Community Organization Plants Hope in South Los Angeles

Volunteers plant trees as a symbol of change in the community.

As the sun beat down on the sidewalks of the Jefferson neighborhood of South Los Angeles on Feb. 6, passersby were pulled in by the sight of small groups of men and women digging holes along the street.

A young boy stopped his bike near three workers to ask about what they were digging.

The men, members of the Redeemer Community Partnership (RCP), the Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC), and volunteers from the local South Los Angeles community were preparing to plant trees along Jefferson Boulevard between Normandie Avenue and Catalina Street as a part of Redeemer's "Make Jefferson Beautiful" campaign.

For a few moments, the boy watched closely as the men planted, secured and watered the trees before eventually riding off. Half an hour later, a man in a black car drove up to the same group. Excited by what he saw, he asked a volunteer what he could do to get trees planted in front of his house.

"I think it'll really help us," he said. "The more green the better."

After receiving grant money from the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative, RCP decided to focus on this section of Jefferson Boulevard because of it's reputation for being an important business corridor.

"When you change the community, you change the behavior," said Niki Wong, RCP's lead community organizer. "If you've been here long enough you know businesses don't stick around," she said.

The organization's hope is that the trees and other planned "Make Jefferson Beautiful" projects–like sidewalk reparation and the creation of bike lanes–will encourage a positive shift in the community and aid in uniting this section of Jefferson Boulevard and the stretch of the thoroughfare near USC.

"I feel like I want to be a part of the changes this community is going through," said Rogelio Sanchez, one of the volunteers who resides in South Los Angeles. "These trees are a symbol of a better future for our community."

The group planted 15 ginkgo biloba trees that are currently too small to stand on their own, but will one day tower over the streets creating shade with their fan-shaped leaves that change color in the fall.

"Trees are a part of life, a part of nature," said Tyler Aragon whose father encouraged him to participate in the tree planting event. "It will be beautiful, maybe in 20 years or so, to be able to look at a tree and say I was able to plant that in this community that I live in."

Despite the potential benefits, not everyone in the community has been supportive of the effort.

During the planting, a business owner spoke to volunteers through the iron gate of a building neighboring G&P Recycling Center between Budlong and Walton Avenues. The man asked that the newly planted tree in front of the property be removed.

"Some people don't want the trees for different reasons," said Wong.

One concern is the overall maintenance of the trees as they grow.

In June 2015, after years of resident complaints, the city announced it would spend $1.4 billion dollars over 30 years to repair sidewalks damaged in part by the roots of magnolia and ficus trees planted by Los Angeles developers in the early days of the city.

Wong said the organization chose the ginkgo biloba trees specifically with the community in mind. In addition to being drought tolerant, they grow slowly and have vertical roots less likely to destroy sidewalks in the future.

Wong explained that by partnering with KYCC, maintenance on the newly planted trees will occur twice a month and existing trees will receive maintenance once a month over the next year. The maintenance will be paid for with funds from the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative grant which will have to be renewed each year.

"One of my priorities for these trees is to have regular maintenance for the first three years of life," she said.

Redeemer Community Partnership's "Make Jefferson Beautiful" efforts will continue on March 5 when the organization will hold a community meeting to discuss the addition of bike lanes along the corridor.