City Council Meeting: April 7, 2009

Agenda Item: 8-A

To:†††††††††††††††††† Mayor and City Council 

From:††††††††††††† Joan L. Akins, Director, Community Maintenance

Subject:††††††††† Recommendation to Establish an Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force

 

Recommended Action

Staff recommends that City Council establish an urban forest master plan task force to advise staff on the development of a long-range urban forest master plan, review specific urban forest issues related to the master plan, and serve in an advisory capacity to City Council.

 

Executive Summary

Council directed staff to present options for the establishment of a body to create a public forum for input into the Cityís urban forestry issues.This report explores a recommendation and two alternatives to address this request.The report explains staffís conclusion that a task force to advise on the Cityís long-range urban forest master plan is the most constructive format to promote public involvement in crafting the plan.The master planning process is expected to yield more information and understanding of urban forest issues and may ultimately lead to a recommendation to establish a commission once the plan is adopted.

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Background

On July 23, 2008, Council received a public request to consider the creation of an urban forest commission to better engage community members with urban forestry matters.As a result, Council directed staff to explore options for a public process and present these approaches to Council for its consideration.Staff conducted research on various approaches used by other cities, both locally and nationwide, to enhance community involvement with the urban forest and assessed the Cityís own mechanisms to do so.

 

Concurrently, staff is also in the process of developing a Long Range Master Plan for the community forest that will incorporate the policies of the Cityís adopted Community Forest Management Plan and revise those policies as necessary.The Long Range Master Plan will include an updated tree inventory, maintenance requirements, an assessment of the environmental benefits of the forest and an estimate on the life expectancy of individual trees.The ultimate purpose of the plan is to design a long range replacement program for trees throughout the City as they reach the end of their useful life span.

 

Discussion

Staff began its research into this topic by developing and distributing a survey nationwide to member cities of the following professional organizations composed of municipal arborists, urban foresters, or consulting arborists:the Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA), Street Tree Seminar, Inc. (STS), and the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA).Thirty cities, including the California cities of Beverly Hills, Claremont, Davis, Palo Alto, Palos Verdes Estates, and West Hollywood, responded to the survey.Thirteen of these cities have existing Urban Forest Master Plans in place. The results indicated the following methods to involve community members with urban forest issues:

        A commission solely dedicated to the urban forest (27% of respondents)

        A commission such as a recreation and parks commission (20%)

        The city council or a committee of city council members oversees urban forest matters (17%)

        No mechanism for public engagement (16%)

        An urban forest subcommittee within a commission (10%)

        Other methods such as an ad hoc committee focused on private tree education or a specialized committee that meets once per year (7%)

        A committee to create an urban forest master plan (3%)

 

To find additional local examples, staff queried the following twelve west Los Angeles County cities by phone:

El Segundo †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Malibu

Hawthorne †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Rancho Palos Verdes

Hermosa Beach †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Palos Verdes Estates

Inglewood ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Redondo Beach

Lawndale †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Rolling Hills

Lomita ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Rolling Hills Estates

 

The results of this brief phone query yielded the following:

        Lomita utilizes a tree commission.

        Rancho Palos Verdes and Redondo Beach use their respective public works departments to oversee urban forest matters.

        Palos Verdes Estates has an advisory committee that provides recommendations to the City Council on issues that involve public trees.

        The remaining cities do not have urban forest commissions or subcommittees.

From this survey, it is clear that cities have adopted a number of approaches to involving the public in urban forest issues.Based on Santa Monicaís current commission structure and the Cityís priority to develop a long-range urban forest master plan as a framework for the care and management of the Cityís trees for the next 50 years, staff has assessed three options for Councilís consideration:

1.      Urban forest master plan task force

2.      Subcommittee of the Recreation and Parks Commission

3.      Urban forest commission

 

The following attributes are common across all three options:

1.      Mission - advise Council on the care and maintenance of public trees to create, maintain and promote a safe, healthy and environmentally sound urban forest.

2.      Public Engagement - provide a forum to review urban forestry issues that can be reviewed and commented on by the public.Staff suggests the use of a system of diversified public notification, such as agendized meetings and notification through WIN, to consistently outreach to the public as much as possible.

3.      Staffing and Duties - The Public Landscape Manager and Community Forester would serve as liaisons along with support from existing administrative staff. Some duties would include agenda preparation, conducting mailings, drafting meeting minutes, maintaining web pages, site investigations and research in conjunction with staff reports, writing staff reports, and responding to requests as they occur.

Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force (recommended)

Role

        The Task Force will focus on the development of the urban forest master plan, making recommendations on the strategic goals, objectives, implementation measures, and timeline for achievement. The task force will assist staff throughout the planís development.

 

 

        The development process for the master plan mandates a minimum of four heavily advertised community meetings to capture residentsí concerns and commenton the long term management of the community forest. The role of the Task Force will be to evaluate the publicís input and apply it to the long range plan where practical and/or feasible.

 

 

        Through the oversight of the task force, the duties of a potential future urban forest commission would be discussed during the development of the master plan.

 

        Once the master plan has been completed and adopted by the Council, the task force would be dissolved.

 

Membership

It is proposed that the Task Force consist of seven members representing the Recreation and Parks Commission, Environmental Task Force, Sustainable City Task Force, Planning Commission and Landmarks Commission as well as two additional volunteer residents.All members would be appointed by the Mayor in consultation with Council. The volunteer residents should have a demonstrated knowledge and preferably a professional background related to the environment, as well as an interest in issues involving the care and management of the Cityís trees.

 

Level of Public Engagement

A task force provides a forum for the public to collaborate on a long-range master plan that will serve the community and provide direction for the urban forest for the next 50 years.The task force would hold regular public meetings during the course of the planís development to educate the public on critical issues that involve the urban forestís long-term health. Given the comprehensive nature of a long-range master plan, oversight by a task force gives direction to the plan and establishes a consistent forum for public education and input on issues that involve the management of the Cityís urban forest.

 

Alternatives

Recreation and Parks Commission Subcommittee

Role

                    Review urban forest processes and provide advisory oversight to staff.

                    Receive urban forest status updates from staff on a quarterly basis.

                    Review and comment on the status of the master plan development.

                    (It is noted that this commission currently has an advisory capacity over approximately 15% of the urban forest. The forest inventory in the Public Right of Way (street trees) is currently not under their purview.)

 

Membership

The Recreation and Parks Commission would select three of its members to serve on the subcommittee.A standing subcommittee adheres to the same laws related to the public process that govern the work of the commission.In this case, the commission would define the rules of operations for the subcommittee, and must ensure that procedures are in place to move the urban forest agenda forward.Although the Recreation and Parks Commission had a subcommittee that addressed urban forest issues until 2002, the Commission has not shown interest in taking over this role at this time.

 

Level of Public Engagement

The Public Landscape Manager and City Forester would meet quarterly with the subcommittee, which would then present items to the entire Commission for consideration. The Commission would then forward policy recommendations to Council.The public would have an opportunity to comment on urban forest issues at the monthly Commission meetings.

 

Urban Forest Commission

Role

        Envisioned to be created through the master plan process if that process concludes that a commission would perform a valuable role in managing the urban forest in a public setting.

        Participate in implementing the master planís action plan, which may include a decision making role such as appeals of staff decisions regarding tree removal.

        Advise Council on the management of the Cityís long-range urban forestry program.

        The Commissionís scope of responsibility will depend on the role defined in the approved master plan.

 

Membership

Membership would consist of seven City residents appointed by Council.Members would have demonstrated knowledge of and/or professional experience in urban forestry issues, and the first commission may include members of the previous Task Force.

 

Level of Public Engagement

Once the role is defined through the master plan process, a commission would provide an effective venue for public input or requests regarding specific urban forest issues, review of major streetscape development projects, and private development projects that impact public property.†††

 

Commission Action

On January 15, 2009, staff presented to the Recreation and Parks Commission meeting the aforementioned recommendations and alternatives. The following recommendation was made:†††††††

ďThe Recreation and Parks Commission unanimously recommends that the City Council establish an independent Tree Commission that is charged with the development and oversight of an urban forest master plan.   The Recreation and Parks Commission also recommends that liaisons to the Tree Commission be selected from related Commissions and Task Forces including the Recreation and Parks Commission, the Sustainable City Task Force and The Environmental Task Force and suggests that consideration be given by the Council to broaden the role of a Tree Commission to consider other components that make a street complete and sustainable.Ē        

 

While not recommending the establishment of an Urban Forest Commission at this time, staff has incorporated the Recreation and Parks Commissionís suggestions with respect to the role of the recommended Task Force and the proposed membership from interested commissions and/or tasks.

 

Staff Recommendation: Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force

A Task Force would gather direct community input and formulate recommendations based on that input for the long-range urban forest master plan.The public input phase would be a crucial part of the development of the master plan through a series of public workshops.Because of the extent of community outreach and engagement offered by the task force, this input would have long-lasting impacts on the character of individual neighborhoods and the sustainability of the Cityís green infrastructure.The Task Force would also gain valuable insight from staff and other experts on the intricacies of the management of the urban forest and gain a better understanding of how it impacts the public Which will help guide the master plan development.

 

The process of developing and appointing a Task Force could be accomplished upon its formation because there are no requirements to develop and adopt Resolutions and By Laws as required for commissions.A Task Force would not delay the start of the development of the master plan, which is slated to begin in spring of 2009.

 

 

Financial Impacts & Budget Actions

The financial/budget impact of the three options is not significantly different. All would involve staff time, both professional and staff assistants, and would need to be accommodated within existing resources.

 

Funds are available in the City Managerís budget account number 01202PY.555060 for the development of the long-range urban forest master plan.Staff time will be associated with the development of the plan and related costs will be covered under the departmentís existing staffing levels and budget.

 

 

Prepared by:

Randy Little, Public Landscape Manager

 

Approved:

 

Forwarded to Council:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joan L. Akins

Director, Community Maintenance

 

P. Lamont Ewell

City Manager