By Mark Hallum
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called for the resignation of Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael Silver after reports of an elm tree collapsing and injuring a woman and three children in Central Park made headlines.
Avella has long advocated for better maintenance of city trees on behalf of his constituents, who have complained that trees planted by the city near their properties have damaged sidewalks and have been neglected by the city for pruning or removal. Now, he is accusing Silver of being an absentee commissioner who has ignored the needs of residents calling for better attention to tree installations.
“It is clear that DPR and the city are not doing enough to prevent tree accidents such as the one that just occurred in Central Park,” Avella said. “For years, I have advocated for a much more proactive approach to City tree maintenance. This responsibility falls on the Commissioner to be attentive to not only tree maintenance, but also all park related issues. Unfortunately, Silver is an absentee Commissioner. Under his leadership, or should I say lack of leadership, tree accidents continue to occur at an ever-increasing rate, park maintenance is poor at best, and park capital construction projects take more time than ever to complete.”
In July, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would fund better care of trees through the Trees and Sidewalks program, which will be implemented through NYC Parks to help residents mitigate and repair damage to walkways to city trees. A total of $21.7 million will be put toward this program in the budget for the 2018 fiscal year.
Avella responded by calling for the city’s Trees and Sidewalks program to be codified into law and expanding it in terms of funding and eligibility for co-op and condo owners. He also said the pruning cycle needs to be increased from the seven-year cycle to every 10 years, and that the city should take responsibility for broken sewer and water lines because of tree root growth and damage to private property such as driveways and walkways.
When city Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a 2014 study showing Queens as having the best coverage from the agency in terms of tree maintenance, Avella responded by explaining Parks had been slow to prune overgrown trees, remove stumps or see to trees which showed signs of poor health.
In 2013, a 30-year-old pregnant woman was killed in Kissena Park after a tree collapsed on her as she sat on a bench and Avella called on the mayor’s office to suspend the Million Tree Program implemented by the Bloomberg administration, which is often blamed for the alleged maintenance backlog NYC Parks has been accused of ignoring.
NYC Parks did not respond for comment at press time.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall