LIVINGSTON, NJ — After many years of being concerned with township trees that die without being replaced, lifelong Livingston resident Stacy Santola, brother of former mayor Stephen Santola, has volunteered to become Livingston’s new “Tree Czar.” His overall mission to is to utilize the existing tree fund to fill spaces left empty by the removal of dead shrubbery, and plant new, healthy trees in areas that will help beautify the township.

Santola announced his willingness to take on this project on Monday to the Livingston mayor and council, who thanked him for his commitment to making the best use of the existing funds by identifying the locations that need attention.

“As a starting point, I think just replacing the ones that are missing will keep me busy for the next year without question,” said Santola, who added that he “bugged his brother” about this issue almost daily when he was on the council. “I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel, but I could give you a list off the top of my head of 50 trees that have died in the last few years and haven’t been replaced. What I’m really just looking to do right now is replace trees that were cut down and the stump is still there, pull them out and put a new tree in.”

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Santola said his pet peeve is that when the township plants trees, “a third of them look like they’re half-dead,” and then when they die, the trees are cut down and often don’t get replaced.

“It makes me crazy because we pay money for it,” said Santola, who cited examples such as “two beautiful trees” that previously sat in front of Seymour’s Deli & Bakery that were never replaced, as well as bushes that were already dying when they were planted in front of town hall that have since been removed. “It’s not a lot to do, and it doesn’t involve investing a lot of time, so I’m willing to do it.”

He also said that if funds allow, he would like to look into planting in new locations, like the open space along Hillside Avenue on the outskirts of Hillside Elementary School.

“I don’t want to spend a lot of money,” he said. “Being in the business that I am, I know a lot of landscapers that I’m very good friends with and we could get good prices. Then I want to see the tree when it goes in so I know it’s alive and make sure it gets watered, because that’s half the problem.”

Santola, an attorney based out of Orange and Livingston, noted that he landscaped throughout law school and developed “kind of a green thumb.” He said that big trees, like the ones in Montclair or South Orange, bring out the character in a town, and that as a Livingston resident of more than 50 years, he knows first-hand that other people will see this every day and appreciate it.

Additionally, he said his connections to people like Department of Public Schools Superintendent Mike Anello, who attended Livingston High School with Santola, will likely be an asset as he sets to work on this project.

As the summer begins, which Santola said is not the ideal time to begin planting, the council asked that Santola prioritize a list of the first 30-or-so trees that need to be replaced and return to the council in August with a plan of action.

“I agree that now is not the time to do the planting, which I think gives you an opportunity to come to us with some kind of plan for the fall,” said Councilman Michael Silverman. “We all love the idea, but we don’t really know what it is. I’d love to see some kind of game plan—what do you envision the process being?”

Mayor Ed Meinhardt said that identifying the missing trees is a great place to start and thanked Santola for his dedication and volunteerism.

Editor’s Note: Stacy Santola is the father of Danielle Santola, author of this article and editor/co-owner of TAPinto Livingston.