Oral Histories

Interview of Andy Lipkis

Founder of TreePeople. Co-organizer of Los Angeles Million Tree Campaign. Involved in Los Angeles urban forest and urban watershed initiatives.
Environmental Activism in Los Angeles
Social Movements
Environmental Movement
Biographical Note:
Founder of TreePeople. Co-organizer of Los Angeles Million Tree Campaign. Involved in Los Angeles urban forest and urban watershed initiatives.
Collings, Jane
Lipkis, Andy
Persons Present:
Lipkis and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Lipkis's home in Venice, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, interviewer and senior editor, Center for Oral History Research; B.A., Communications, Antioch College; M.A., Communications, University of Iowa; Ph.D., Critical Studies, UCLA.Collings prepared for the interview by reviewing TreePeople publications on the history of the organization and the genesis of the concept of community forestry, including Lipkis's book The Simple Act of Planting a Tree, and newspaper articles on Lipkis and TreePeople.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Lipkis was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a number of corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
6.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The series documents environmental activism in the Los Angeles area from the 1970s through to the present day. The majority of interviews are with either founders or knowledgeable participants in major regional environmental organizations. Represented groups embody a wide range of issues, including conservation, restoration, environmental justice and toxic waste disposal.Additional partially processed interviews are available through Library Special Collections.
Family background—Family’s political involvement—Family’s interest in community building—Tikkun olam—Survives a childhood head injury—Desires to communicate the news about a backyard tree to the neighborhood—Lipkis’s process of visualizing projects—Responses to a lack of confidence in his ideas—An early interest in infrastructures and agendas—Gardening as a child—Involvement in the political campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Tom Bradley—Learns communication skills while working on campaigns—Racial tension while at junior high—Transfers to Emerson Junior High—Attends University Senior High—Attracts media to cover a recycling center that Lipkis opens at high school—Poor air quality in Los Angeles—Attends camp with strong social justice component—A formative trip to Russia—Appointed to a citizen planning board for the City of Los Angeles—TreePeople’s transition from an action orientation to a policy orientation—The discovery that trees in the San Bernardino mountains were being killed by smog—The pitch of a tree—Lipkis’s desire to make a difference to society—The TASC project to plant smog-resistant trees—Lipkis’s media contracts come through to cover the story of the TASC project—Wishes to reconcile the inspiration of the camp experience with high school—First evolves the idea of “the project” which was to communicate the experience of serving the community through helping the environment—Performs research on smog and trees while at high school—Crafts a plan for establishing a camp where kids could come to the mountains to plant trees—Seeks sponsorship from Chevron—Undergoes a process of learning from failure while trying to develop the project—Lipkis faces his fear of success—Enrolls in an independent study for an Environmental Science major—Logistical planning for the project—Raises money to buy trees for the project—Outreach to the media to publicize the story about the state’s disinclination to support the project—State foresters agree to make the project a demonstration project—A community project to pot and transport 8,000 trees from northern California to the San Bernardino mountains—The Los Angeles community responds to a story in the L.A. Times and donates money to move the trees.
Donations from public for smog-resistant tree planting project—Genesis of the name “TreePeople”—TreePeople’s role in engaging people to recognize and consciously participate in the ecosystem. and the impact of that on people’s notion of community—Publicity strategies—Lipkis’s inclination to not grow TreePeople away from being a local organization—More on publicity strategies—More on achieving the goals of the California Conservation Project—The youth education component of the planting project—Post-event debriefings—More on publicity strategies—A project to bring community groups into the Angeles forest for planting—TreePeople adaptations to the poor rapport between the forest service and volunteers—The reasons TreePeople maintains a neutral political position—A study on the question of becoming a national or international organization—The impetus for writing the book The Simple Act of Planting a Tree—An L.A. Times follow up article on the progress of the tree-planting project—Sends out first newsletter and re-starts process—Hamilton Air Force Base agrees to transport trees to Southern California for planting—A second summer of planting—Decides to start planting in the city to mitigate smog—Establishes an office—Attends UCLA—The formalization of the education program—Beginning of the Citizen Forestry program—Early days of the organization—TreePeople timeline—The goal of turning every LAUSD playground into a watershed park.
Returns to school—Returns to L.A. to resume the planting work—The National Guard transports trees to the mountains for planting—The creative problem solving program at UCLA—A student activity group at UCLA for planting work—More on the creative problem solving program—Locates a soon to be abandoned fire station at the present TreePeople site at Mulholland Drive—Early fire fighting techniques—TreePeople’s use of surplus resources—The process of acquiring and moving into the fire station site at Mulholland Drive—Struggle within city departments over TreePeople’s tenure at the Mulholland site—TreePeople’s flood response work—TreePeople staff—The benefits of facing disaster as a community—Environmental education for the four-wheel drive community—Community memories of the TreePeople flood work—Lipkis’s affinity for communications technologies and techniques—Volunteer mobilization—Appears on the Johnny Carson show—Inspired by the flood work to do a large community-based project—First discussions of the million tree campaign—Community participates in the flood work—TreePeople ‘uniforms”—Diverse community participation in the flood work—The TreePeople rescue of a stranded couple in the mountains—Conceives of the million tree campaign as a communications issue—The Doyle Dane Bernbach ad campaign for the million tree campaign—Gregory Peck appears in a TreePeople public service announcement—Discussions with Peter Ueberroth about a million tree campaign—Staff meetings at TreePeople.
An unsuccessful negotiation with Peter Ueberroth—Lipkis re-organizes TreePeople’s staff structure—A gift of 120,000 trees from a nursery—The delivery of the trees by the Air National Guard becomes a media event—Constraints on TreePeople due to its maturity as an organization—Early TreePeople funding—Marina Freeway 10-K Run—The term “urban forest” —More on the Marina Freeway 10-K Run—Impact of achieving the marina run on the TreePeople organization—The dynamics of focusing the attention of L.A. on the event—Project for a temporary portable forest in downtown L.A.—Lipkis contributes a chapter to a book on environmental art—Lipkis’s view on environmental art—Proposed next project to present a vision of urban sustainability—Martin Luther King Day planting event—TreePeople staff structure—The million tree campaignMeets future wife, Kate Lipkis, while on a speaking tour in Australia—Kate Lipkis constructs a viable business plan for TreePeople—Kate Lipkis’s contribution to the million tree ad campaign—A miniseries on ABC evening news about the million tree campaign.