming together with our peers to do good cannot be replaced by texting, emailing, or clicking on a link that gives a penny to a charitable cause."
The article goes on and on about that stuff.
Which is nice and all, but making friends is not why Villaraigosa started a Million Trees program.
If so, it would have been called the "Million Friends" project. No, it's always been about sticking trees into the ground and showing that the mayor has green cred among environmentalists.
Villaraigosa aide Lisa Sarno also sent us Abrams' email with the link, writing to us: "This is a positive and accurate story about what we do in bringing neighbors and communities together."
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We just happen to have the mayor's staff list. Sarno makes $133,799 a year working on the Million Trees LA project. If this highly paid aide thinks the program is about people bonding with each other, no wonder a million trees haven't been planted in nearly five years.
By the way, P.R. pros Abrams and Blicharski are heavily involved in L.A.'s Neighborhood Council community. Sarno, coincidentally or not, was the interim general manager at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the agency that oversees neighborhood councils.
If you want to read more about Villaraigosa's huge staff, how much it costs taxpayers, and how the mayor obscures the true costs of aides like Lisa Sarno working for him, check out the L.A. Weekly news story "Los Angeles: Broke and Broken."
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.