Pacoima Middle School (SFVS Staff)

California officials and climate activists gathered at Pacoima Middle School to celebrate $150 million being invested to help greenify schools across the state.

The funds, approved by the state legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, will be used to plant grass and trees in asphalt-covered schoolyards. The investment comes at a time when California has been experiencing its longest and most intense heat wave on record.

“Scientists tell us that the average temperature across California will increase 6 degrees by the middle part of the century and 9 degrees by the end of the century,” said Wade Crowfoot, the California secretary for the Natural Resources Agency. “Those are conditions that kids being educated here at this middle school will experience in their lifetimes. So we have to move further and we have to move faster.”

The funds will be administered through CAL FIRE’s Urban Forestry Division, which works to expand and improve the management of trees and related vegetation in communities across the state. Details are still pending on how the money will be allocated.

Kelly Gonez, president of the LAUSD Board of Education, explained that the funds will apply to schools statewide, so there won’t be enough to put green spaces in all schools in the district. However, she did mention that she is bringing a resolution to the board later this month with the goal of greening every school in LAUSD in the next 10 years.

“It would also be prioritized on an equity basis so that our communities in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, which are really bearing the brunt of this crisis, would be among those prioritized,” Gonez said.

State Assemblymember Luz Rivas spoke of  her work in the state assembly, advocating for more funding for urban greening. Growing up in Pacoima, she said she understands how hot it can get in the San Fernando Valley.

“We’re not going to stop,” Rivas said. “We’re going to make sure that every school has shade for children when they’re out in the schoolyard or the playground. This heat is unbearable for children, for senior citizens, for our communities everywhere.”

Not only has California and the western United States experienced an  extreme heat wave, but also a megadrought.

When asked about adding more green spaces during a time when Californians are being asked to conserve water, Crowfoot said the message has been to reduce or eliminate the irrigation or watering of lawns, which he said are mainly “decorative,” as that is how the state will be able to save most of its water.

“We have to be very clear that our urban canopy, whether it’s in someone’s yard or in a school or on the street, is critically important,” Crowfoot said. “So in all of our focus and requests to conserve water, our message is clear: continue to water your trees and continue to, where you can — in schoolyards like this — plant more trees.”

TreePeople CEO Cindy Montañez said that California has, so far, failed to prioritize investments that protect children, teachers and schools from extreme heat and poor air quality. She said that current investment will increase the pace in which the state can make schools green.

“Let’s go out and let’s show generations to come how much California prioritized, for this budget, the health and well-being of generations to come,” Montañez said.