OAKLAND -- Armed with pickaxes, shovels and rakes, three dozen volunteers showed up early this past Saturday morning at Chabot Elementary School to plant 80 redwood trees along the school's perimeter, where it abuts Highway 24.
The tree planting is part of the Lorax Project, which aims to protect schoolchildren from pollution from freeway traffic by planting a protective screen of trees.
"Doing things like this for the long term is a huge aspect of the environmental movement that needs to be emphasized," said volunteer Kristy Drutman, a member of the UC Berkeley Environmental Sciences Student Association, who heard about the tree planting through email alerts and came with five of her friends.
Another team of young volunteers also heard about the Chabot Elementary tree planting through social media. Molly Bacon and Leon Hordijk, of San Francisco, teamed with Katia Ten, of Oakland, to help plant the 12-foot redwoods.
"I heard about the tree planting online through Urban Biofilter (a co-sponsor of the Lorax Project)," said Hordijk. "We love trees and want also to improve air quality."
Rich Proulx -- who launched the Lorax tree-planting idea when the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel was initiated, which added more pollution from Highway 24 -- explained the importance of the trees.
"Highway 24 behind us creates pollution damage to humans," Proulx said. "Pollution is particularly dangerous to developing lungs, causing such health problems as childhood asthma and allergies."
A state law passed in 2003 banned construction of schools within 500 feet of a freeway because of the health risks. Chabot Elementary, as well as neighboring Claremont Middle School, were built before the law came into effect. Both schools are within 500 feet of the freeway. Proulx said the new redwoods help provide a green screen from freeway pollution.
"It's not a quick and easy solution, but redwood trees grow really fast," said Proulx, who thanked Chabot neighbors, as well as the city's Parks and Recreation staff for being a "tremendous ally" in the tree-planting project.
Oakland Unified School District board member Jody London and District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb, both of whom represent the area, also came to the tree planting -- and rolled up their sleeves to plant the first ceremonial tree.
London recounted that when one of her daughters attended Chabot Elementary School, there were 16 portables -- "an indoor air-quality disaster." After the passage of Measure B, the district had the needed money to create "a beautiful, well-maintained campus."
London said that hard work resulted in Chabot Elementary being the first green school building in California.
"There are many people who are not here today that would be really happy to know that these trees are being planted," London said.
Kalb said he was relatively new to the history of Chabot Elementary School, but that he wanted to quote Aldo Leopold, an author and early environmentalist (1887-1948):
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
Kalb, a longtime environmentalist, said he wants to see more trees throughout Oakland.
"I want to make it a beautiful, warm place, not to mention the importance of trees for health reasons," Kalb said.
Before London and Kalb planted the first ceremonial tree -- and volunteers got to work digging in about 80 more redwoods -- landscape architect and Sierra Club member Derek Schubert gave everyone a lesson on how to prepare the ground and plant trees and not to hit anyone over the head with a shovel. He said the saplings would grow to perhaps 100 feet within 50 years.
"The trees have been in pots at the nursery for a year, so you have to loosen the roots by tapping on the pots," said Schubert, giving the big plastic pot a generous whack. "Also, plant the trees high and dry so that the root crown is 2 inches above ground."
In response to a question, Schubert told volunteers that the soil doesn't need enhancement before planting, although nutrients and mulch are added on top, once the tree is in the ground.
"It's better not to enhance the soil, that way the tree roots spread out, looking for nutrients," Schubert said.