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Urban Releaf wants to plant thousands of trees all along San Leandro Ave., where industrial plants, unregulated dumps and a lack of trees are contributing to skyrocketing asthma rates among residents.

Thousands of trees may be planted in Oakland with funds from California’s first cap and trade program

on October 30, 2014

For the first time, Oakland can receive money for environmental projects from California’s eighteen-month-old cap and trade program, which this year raised $832 million. The advocacy group Urban Releaf hopes to receive $1 million from the fund, which it will use to plant thousands of new trees in East Oakland.

“It’s the first time California is stepping up, doing what it should be doing,” Kevin Jefferson, project manager of Urban Releaf, said as he greeted me at the front door of the group’s office in North Oakland.

Inside the old Victorian house, the walls were covered with maps and whiteboards crowded with notes, bullet points and diagrams. “This is how we’re going to make our strong argument to receive a good portion of the cap and trade money,” Jefferson said.

Cap and trade sets a ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions, requiring polluters to pay for extra emissions by purchasing allowances in quarterly auctions organized by the state. After Europe, California has the second largest cap and trade program in the world.

Cap and trade will help California achieve its goal of cutting greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. It will also add billions of dollars to the state’s greenhouse gas fund, which will be used for environmental projects.

In 2012, after pressure by advocacy groups, California passed Senate Bill 535, which requires 25 percent of the proceeds from the cap and trade program to be spent on projects that will benefit low-income communities burdened by pollution. This year, that amounts to around $210 million, according to CalEPA’s website.

Communities and advocacy groups like Urban Releaf that want to receive money from the cap and trade fund will submit their project proposals by November 13, Jefferson said, while getting into his car to drive to Urban Releaf’s proposed project area. “Priority will be given to areas that have been identified as most disadvantaged,” he said, pointing to CalEPA’s digital map. CalEPA has divided the state into census tracts, identifying disadvantaged communities according to pollution, public health and poverty levels.

Almost $16 million have been set aside for urban forestry projects in California, according to CalFire’s urban forester John Melvin. “We are asking for $1 million to plant 2,000 trees,” Jefferson said, while driving through the neighborhoods of East Oakland, where the absence of trees is striking.

“Asthma rates are alarmingly high here, because of pollution and lack of trees. Poverty levels are also very high,” he said as he drove along San Leandro Avenue, between I-880 and the BART railroad tracks. Here, industrial plants are located near homes, and many empty lots have been transformed into illegal dumps.

Each tree costs between $200 and $2,000 to plant and maintain. “But the funding won’t go only to the trees,” Jefferson said, parking in front of New Highland Academy. “We are training community members and school kids to become volunteers, introducing urban forestry into schools.” Last year, the academy, with the help of Urban Releaf, planted trees all around the school, giving a completely different feel to the block. If it receives the requested money, Urban Releaf plans to do the same at other schools in the area.

Communities between San Leandro Avenue and International Avenue, as well as in other transportation corridors, where pollution is concentrated, are in urgent need of more trees. “The standard amount of tree coverage in an urban environment is 40 percent,” Jefferson said. But in this area trees cover less than 10 percent. “Our long term goal is to reach 50 percent,” he said. That represents about one million trees. “The first 2,000 are just a beginning,” he said.

As we drove back to Urban Releaf’s offices, Jefferson said that other groups doing similar work collaborate with Urban Releaf and are also applying for cap and trade funding. Urban Releaf can’t do all the work on its own. According to Jefferson, it is best if the funds are spread across the community. “This way we can really make a difference,” he said.

Since the annual revenue from California’s cap and trade program will likely increase, low income communities burdened by pollution should expect to receive more funds aimed at benefiting disadvantaged communities.

This is a revised version of an article that first appeared on October 15. It has been updated and also includes the following corrections: The original headline and first paragraph gave the false impression that the funds Urban Releaf will apply for in November are guaranteed. The group won’t submit its application until next month, as the article also states, and the outcome of the bidding process is uncertain. “State Bill” has been changed to “Senate Bill.” In one of the photo captions, Urban Releaf was misspelled. North Oakland and West Oakland were misidentified.


1 Comment

  1. Safeway on October 31, 2014 at 9:43 am

    The trees will be planted in the middle of the sidewalk like most trees in Oakland.

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