CRC Spotlight Series: Gateway Cities Council of Governments

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This is one in a series of profiles of the 12 winners of the California Resilience Challenge, a first-of-its-kind statewide initiative of the Bay Area Council and a diverse array of partners. The Challenge recently awarded $2 million in planning grants for a variety of innovative projects in communities across the state to address the growing impacts of climate change, including drought, floods, wildfires, and sea-level rise.

Southeast Los Angeles is expected to experience severe extreme heat days and increased temperatures due to climate change. In a densely populated region with many disadvantaged, low-income, and transit-dependent residents, urban heat can be mitigated with relatively inexpensive nature-based solutions. Urban forestry is one strategy to increase cities’ resilience while protecting public health and critical infrastructure. 

Trees help reduce urban heat island effect, prevent flooding and runoff, and filter air pollutants which can improve air quality and produce public health benefits. Increasing the urban forest is also associated with socio-economic improvements, such as reduced crime and improved social interactions. Recognizing these benefits, numerous cities have goals to increase tree cover, which often come without implementation plans or considerations of equity. Including community stakeholders in planning and using accurate data to inform decision-making is a way to increase the success of urban forestry programs and thus the resilience of communities.

With a grant from the California Resilience Challenge and in partnership with TreePeople and Loyola Marymount University Center for Urban Resilience (LMU CUR), Gateway Cities Council of Governments (COG) proposes to develop local Tree Canopy Assessments and Community Prioritization Reports for four under resourced municipalities in Southeast Los Angeles. These municipalities include Paramount, Lynwood, Vernon, and Montebello. 

The project will use urban tree canopy data as the foundation of a community-based tree canopy prioritization process. To do this, the project will leverage a concurrent parcel-level assessment of existing and possible tree canopy based on high-resolution imagery and LiDAR data. The COG will then hold a data-driven, collaborative Tree Summit in which community members will be invited to provide input on canopy prioritization areas. Based on feedback from the community, the COG and its partners will produce final reports, maps, and prioritization data to identify opportunities for increasing urban canopy in each city. 

“Collaboration with the community is a key aspect of this project. We have this powerful tree canopy dataset that shows where it’s possible to plant trees, but we look to those who live and work in each city to define priority areas for planting,” explained Dr. Michele Romolini, Managing Director at LMU CUR. “What are types of benefits are most valuable to their community? We believe this joint decision-making contributes to more effective and equitable urban forestry projects, while also cultivating a sense of stewardship among those involved in the process,” said Dr. Romolini.

“The project will also result in co-benefits in disadvantaged communities with transit dependent residents. Benefits include increased resiliency, reduced demand for air conditioning, and improved air quality,” added Edith de Guzman, Director of Research at TreePeople. “The project could significantly lower risk of health impacts on vulnerable residents and potentially save lives due during extreme heat events,” said de Guzman.

The project enjoys strong community support and can be replicated in other cities in the Gateway Cities region facing similar challenges.

For more information on the California Resilience Challenge, please contact Policy Associate Anna Sciaruto.

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