Tree survey finds slow city response

According to state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), the city has got to do more when it comes to taking care of trees in front of northeast Queens homes.

The lawmaker announced last Friday the results of a constituent survey. A month after sending it out, Avella had received 1,250 responses. And they paint a worrying picture.

Avella said the survey wasn’t mailed throughout all of the 11th Senate District — “a couple of blocks in each neighborhood” were targeted.

Sixty-six percent of the responding constituents said yes when asked if they were “concerned for the safety of your family and home because of the condition of the tree in front of your home or on your block.” The remaining 34 percent said they were not.

When asked about the “current condition of the street tree,” the results were similarly negative. Just 26 percent of them said it was “safe,” 23 percent said “overgrown,” 27 said “dangerous” and 24 percent said “needs removal.”

Most respondents — 65 percent — said the street tree had “caused damage to the sidewalk” in front of their homes. The remainder said it had not.

Just 29 percent of them said they were aware of the city’s Tree and Sidewalks Repair Program, with the rest not knowing about it.

Twenty-four percent of the respondents said they had applied for the program. Long waits for sidewalk fixes were common for the applicants: 33 percent reported wait times of five or more years; 30 percent said it took more than two years, and 37 percent said one to two years.

The survey also asked about requests to the city for tree pruning. Forty-nine percent said they’d made one before; the rest had not.

The respondents were split 50-50 on whether the requests actually ended up with them getting the requested trimming. Just 31 percent of them said that the tree was “pruned to satisfaction.” And of those whose requests have not been satisfied, some have been waiting long: 31 percent said that it’s been five or more years since their request was made, 36 percent said it had been more two years and 33 percent said it had been 1 to 2 years.

Tree removal requests were also part of the survey. Of the 41 percent of respondents who had made requests, 64 percent of them said that they had not been realized. A plurality of that group — 42 percent — said that it’s been five or more years since they made the request; 32 percent reported two or more years and 26 percent said it had been one to two years.

Even for the constituents whose removal requests led to the trees being taken down, some did not get exactly what they asked for. Sixty-four percent of them had requested that the stump be removed, but only 56 percent of the people in that group reported it happening.

Yet again, long wait times were reported by those whose forestry requests weren’t satisfied. One-to-two year waits were reported by 38 percent of them; more-than-two-year waits by 27 percent of them, and 35 percent of them said they’d waited for five or more years for the stump to be removed.

According to Avella, the city should dedicate more money and manpower to handling its trees.

“The city has to put enough money into the budget and has to hire enough people to prune the trees and take care of removing dead trees on a much more timely basis,” he said.

The senator wasn’t exactly shocked by the survey responses.

“I figured the results would bear out what I’ve always thought,” he explained. “But this’ll give me the ammunition to go to the city, the mayor and the Department of Parks and Recreation to say more needs to be done.”

In a statement to the Chronicle, the Parks Department defended itself.

“As the stewards of New York City’s urban forest, we care for our city’s street and park trees and also respond to more than 80,000 forestry-related service requests from concerned New Yorkers each year,” the agency said. “To help keep our tree canopy healthy and safe, we’re integrating modern tree risk management practices into the way we care for our urban forest.”

The Parks Department also said the senator had not shared the results of his forestry survey.

For years, Avella has been no stranger to criticizing the agency over its handling of trees.

And after one in Central Park fell last year and injured four people, he called on department Commissioner Mitchell Silver to resign.

At last Friday’s press conference, the senator brought up a tragedy that occurred in his district in 2013. A tree fell on a pregnant woman who was sitting on a bench in Kissena Park.

“She and the unborn baby were both killed,” said Avella, who criticized the city after that incident.

He hopes the new survey will help him get a bill aimed at reforming how the city deals with trees passed in Albany.

“I introduced a bill that would ask the state to form a task force to review the city’s tree policy,” Avella explained, adding that he plans to use the survey to get more support for the legislation.

“I’m still pushing that bill and I’m going to use this as evidence to say, ‘This has to be done,’” he said.