OAKLAND -- A neighborhood social and community meeting will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday to discuss The Lorax Project, a tree-planting idea between Highway 24 and Chabot Elementary and Claremont Middle schools as well as the Chabot Recreation Center.
"The Lorax Project started when construction began on the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel," said Berkeley resident Rich Proulx, who launched the tree-planting idea. "A group called the Fourth Bore Coalition proposed planting trees along Highway 24 to mitigate the impact on air quality from the increase in traffic, especially to neighboring Chabot Elementary and Claremont Middle schools."
Proulx said Caltrans, which owns the property adjacent to the highway, balked at the idea of planting trees. When the coalition subsequently proposed putting in trees through the Adopt-A-Highway program, Caltrans again refused.
"In 2013, the City of Oakland gave us permission to plant redwoods along the perimeter of adjacent Chabot Recreation Center and the schools also gave permission to plant on their property," Proulx said. "We also plan to offer trees to residents on Miles Avenue between Patton Street and Presley Way."
Proulx said Claremont Middle School has already planted redwoods along the edge of its campus to mitigate air pollution, thanks to a grant from CalFire.
Planting trees between the highway and local community and schools has three benefits, Proulx said.
"Primarily, it creates a barrier for air pollution particles and protects students and other residents," said Proulx. "Trees also enhance the beauty of the neighborhood and, once they are established, can block neighbors' views of the freeway."
Studies have shown that children living or going to school near freeways have an increased risk of asthma, allergies, bronchitis and impaired lung function. Studies have also found that trees located near highways can serve as a barrier that can significantly reduce the transmission of pollutants through the air. (http://www.lyceuminstitute.org/lorax-science.html).
Chabot Elementary School PTA president Laura Burnett said that, since the school is adjacent to a busy freeway, it is in their best interest to take every step toward mitigating air pollution and improving air quality for the students.
"We strive to create an environment in which all children can thrive. Creating a healthy space in which the children can safely exercise, play, and learn is of the upmost importance," Burnett said.
"It is our hope that The Lorax Project redwoods would help us meet these goals. We are grateful that such a project is underway and seems to be well supported."
According to Proulx, newly built schools are immune to the health impacts faced by Chabot Elementary and Claremont Middle schools, thanks to a state law passed in 2003 banning school construction within 500 feet of a freeway because of the health risks. Chabot Elementary and Claremont Middle schools -- as well as the recreation center -- are within 500 feet of the freeway.
This month, The Lorax Project is stepping it up a notch and asking people for donations to purchase trees, with plantings scheduled for January 2014.
"We are dependent on community support to finance the redwoods," Proulx said.
"We estimate a tree costs $125 for purchase, site preparation, planting, irrigation and maintenance. Within two years, a tree is well established."
Proulx said he created The Lorax Project as a way to help make a difference in the world.
"I believe your community is a good place to start, but change will not happen unless we all roll up our shirtsleeves and work together," Proulx said.
"As Dr. Seuss's The Lorax says, 'Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.' "