The city of Oakland is surveying residents for feedback to help guide its Urban Forest Master Plan. Credit: Amir Aziz

The city of Oakland is developing a master plan to determine how it manages its trees and urban forests over the next 50 years and is seeking feedback from residents to help guide the process.

This community surveying phase follows a full inventory of trees finalized by the city last year on public and private property, along with aerial photography of the urban tree canopy. That work was supported by a grant received in 2018 from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) as part of the California Climate Investments Program.

The analysis revealed that there are already plenty of trees in Oakland, but they’re not all spread out equitably, and there is ample room for more. In all, there are 55,000 trees on Oakland’s streets and sidewalks, 12,000 in landscaped parks, and 31,000 streets with little to no trees that were identified as potential sites for new tree planting. The analysis did not include trees in woodland areas like Joaquin Miller Park or in undeveloped right-of-way areas in the Oakland Hills. 

Using satellite images of the tree canopy, analysts determined that over 70% of the city’s trees are on private land, and 29% are on public land. District 4 has the most canopy area, while Districts 2 and 5 have the least. Since 2014, Oakland has lost 275 acres of tree canopy and gained 1,300 acres in asphalt and concrete, according to the city’s recent presentation of the findings.

A screenshot from the City of Oakland’s Urban Forest Master Plan virtual community presentation.

The city currently manages trees located in city parks and on public streets. This includes: inspecting trees, removing hazardous trees, responding to tree emergencies such as fallen trees or branches blocking the street, and issuing permits to remove a tree. There are also trees on private property that, while not managed by the city, still fall under city ordinances. But the city’s current investment in tree management pales in comparison to years past.

Before 2008, the city had a full-service forestry department with over 40 employees, which was in charge of maintaining and pruning city-managed trees every seven years. With such regular maintenance, tree removals were uncommon, and when branches were deemed hazardous, they were removed promptly. But the city lost half of its tree-services staff during the 2008 recession, and nearly all tree maintenance and planting activities were eliminated. 

Using data from the inventory and community survey, the Urban Forest Master Plan now in the works represents a renewed commitment by the city to reinvest in its trees, following over a decade of under-maintenance. The plan will suggest policies for managing trees on both public and private land and provide recommendations on where to plant new trees with equity in mind.

The city has received over 1,100 responses from residents, mostly in West Oakland and the hills. But officials are still looking for community input on the needs of residents from each of the city’s seven districts, especially those who live in areas with the least canopy area, like District 2 (East Lake, Grand Lake, Chinatown) and District 5 (Fruitvale, San Antonio). 

Residents can submit their input via the city’s Oakland tree survey, which is available in several languages. The city hasn’t yet indicated when the survey will close.

Once the community input phase is completed, the city will begin work on drafting the Oakland Urban Forest Master Plan. The plan is expected to be finalized at the end of this year and presented to City Council for possible adoption in the spring of 2023. Additional funding will need to be approved to set the plan in motion.

Residents interested in the Oakland Urban Forest Master Plan process can read updates on the city’s landing page for the project.

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.