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Los Angeles is trying to cool the city by giving residents free trees

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Los Angeles is a hot city, and it's not just because of its latitudinal location. Its lack of trees could be playing a big role, too.

"We know that having trees—they help us save energy by shading buildings from the hot L.A. sun," said Elizabeth Skrzat, executive director of City Plants, a nonprofit that's trying to do something about the lack of trees.

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Angel Portillo picks up trees at a nursery in Griffith Park and then delivers them all over Los Angeles County.

City Plants and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are giving trees to residents for free to help the city cool down.

"We want to grow a greener more sustainable future for Los Angeles," says Skrzat.

L.A. is so hot that the mayor has pledged to reduce the average temperature in the city by 3 degrees over the next 20 years. One way to do that is with tree canopies. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 21 percent of L.A. is covered by trees. The national average is 27%.

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Los Angeles has a tree canopy that's smaller than the national average.

"L.A. is getting hotter, and so planting trees is a key component of making this city livable for future generations," says Skrzat.

The city is on a mission to reduce electricity demand by 15% by 2020, too. That's City Plants gave out more than 20,000 trees last year—to give residents a little more shade and reduce their reliance on air conditioning. They've been doing so for about six years now.

"On average, it would be about 15 to 60 trees a day," said Angel Portillo, a delivery man for City Plants, who works for the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, the main contractor for the program. He makes about 12 stops a day, delivering trees to people's doorsteps. As he was delivering two trees to one house, a woman driving buy waved him over.

"Are you the tree people? Can you please talk to my husband. He's at the house," she asks Portillo. He says that happens every day.

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City Plants says it gave out more than 20,000 trees in 2017.

"With the trees that they get for free, they also get a planting guide and fertilizing tables, and also stakes," said Portillo.

Sacramento, New York and London are also running similar tree donation programs. In L.A., residents can apply online to get up to seven trees. You can also apply to get streets for your parkway, only you can't plant those yourself. City Plants will do it for you.

The benefits to trees extend beyond the residents who get them. Urban forests can reduce energy use, improve water quality and even drive business to an area, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. But as City Plants grows trees, large developments are chopping others down. A 2017 study by the USC Spatial Sciences Institute found that L.A. has experienced a 1.3 percent annual decline in tree shrub cover every year from 2000 to 2009.

"We want to make sure that our children inherit and L.A. that is greener and more beautiful than the one we got, said Skrzat.

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