San Jose hopes to rebound from losing over 1,700 acres of trees since 2012

By Maggie Angst, The Mercury News, January 10, 2022

“Despite boasting ambitious climate goals, the nation’s 10th largest city is in the midst of an environmental crisis as the tree canopy that shades it has dwindled by 1.82 percent between 2012 and 2018.

“That leaves only 13.5 percent of San Jose covered by trees, compared to 28 percent of Seattle, 27 percent of Boston and 40 percent of steel city Pittsburgh.

“A new 242-page city report — the Community Forest Management Plan — reveals how decades of underinvestment and mismanagement led to the current state and warns that the damage could continue unless corrections are made.

“Compounding the problem is that almost 90 percent of San Jose’s trees are on private property or in a public right-of-way and property owners are responsible for maintaining them.

“ ‘We have a policy that instead of incentivizing families, landlords, tenants, our residents to plant and maintain trees, we penalize them if there’s any disruption to the infrastructure,’ [Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco, who represents East San Jose] said in a recent interview. ‘So for a low-income family, that’s not an incentive to plant a tree.’

“Some cities like San Francisco have taken the rare step of caring for street trees. In 2016, voters there overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to provide additional funding for city maintenance of all street trees, repairs of all tree-related sidewalk damage, and liability coverage of people or property harmed by trees.

“San Jose does not have any plans for a similar ballot measure, but officials say they’ll ask the City Council to consider one in the future.”

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