Audit finds planting program cost far more than value of flora alone

first_imgAnd the audit is drawing concern as the city is launching Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s sweeping initiative to plant 1 million trees in the city. The DWP provides most of the free trees being distributed at promotional events. “I know trees are good and I’m all for trees,” said Board of Water and Power Commissioner Nick Patsaouras. “What I’m focused on is, it’s inefficient to spend $100 per tree. “A million trees multiplied by $100: Where does the money come from? It’s a waste; it’s inefficiency.” Organizers of the Million Trees initiative, however, said they’re hoping to avoid DWP’s high costs, in part because the program requires residents to pick up their own trees. “We use tree adoptions where the city pays for the tree stock and that brings the cost down to $15 per tree because, obviously, we’re not paying for the labor,” said Hutson Morris-Irvin, program manager for the Million Trees L.A. Foundation. In the recent DWP audit, labor costs were estimated to add about $63 to the cost of each delivered tree. Last year, the DWP rewrote the Conservation Corps contract, cutting the per-tree cost to $72. The utility currently is revising the contract again so the corps will receive $55 per tree delivered. In addition, the Conservation Corps will receive $260 to plant each large tree, a sum similar to what the city’s Urban Forestry Division spends to plant large trees. Board President David Nahai said the audit and contract revisions are part of a department overhaul led by the new board, which was appointed by Villaraigosa in 2005. Under the new direction, all DWP programs are scrutinized, and feel-good social projects are weighed against their effects on ratepayers. Launched in 2002, Trees For a Green L.A. was promoted by the DWP and then-Mayor James Hahn as environmentally friendly and socially conscious. The L.A. Conservation Corps hires and trains teens at risk of sliding into gangs and other trouble, who were to do much of the tree maintenance and delivery. “At the time the contract was entered, everybody thought they were doing the right thing,” Nahai said. “In this case, initially the contract was too expensive by about 30 (percent) to 35 percent, but it was caught and revised and we’ve obtained a better deal for the people of Los Angeles.” L.A. Conservation Corps Division Manager Dan Knapp said the utility never paid $101 just for tree delivery. “The program included a lot more than that. It’s not a tree delivery program. It’s a tree education and civic engagement program,” said Knapp, who worked with the DWP to launch Trees for a Green L.A. The $101 per tree also covered start-up costs including restoring a nursery in Griffith Park, buying equipment, developing a tree-tracking system using scanners and bar codes, and hosting weekly tree-planting workshops across the city. To reach its goal of planting 100,000 trees per year, DWP officials had planned a major advertising and public relations campaign. But in 2002, city Controller Laura Chick audited the utility and found it had spent millions of dollars marketing its Green Power program with little environmental benefits to show for the money. Feeling the heat, the DWP cut publicity plans for the tree giveaway. And without promotion, there wasn’t a big demand for 100,000 trees per year, as the DWP had envisioned. The corps scaled back its operation, reducing its workers on the project from 30 to five and getting rid of two of its three delivery trucks. “We understand that with public funds, there are a lot of checks and balances. We have to make sure we’re as cost-effective as possible,” Knapp said. The original 2001 contract was $8 million for two years; the corps ended up collecting a total of $3.9 million through 2005. A second contract of $3.9 million was approved last March. In the long run, the tree giveaway is supposed to fund itself through energy savings. A U.S. Forest Service analysis for the DWP estimated that one tree could save $194 worth of electricity over 30 years. [email protected] (213) 978-0390160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! For nearly four years, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spent $101 each time it delivered a tree worth $12 to ratepayers under its Trees for a Green L.A. giveaway, according to a new internal audit. Approved in 2001, the free-tree program offered ratepayers as many as seven shade trees delivered to their homes in an effort to reduce air-conditioning and energy demands. Trees also were distributed and planted near public buildings and on public land. The goal was to root 100,000 trees a year – at a cost of roughly $40 a tree. But the utility and its contractor, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, fell far short of that mandate – only distributing or planting 36,000 trees over 3 1/2 years – which boosted the per-tree cost to $101. last_img read more