2011-03-18 / Letters

The Forest For The Trees

I think that I should never see
A thing as costly as a tree
A tree our city Parks Department plants
Amidst the soil and sand and ants
Poems are made by fools like me
But only Parks can spend $1,790 to plant one tree.

You read it here second folks. I recently came upon a news article (NY Post 2/27/11) that cited the following:

“More than 100 tree haters were busted for arborcide in 2010.” What is arborcide? It is tree killing. First off, let it be said that nobody should purposely maim a tree let alone kill it. Secondly, why should city dwellers be concerned with tree deaths? The answer is two-fold: first, because trees contribute to cleaning up the air we breathe and secondly because our city tax dollars are spent to replace the arborial corpses. The price that the city pays for the replacement trees is mind blowing.

In the previously cited article, Heather Haddon, the journalist, goes on to explain the circumstances around the 18 summonses given for tree killing last year. She further explains rather casually that a ‘street tree’ costs the city $1,790 to plant which peaked my curiosity even in light of the fact that $123,000 in summonses were handed out for tree murder. After a cursory investigation of the cost of trees I uncovered some facts you might find interesting.

There are nearly 600,000 trees in New York City and plenty of varieties. However, only certain trees that can tolerate salt air are fit for our community. While investigating these shore trees and their prices, I came upon the Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees like those planted on the second block of Beach 128 Street. They are sold for $13.50 each online. Cleveland Pear trees, like the Japanese Cherry, bloom for a week or two, shed their blossoms and stand gallantly with their green leaves until winter. These pears currently grace the streets of Long Beach, each selling for $18.99.

According to the NYC Parks Department tree list for salt areas, they recommend the following trees for street planting (I researched the prices online): Northern Red Oak – 5’ $69.75, Silver Linden – 3-4’ $10.50, White Oak 5’ $44.95 or $40.46 if ordering 4 or more, London Planetree – 3-4’ $12 each and American Elm – 5-6’ $64.75 or 10-12’ $75. No matter how diligently I looked, I failed to find a tree that sold anywhere near $1,790 which makes one wonder how costly planting these trees must be.

Adding insult to injury, in a N.Y. Post article (2/20/11), Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein wrote about salaries of parks managers involved in “chosen park conservancies.”

Douglas Blonsky, head of Central Park Conservancy, got a 20 percent raise in this recession and is now making (notice I did not use earned) $433,940 annually. He oversees 843 acres of park land and does fundraising for this NYC gem.

Debbie Landau, head of Madison Square Park Conservancy, received a $20,000 bonus added to her $15,000 raise in 2009, the city paying $126,609 and the non-profit pays the remainder.

Daniel Biederman, Bryant Park Corporate Director, made $220,027 for the year ending in June 2008, up from $210,374 the year before. He also earned an additional $220,027 from the 34th Street Partnership.

Debbi Landau’s sister, Maggi, worked for Debbie in 2009 hauling in $125,000 plus a $12,500 bonus. She has since left.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe earns $205,180 annually, overseeing 29,000 acres of park land, 28,157 more than Douglas Blonsky’s 843 acres.

The Central Park Conservancy is a not for profit charity supported by wealthy Manhattan individuals and corporations. Central Park has a $37,400,000 annual budget 85 percent of which is paid for by the Conservancy.

Rockaway’s beaches and parks and roadsides and whatever else under local parks supervision represent a massive undertaking. The beaches and boardwalk alone occupy 498.15 acres. Kudos to Jill Weber, our parks supervisor, for doing the job she does with the manpower and machinery shortage she must suck up. Parks jurisdiction in her district not only includes all parks of Rockaway but those in some of Mainland Queens across the ‘other’ bridge.

Our beaches require a type of maintenance that has not been done in decades primarily for lack of manpower but also for lack of machinery, that of sand grading. Consequently, our beach block streets fill with sand as do our roofs, gutters and decks. Certainly, Rockaway’s parks and beaches could use additional funding. Creating a conservancy like the one in Central Park is an idea; however, it could never hope to raise the funds the heavy contributors to Central Park raise. Think of the number of all terrain vehicles we require just to give summonses for alcohol and smoking on the beach. Beach rakes and front end loaders in addition to special mobile tree pruners are some of the diverse park maintenance vehicles needed by our local parks.

Why don’t we have two Challengers and operators full time to maintain our beaches? Why don’t we have morning pickers like we did for all those years taking high school students off the streets and giving them summer jobs? Why are our seasonal workers removed so soon after the beaches ‘close?’ Central Park lacks for nothing.

So you see my conundrum. Rockaway residents pay their city tax and tolls and summonses and only get a tiny slice of the pie in return. Central Park gets a $5,610,000 annual allocation from the Parks Department. Rockaway gets crumbs. Perhaps if Parks did not spend $1,790 to plant a $69.00 tree but found a landscaper who charged Parks a lot less, there would be more money for Rockaway. I am actually thinking of bidding on the next street tree contract. With extra funding and additions to our workforce, our beaches would be graded to the high tide line instead of piling the sand mid-beach, our boardwalk would be resurfaced where needed and widened, the roadsides where underbrush covers our bike and running paths would be cut back and our summer activities expanded: not all from money saved by planting trees; but, from sharing the pie and waste prevention.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, city dwellers who are able would surely chip in and help a city budget in need if all personnel in the city employ who are raking in ridiculous wages are required to sacrifice a percentage of their salaries. That accomplished, there must be a gigantic effort to eliminate waste through, disallowing outlandish bidding practices, pilferage, or cheating. Once those tigers are tamed, city voters who take notice of government agency belt tightening and efficiency may not mind sacrificing monetarily in the city’s time of need.


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