Palms are iconic in Los Angeles, but it is the full and leafy trees that shade and cool communities during the sweltering Southern California heat. To ensure that every tree is planted in an optimal space, the city created a role that oversees the continuing growth of the country's largest urban forest.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Rachel Malarich as the city forest officer, a first-of-its-kind position that will unite all urban nature organizations under one person to pass environmental initiatives from L.A.'s Green New Deal. The salary range of this position is $100,599 to $147,078.
"Trees do more than contribute to the look and feel of our neighborhoods — they are a key tool to protect vulnerable populations, improve public health, and enhance community well-being for all Angelenos," Malarich said.
The deal's goals include planting 90,000 trees by 2021 and increasing tree canopy coverage by at least 50 percent by 2028 in low-income communities, which tend to be the hottest areas with the least amount of shade.
More people die of extreme heat than any other natural disaster combined, and the most impacted groups are the elderly, African American women, and Latinos, according to Cindy Montañez, the CEO of TreePeople, an environmental nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles.
"Malarich is talented, passionate, and committed. She knows about trees and people and what the city needs to do to protect communities from the negative effects of climate on the environment," Montañez said.
Low-income communities such as San Fernando can experience 95-degree or hotter weather 126 days a year. Montañez said illness and heat-related deaths significantly increase after the fifth consecutive day of these conditions. Trees, she said, can benefit these neighborhoods by cooling an area down by 10-15 degrees.
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Malarich said one of her first tasks will be to make a citywide tree inventory to document tree health, to determine which need maintenance, and to keep track of the distribution of species across neighborhoods. This data will be used to strategically plant trees around the region.
Malarich has worked for more than a decade to increase tree canopy coverage and expand urban forests throughout Southern California. She previously served as the director of forestry for TreePeople.
"Malarich has the vision, experience, and expertise necessary to lead the work of lining our streets with more trees and building a greener tomorrow," Garcetti said. "Every tree we plant can help stem the tide of the climate crisis, and when we expand our urban forest, we can sow the seeds of a healthier, more sustainable future for communities across our city."
Los Angeles has the largest urban forest in the United States with more than 700,000 street trees, Malarich said. Of those trees, nearly 300,000 are located in community parks and require regular maintenance, according to LA City Plants.
"The need has never been greater and the opportunity has never been greater," Montañez said." Malarich understands that trees need people and people need trees, and that understanding will ensure that we move in a direction where LA has a healthier urban forest."