For an amount-not-to-exceed $375,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year (which lasts through June), the City of South Pasadena in February awarded a revised Urban Forestry Services contract to West Coast Arborists (WCA).
After sending out a request for proposals (RFP) to roughly ten companies early last year, the City received only WCA’s proposal by the Nov. 14, 2017 deadline. The small size of South Pasadena, City staff explained at a recent Council meeting, made its RFP unattractive in the bidding process for a new contractor.
WCA, contracted with the City since 1999, provides a range of tree care services, from tree trimming, service requests, and tree removals for dead trees to arborist inspections, emergency response for downed trees after hours, tree planting and plant health care services.
Kristine Courdy, the City’s Operations Manager, told the Council that, even after the City negotiated down WCA’s initial offer, the revised contract marks a “significant, 45 percent increase” from the last contract with WCA in 2009.
The cost increases, Courdy explained, are largely a result of a collective bargaining process undergone by West Coast Arborists at the behest of its labor union.
In 2015, WCA informed South Pasadena that the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) would be undergoing a prevailing wage determination for the contractor’s employees. Under consideration was the classification of the tree maintenance worker, who, at the time, was paid at the level of a construction worker.
The collective bargaining process resulted in a new classification for tree maintenance workers that granted them more generous wages, but also created a dilemma for the City. The new rates, which WCA was required to pay its workers beginning June 2016, turned out to exceed the Consumer Price Index increase included in the terms of WCA’s 2009 contract with the City.
Fortunately, Courdy explained, WCA agreed to hold the City’s rates (the CPI rates) for an additional year while the City put an RFP out to solicit competitive proposals from other urban forestry maintenance services.
Courdy assured the Council that City staff is working on ways to cut costs in the aftermath of the contract. “With the cost increase,” she said, “in the future [the City] will have to reevaluate [its] maintenance cycle. Right now, [the City is] proposing to go to a five-year instead of four-year trimming cycle. And, during next budget process, we will come forward with alternatives to fund budget gap.”
The award of the contract to WCA ensures the continued maintenance of Arbor Access, an electronic tree inventory management software. Featured in Arbor Access is a GIS-based map of all the trees in the city. The map includes facts about each tree such as size and age and, perhaps more importantly, its maintenance history.
“This is a very valuable tool,” Operations Manager Kristine Courdy told the Council at a recent meeting, “because it allows us to quickly respond to resident requests.
“When we get phone calls from residents asking, ‘When was my last tree trimming, when is my next one?’ we can easily look up their address and answer their questions.”
Courdy said Arbor Access also helps with the City’s claims response. “We can show we are prudent owners in taking care of our trees, performing adequate maintenance. If someone damages a City tree and it happens to be removed, generally through the claims process, if a vehicle hits a tree, we’ll go after them for the value of the tree.”
Right now, according to Arbor Access, there are about 800 vacant tree well sites. In the last two years, the City has planted about 250 trees.
The City of South Pasadena has 10,029 street and median Trees, 468 City Park Trees, and 113 City Reservoir Trees. It has been an Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA for over 18 years.
At Wednesday’s Council meeting, Mayor Rick Schneider was expected to go forward with signing a proclamation declaring March 7 as Arbor Day in the City of South Pasadena.
Tree Response in Coordination with SP Beautiful
The operations manager also informed the Council about the City’s commitment to working with local organization South Pasadena Beautiful during its ongoing 2018 Tree Drive. This year, the City has pledged to match every donation. To date, over 40 trees have been donated in total.
“Donors may choose a location close to their business or residence or let the city plant where the need is greatest,” said South Pasadena Beautiful board member Stephanie Payne-Campbell Tuesday morning.
Each tree amounts to a $350 tax-deductible donation and will receive a tree watering bag to help ensure the survival of the new tree as well as a root barrier to protect the sidewalks from the tree’s roots.
Courdy called South Pasadena Beautiful, which was begun by a group of activists in 1965, “a great advocate” for the city and applauded its additional efforts in terms of hosting plant healthcare and tree maintenance workshops.
If residents are interested in donating a tree, they can visit South Pasadena Beautiful’s website and specify the median or location they want it on. The address is http://www.southpasbeautiful.org/treeplanting/.