Apparently not, according to State Senator Tony Avella, who sent the Parks Department hundreds of locations of potentially dangerous city-owned street trees he discovered via a survey he sent to thousands of constituents.
To date, Avella's office has received about 1,300 responses to the survey, which asked homeowners to describe the condition of any street tree in front of their house or on their block. Just under 70 percent of the respondents said they were concerned the tree was an accident waiting to happen, and feared for their safety.
“This will give me the ammunition to go to the city and say more needs to be done,” Avella said when he released the results of the survey last month.
Which is exactly what Avella did, sending an individual letter for hundreds of the locations his office heard about to directly to Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver requesting an inspection.
The city's response? Call 311.
The Parks Department sent a letter signed by Queens Park Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski with the addresses from the first 65 letters Avella sent, instructing the state senator to inform the homeowners that the best course of action was for them to call the city's non-emergency hotline.
“For future correspondence of this nature, we strongly encourage you to advise your constituents to utilize the 311 system,” she wrote.
“This letter is an abomination,” Avella said last week. “I notify them of 65 locations of a dangerous tree, and the Parks Department just blows them off. For them to completely ignore an elected official’s complaints is absurd.”
Avella has since sent a letter to the mayor, Parks commissioner, and the Corporation Counsel of New York, urging them to call out the response as negligent.
“I've given the city a written record that the trees are dangerous,” Avella said. “I think that the city is even more liable now. God forbid one of these trees injure someone or damage property, the mayor and the commissioner will be personally responsible.”
However, a Parks Department spokesperson stood behind the commissioner's letter, reiterating her stance that calling 311 is the most efficient way to address tree issues.
“Calling 311 routes tree service requests directly to Parks foresters,” the spokesperson said.
Avella said the problem is even more urgent given the number of trees that fell across the city following two powerful storms that occurred less than one week apart.
“The damage was probably a lot less because the ground is still somewhat frozen,” he said. “If this had been summer, it would have been a lot worse.”
Avella added that part of his issue with telling homeowners to call 311 is the 311 system itself. He said a few months ago he called 311 to report a pile of tree debris he noticed on his way from his Whitestone home to his Bayside office.
He reported the debris through the 311 system as a private citizen would, but said it was impossible to follow up on the complaint.
“That debris sat there for a month,” he said.
Avella has authored legislation in Albany that would establish a task force to evaluate the Parks Department's policies on tree maintenance, citing his survey as proof there is an issue.
“It's an indictment of how the City of New York is responding to tree concerns,” he said.