How many bureaucrats does it take to screw up planting a tree?

Portland City Hall has made sure this doesn't happen again.

You don't have to live in Portland too long before you encounter a petty tyrant somewhere in the local bureaucracy who reveals to you in painful terms how dysfunctional the city government is. This story on OPB, well-reported by April Ehrlich, is pretty illustrative. The outstanding nonprofit organization Friends of Trees, which has contributed more to the city's environmental health than just about anyone else you could name, has been pushed out of doing work on public property by a mid-level overlord in the city parks department.

The villain in the piece is the "urban forester," Jennifer Cairo, who has wrested control of tree-planting on public rights-of-way and installed it in the parks bureau. Previously, the work was done by the city's environmental bureau, which had a highly effective contract with Friends of Trees. Dozens of volunteers turned out weekend after weekend to make the city's parking strips greener, and healthier, spaces. 

But that's over now. It's under Cairo's management. It seems as though only half as many trees are being planted as before. But hey, she's doing it her way, and that seems to be the paramount goal.

It isn't just the petty bickering that makes this saga such a slice of classic Portland. When confronted with some of the facts by an OPB reporter, Cairo allegedly made a false statement. 

In [an] email, written in February 2021, Cairo told colleagues that Urban Forestry shouldn’t give Environmental Services another permit; instead, she wrote, the two bureaus should sign an interagency agreement moving the street-tree program to Urban Forestry.

Cairo also suggested that Environmental Services should continue paying for the program using utility ratepayer dollars — money customers pay for stormwater and sewer services. It appeared Cairo wanted full control of the program that BES had built from scratch almost 15 years ago, but she wanted BES to pay for it.

“We’d like to see BES’s investment in street tree planting continue at the same level it’s been (if not more!),” Cairo wrote to a colleague in June 2021 in an email OPB obtained through a public records request.

In a video interview with OPB, Cairo denied having ever heard of this proposal.

“I’m not familiar with that at all,” she told OPB.

Several emails and messages obtained by OPB counter that. Multiple times, in emails sent to Parks colleagues as well as staff at Environmental Services, Cairo carefully outlined what she envisioned for the future of the two bureaus and the street tree program: “PP&R [Portland Parks and Recreation] will ensure planting of 1,000 trees/ year funded by BES and on behalf of BES. BES will not house a tree planting program.”

Backed into the corner, eventually one of her minions, a paid flack, played the gender card on her behalf.

Cairo wouldn’t comment on the complaints about her management style. Responding on her behalf, Parks and Recreation spokesperson Cherelle Jackson said the bureau wouldn’t comment on “rumors about a member of our team.”

“Unfortunately, too many women in male-dominated industries like forestry face this behavior,” Jackson wrote in an email to OPB. “As a Bureau, we will uphold our values for equality and respect for women in the workplace. If you have evidence that is not based on hearsay, please feel free to share, and we may respond accordingly.”

Which one of our fine city commissioners is in charge of these fecal festivities at "forestry"? Why, it's none other than Carmen "Chainsaw" Rubio, whom I would classify an empty suit but for the likely fact that she doesn't wear a suit. And Rubio's "chief of staff" (oh, the arrogance of these people) also seems to have had a little problem with truth-telling when the reporter asked some questions.

Jillian Schoene, Rubio’s chief of staff, told OPB in an email that “FOT has refused work under current, active contracts.”

Vasef said that wasn’t true.

“We are completing every aspect of our existing city contracts, like we have done for well over a decade with the City of Portland,” Vasef wrote in an email.

Schoene later clarified by email: “Sorry, I misspoke – I meant an extension they were offered. I want to dig into that.”

Yes, you do that.

In any event, Cairo fits a classic Portland profile. She comes to town, having fallen in love with it, from New York. But within a decade, she knows more about how to run things than anyone else, and she's going to throw her weight around until things are done her way. People who have given their hearts and souls to successful activities for many years are brushed aside. 

Usually, the know-it-all transplants, having gotten their way, get bored shortly thereafter and leave. We'll see if that happens here; I wouldn't be surprised if it did. But in the meantime, a shout out to Friends of Trees. They deserve better. Much better.


  1. WTF? BES didn't start this. PP&R Forestry (UF) started the attempt to expand the city's arboreal canopy back in the early 1980s. In 1983, UF actually planted two trees in the parking strip of the house I moved into in 1984. They were offered free to homeowners on the stipulation that they agree to water the trees for two years. Then, in the very early 1990s, there was a shift to a more nuanced and enlightened approach. I suspect this is when PGE stepped in and suggested that UF not plant "the wrong trees in the wrong places" like they had been throughout the 1980s. That's when the lists of appropriate trees for various locations were first generated. Yes, UF fucked it up. They planted shiploads of wrong trees in wrong locations all over the city....then, when they realized what they'd done, they refused to rectify the problem. Rather than insist that the wrong trees be replaced by right trees, UF doubled down and created a permit system that kept all the bad trees that UF had planted in place.

    This was thirty years ago. You state that FoT and BES have been at this for 15 years. Big whoop. FoT came into existence because UF did such a crappy job in the first place. FoT deserves kudos for all the work it has done and all the volunteers they have trained and motivated. UF derserves credit for starting the program to plant trees, but failed to learn and grow with the problems and issues they dealt with. BES is naught but a late-comer to the arboreal game.

    Now, thanks to UF, we have to watch the Asplundh ogres come through and rape and torture all those inappropriate trees which UF planted in Portland parking strips. That's being done at the direction of the PUD...To protect the public.


Post a Comment

The platform used for this blog is awfully wonky when it comes to comments. It may work for you, it may not. It's a Google thing, and beyond my control. Apologies if you can't get through. You can email me a comment at, and if it's appropriate, I can post it here for you.