Steve, Alison, and a 4-year-old oak sapling newly released from its vole-proof cage, with an owl box in the background. Near Lake Herman.

I guess it all started when my friend Elizabeth Patterson (previously a City Council member, now Mayor) asked me to help create a tree committee. Benicia’s trees were not being well cared for, and she wanted to see that change. Rewriting the existing tangle of tree ordinances was the best first step, so we spent 3 years working with the City staff and the public to enact a new, more straightforward tree ordinance that helps homeowners keep healthy trees and remove dangerous ones. It’s not perfect…but nothing is.

Some of our regular High School Helpers at Henderson Elementary School.

While we were working on the ordinance, another group of citizens had arranged an influx of money from our local refinery, Valero, to pay for environmentally-sound projects. Several people who had worked on the tree ordinance joined forces, and in 2009 we created the Benicia Tree Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit. Our Mission is “to strengthen community by promoting and supporting tree planting, maintenance and education”. To that end, working with the City, local schools, and private homeowners, the Foundation has thus far planted 821 trees.

Planting is one thing, but maintaining the trees is our biggest challenge. Many of the trees that we have planted are in non-irrigated areas, so we water them from a 200-gallon water tank that can be loaded onto the back of a small pickup. For the first 3 years or so, we water new trees every four to six weeks, two gallons each. We prune the new trees a couple of times in the first five years to ensure healthy, vigorous trees. Recently, we also worked with the City to install owl boxes after an explosion in the vole population.

A pruning clinic with our Treasurer Barbara Wood on the left and County Supervisor Monica Brown 4th from the right. At Henderson Elementary again, a different week.

Our volunteer base comes from several sources. Valero supplies us with a group of volunteers at least three times a year. A couple of high school teachers give extra credit to students for helping with regular maintenance. City residents also lend a hand. Regular work sessions are held twice a month.

For the first 3 years, the Valero funds afforded us a part-time executive director. The first director brought inspiration; the second brought organization. Since then, we’re organized with 3 volunteer board members. I am president. Steve Goetz, our secretary, ably finds grants and projects that keep us moving forward. As treasurer, Barbara Wood keeps our books straight.   

The Foundation has received grants from Re-Leaf, the Rose Foundation, Valero and others. We accept both vehicle and personal donations. Our operations budget is about $4,000 a year, most of which is for tools, storage space, phone, mail and website…and oh my gosh snacks, don’t forget the snacks!

In our city, the Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission (aka the Playful Dead) oversees most tree issues. I now sit on the Commission, and Steve and I both sit on the Tree Subcommittee. We work with the City to plant more trees on their property, encourage the City Council to spend more on maintenance, and were able to offer feedback on the City’s updated tree palette.

In this life, nothing is perfect, but things do seem to be moving in the right direction. It has been a real honor to be a part of a positive change in our little city.

So, remember, plant trees and then maintain them!


The Benicia Tree Foundation is an all-volunteer organization that provides opportunities for individualsgroups and businesses to support their community through tree projects and activities.  We sponsor tree planting events on public land in cooperation with public agencies such as the City of Benicia and the Benicia Unified School Distict.  We sponsor Tree Care Days at our project sites, recruiting volunteers to help maintain the trees we plant.  We offer the Tree Keeper Program to educate residents and businesses on how they can improve Benicia's urban forest by following best management practices for planting and maintaining trees on their property.