15-year stump backlog, and other tree problems, need fixing

Published in the Staten Island Advance

by Steven Matteo, New York City Council Minority Leader, and Mark Levine, Chair of the City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation

Are you trying to find out when the dead tree branch dangerously dangling over your roof will be removed, or whether the cratered sidewalk in front of your home is ever going to be fixed? 

Sorry, you're out of luck. The City doesn't share that information with the public. In some cases, it doesn't even know itself.

New York City's 650,000-plus street trees need to be pruned to thrive, and to ensure that precariously hanging branches do not injure people or damage property. The Parks Department Forestry Service sets a goal of pruning every street tree once every seven years, with urgent pruning completed immediately. But Parks doesn't always have the resources to meet this goal.

Parks is also responsible for removing tree stumps, which are not only unsightly but also can be hazardous. Currently there is a backlog of over 10,000 stumps waiting for removal citywide (Parks doesn't have an exact count).   

When will the stump on your block be removed? Again, there's no way for you to know.

Likewise, the Parks department is required to repair sidewalks that have become cracked or elevated by growing tree roots. Inspectors rate problem sidewalks by level of severity from 0 to 100, with priority given to fixing those rated 72 or higher. But currently there is a backlog of over 30,000 repairs, with waits as long as 15 years (yes -15 years!).

What rating did inspectors give the cracked sidewalk in front of your home? When is it scheduled to be fixed? You guessed it...there's no way for you to know.

We have introduced legislation that would change that.

Our bill, Intro 1112, would mandate that the Parks Department for the first time share with the public a host of information about street trees. It would require Parks to post periodic updates on tree maintenance, including prunings, tree stump removals and tree plantings; and a schedule for related sidewalk inspections and repairs. It would also require Parks to post a list of the total number of requests made through the city's 311 system for sidewalk inspections and repairs over the previous six months, and the total number of outstanding inspections and repairs for 30 days.

The premise for this legislation is simple: transparency will lead to better accountability. Taxpayers have a right to know when and how the Parks Department is fulfilling its mandate to maintain our vital street trees, and how the City is spending its funding for this important work.

Transparency has a way of improving performance...and could save the City money as well. More timely repairs of broken sidewalks and dangling tree branches will translate into fewer injuries and less property damaged, and thus fewer lawsuits. That's a win for public safety and the budget.

Getting information on tree or sidewalk repair should be as easy as going to the Department of Buildings website to view information about construction permits or violations, to the Department of Health website to view restaurant inspections, or to the Department of Finance website to view property tax and property value records. Our bill would bring communication from Parks in line with what has already been implemented for these other City agencies.  

The Parks Department reports that is has made significant advances in its internal management of data on tree maintenance. That is great to hear. We need to pass Intro 1112 to ensure we all can see it.

Read the full piece here.

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