A City Hall decision that baffled me at the time is now clear.
In 2008, I pulled city tree records and broke the story that the urban forest was dying. The records included a city arborist’s memo warning further neglect would cause the deaths of 3,000-5,000 trees a year.
The logical reaction, the one I expected from City Hall, was for the city to budget more resurces for the urban forest. Instead, City Hall slashed tree crews from four to one!
At the time, I wondered if the move was intended to punish city tree workers for aiding my investigation. But it is now clear why the city acted as it did. Public employee compensation, bond debt and money-losing investments like the arena were sucking up every available dollar. The city was nearing the breaking point, feeding more and more public services into the maw of fiscal mismanagement.
And instead of making the tough choices and exacting concessions from public employees, our leaders squeezed every dime out of other budget areas, including trees. They rode that horse all the way to municipal bankruptcy.
So we’re left with whatever grants the city can secure from Uncle Sam, some Measure K money and volunteerism. None, frankly, are adequate to the needs of this city’s forest.
But there’s a lot to be said for volunteerism. The folks who planted trees at Caldwell Park recently planted only nine trees. But they beautified a scarred park and strengthened a neighborhood. Everybody I talked to was glowing with a sense of accomplishment.
“The services I provided … at Caldwell Park not only restored the park itself but I think it restored our faith in our city and community,” she wrote. “Many people, both young and old, took the time out their Saturday morning to plant trees and paint the park benches because we want to be rid of the negative perception of Stockton. This was a way for our community to do just that because, in a sense, we are Caldwell Park. All we need to do as a community is come together and be willing to create the change we wish to see in our city. Moreover, Stockton is not represented by just its people but also by the city itself. Therefore, our city’s appearance will influence how we, as Stocktonians, are perceived by others.”