EL CENTRO — The El Centro City Council held its regular meeting, Tuesday, February 16, where council members received an update from Imperial Valley Urban Forest Project Founder and Executive Director Kalli Legakes regarding the three separate grants awarded, totaling about $5 million.

Legakes said they are nearly two thirds of the way done with the project. Phase 1 consisted of planting 1,400 trees in public spaces across the Imperial Valley, where 80 percent of the trees went to Disadvantaged Community Zones (DAC).

Legakes showed a tree map that listed all trees currently planted with a detailed description, where it’s planted, and the environmental benefits. “To date, I think we have 1,800 trees,” Legakes said. “So, we are in the process of logging all those trees and updating the info.” The program will be public so the community can see all the trees currently planted.

The El Centro Free Trees Program is the second phase where 1,000 trees were planted in private properties. Legakes said they weren’t sure how to carry it out at first and took a considerable amount of time to plan properly.

“Because of all the time and effort we put in, we actually oversold our free tree program within a day,” Legakes said.

They have since updated the number of trees available through the program from 1,000 to 1,400, with more than 1,000 people on their waitlist to receive a tree.

Legakes said a lot of social media marketing was done, as well as people spreading the information via word of mouth. She said she noticed huge community engagement and excitement for the program. Arbor Day Foundation — a nationally recognized organization that is top tier for urban forestry, according to Legakes — helped tailor the program to El Centro’s specific needs.

The program was the fastest selling program, according to Arbor Day Foundation, and they asked the City of El Centro to do a short presentation to some of their staff.

Legakes shared a story about two children that were very excited about receiving three jacaranda trees. She said they were looking forward to the visitors and asked a lot of questions. “To me, that was just so beautiful to see the program come full circle. This is why we decided to create this program,” Legakes said.

This past quarter the IV Urban Forest Project website was launched. Legakes said it holds all three of their separate grants received from CAL FIRE. People can go to the website to learn more about how to properly plant trees, what the team is doing, and view the tree map.

Residents can log in to the website with their name and address, find their home, and select a tree to plant there. “Residents could see, depending on where they place their tree, what the environmental benefit would be to their household,” said Legakes. “There is an education aspect to it as people learn about their tree.”

IV Urban Forest Project’s goal is to plant 3,000 trees by 2022.

“We want to give people all across the County, especially the City of El Centro, the chance to have something beautiful planted in their yard,” she said.

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