Many of us know how it feels to have an irrepressible urge to do good but not know exactly what to do with that energy. With all of the challenges our world faces — from social inequity to climate change — how do we make sure our actions bring about the most good? How do we know whether the ways we choose to spend our limited time, our precious energy, and our hard-earned dollars will leave the world a better place? If we’re lucky, we might have a role model, partner or friend to cut through the noise and show us the way.
I’ve benefited from such luck.
I first met TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis almost 20 years ago, when I was a young State Legislator from the Northeast San Fernando Valley working to address environmental justice issues. From the get-go, I saw that Andy was a visionary — a model, a partner, and eventually a friend — who had a hopeful vision to make Los Angeles greener, healthier and sustainable.
We organized people to come together around water, trees and the environment. Together we distributed hundreds of fruit trees to a community that lacked trees. And together we worked on the Sun Valley Watershed Management Plan, a first-of-its-kind multi-benefit venture to provide flood protection, reduce water pollution runoff, improve watershed health, infiltrate water into the aquifer and provide healthier spaces for people and wildlife.
As we worked to address the flooding that even with ordinary winter rains forced people to wade knee-deep across the streets, Andy told me something so simple yet so powerful that I never forgot it: “A native oak tree with a canopy 100 feet in diameter can capture over 50,000 gallons of water in its roots in a flash flood. Remove that tree and not only do you waste that water but you endanger people, damage homes and send pollution down our streets, ruining our beaches.” Andy inspired me at that moment to join the TreePeople movement to organize communities to plant and care for millions of trees.
I would later run into Andy in a hallway at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power where I was further inspired to learn that he and TreePeople were helping develop the city’s first-ever Stormwater Capture Master Plan. The plan has proven that LA can get close to 45% of its water supply simply by capturing rain — and greatly reduce our reliance on imported water. Andy championed the transformation of the way water is valued and managed in Los Angeles, an effort which has resulted in the passage of LA County’s historic Safe, Clean Water Program. The Safe, Clean Water program (Measure W/parcel tax on the November 2018 ballot) is now in effect. The County expects to begin to make the first investments in 2020/21 This will lead to the investment of over $300 million per year into transformative, multi-benefit water projects.
Andy’s vision and leadership have made Los Angeles a better place and set TreePeople on a path to grow and spread its impact in communities throughout the world.
From rescuing homes during LA’s devastating floods to designing a campaign to inspire Angelenos to plant a million trees prior to the 1984 Olympics; from bringing together the communities of South LA to plant more than 300 trees along Martin Luther King Blvd. to founding the T.R.E.E.S. (TransAgency Resources for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) to work with public agencies to jointly implement stormwater projects; from restoring our precious Santa Monica Mountains to opening TreePeople’s Platinum LEED Center for Community Forestry, where millions of people have learned how to use nature to heal our city, Andy has never stopped working to make the world a better place.
Andy is formally retiring from his day-to-day duties at TreePeople, completing a transition that has been planned for a number of years. He will remain a member of our Board and continue to provide his invaluable counsel on our work. We are forever grateful for his vision and are excited to continue to work together to make communities greener, healthier and climate-resilient.
We would love to hear how Andy has inspired you and welcome you to share how Andy has influenced your life. Please send your stories and pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Andy’s Impact” on the subject line.
I look forward to continuing TreePeople’s work and planting millions more trees alongside each of you!