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The Loyola Marymount University Center for Urban Resilience, TreePeople, and the Gateway Cities Council of Governments partnered to conduct tree canopy prioritization in the City of Vernon. This process utilized high resolution, high accuracy tree canopy data as a foundation to engage the public in identifying their priorities for tree planting in the city. Analysis of tree canopy data showed that the City of Vernon has 2% existing tree canopy cover, which is the lowest tree canopy cover in all of Los Angeles County. The analyses also found that Vernon has great opportunity to increase its tree canopy, with 51% of the land area of the city shown to be Possible Tree Canopy. However, given Vernon’s unique designation as an industrial city, much of the possible area is in places with impervious surfaces, such as concrete or asphalt, that would require modification to be a good place for trees.

The project partners held a series of planning meetings with the City of Vernon and conducted multiple forms of outreach to engage City, business and community participation. One event was a hybrid “Vernon community roundtable,” which took place on March 16, 2022 at Vernon City Hall and via Zoom. Participants were presented with the numerous ways that their city could benefit from increased tree canopy, engaged in a discussion and an interactive activity about their personal experiences and values around trees, and were invited to take a survey to choose their top ten priorities for tree planting.

Approximately 35 people attended the community tree roundtable, and many others were reached through TreePeople’s presentations at the Green Vernon Commission and Vernon Business Breakfast, a fruit tree distribution event, and direct email outreach. A small number (12) of those reached chose to participate in the survey, with the majority (83%) of respondents indicating that they were employees of the City of Vernon. Respondents had the opportunity to vote to prioritize 16 specific tree benefits across seven categories. Participants identified “Reduce Heat,” “Beautify Neighborhoods and Promote Outdoor Activities,” and “Improve Air Quality & Reduce Noise” as their top priority categories for tree planting. Among the specific benefits, the highest priorities were Heat, Low Tree Canopy, Air Quality, Pedestrian Routes, and Schools. Each of the benefits voted on by participants was associated with a spatial variable (e.g., “Heat” was associated with high-resolution surface temperature data available through NASA).

Using the results from the survey, priority weightings were calculated for each spatial variable at the parcel level. These rankings were mapped to provide a visual of where participants’ combined priorities are located. The results revealed that many of the highest tree planting priority parcels for Vernon were in the southwestern, and north and south central parts of the city, as well as east of the LA River. Many of the lowest prioirty parcels were found in the northeastern and central parts of the city. In addition to the maps, tables were produced to provide rankings for each individual parcel in the Possible Tree Canopy boundaries. This dataset includes a comprehensive listing of nearly parcels in the City of Vernon, along with their priority score and percent of possible area for increasing tree canopy.

The survey also asked participants about their perceptions of tree planting and care in Vernon. All but one participant agreed that planting more trees is a priority, though 1/3 believed there are barriers to planting and taking care of the trees in Vernon. Participants named concerns about existing infrastructure and industrial operations, such as: big rig trucks, power lines, underground utilities, too much concrete, and small sidewalks. Barriers to tree care included: lack of watering, trash/pollution, and overall lack of care.

This project can help guide the City of Vernon in future urban forestry strategies. The City may look to focus their tree planting efforts in high priority locations that are near to existing, new, or planned residential developments. The City may also consider educational campaigns and incentives to reach out to specific landowners to increase tree canopy on private lands. Finally, the City may wish to pursue funding programs to help replace some of the impervious surfaces with tree canopy.

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Environmental Sciences

City of Vernon Tree Canopy Prioritization