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Urban forest moves forward while keeping its roots

The urban forest encompases resources to preserve and restore the vegetation of Valley College.

By Marcos Franco, News Editor

Humanities department building supports a problematic tree resting against it, posing a risk to the infrastructure. Wednesday, March 31, Valley Glen, Calif. (Photo by Marcos Franco/the Valley Star)

The Facilities Planning Committee discussed plans to update Valley College’s urban forest master plan for the first time in a decade during a March 24 Zoom meeting.

Urban forest, which was founded by biology faculty as a teaching tool for students, refers to the more than 1600 trees and plants living on campus. Valley has been recognized eight times — consecutively — between 2010 to 2018 as a Tree Campus USA school by the Arbor Day Foundation. It is the first community college in California, as well as the first college campus in Los Angeles, to receive the prestigious honor. To qualify, a college must meet five core requirements including maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedication of annual expenditures, creating a student-service learning project as well as observing Arbor Day .

In the previous 2011 master plan created by Steinberg Architects, arborists noted that the majority of existing trees are mature and under-maintained. Major signs of tree decay as well as multiple trees adjacent to buildings were also observed posing a risk to infrastructure. A potential reason for this problem is that the majority of trees on Valley’s campus are not native to California and struggle with warm climate. The committee spoke of replacing these with something more sustainable, with the exception of a few for historical purposes.

“There was a thought to have a representation of some of the original trees from the original urban forest, which is a nice way to move forward,” said Claudia Hasenhüttl, professor of earth science at Valley. “However, once you have at least some of that species represented, we can continue with something that is more drought resistant, considering not all trees enjoy triple-digit temperatures and that is one of the reasons so many are diseased.”

The committee emphasized the importance of campus sustainability, taking into consideration water conservation as well as maintaining a balance of the variety of trees offered. According to the 2011 master plan, the urban forest features 84 different species of trees that fall under the category of evergreens, deciduous, conifers and palms with evergreens representing half of the trees on campus.

Over the next five to seven years, the Facilities Planning Committee plans to update the even larger campus master plan, which would include the demolition of mostly one-story buildings — humanities, campus center, behavioral science, foreign languages, engineering, math and science, business journalism and emergency services training — allowing for a large open grassy area that officials are calling the “green heart” of campus.

The update to where those departments will be moved has not been announced.

“As we get closer to demolishing these buildings and refurbishing this entire area, that brings into question what the condition of the current trees are in that area,” said Mark Strauss, Valley’s project director. “We know they are replacing the liquidambar trees along that frontage [Campus Drive] because they are in the last few years of their life and many are in poor health which is evident by the fact that they are getting so old.”

The meeting concluded with the FPC Chair, Jennifer Read, gathering a list of goals and objectives of the committee to forward to the president. Once approved, the college will release a proposal where various landscaping firms can compete for the position after a comprehensive plan is reached with the assistance of an arborist.

Valley President Barry Gribbons shared his vision for the green heart, aiming for an open space that serves the community resembling the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building. The green heart would begin at the Valley Academic Cultural Center building, continuing through the southeast end of campus near Ethel and Burbank Boulevard, supporting outdoor practices including class lectures and recreational activities.

“It would be nice if we moved graduation out of a stadium environment to a beautiful green-space in the center of campus which is more akin to what a lot of universities do,” said Gribbons.

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