Brooklyn woman objects to city tree - and gets threatened with jail
Saturday, May 16th 2009, 10:39 PM
The million trees program should be cut to 999,999.
Or maybe the city could just move the tree it planted outside Marion D. Smith's home on 11th St. in Park Slope on Friday.
The Brooklyn block has two empty tree pits, but of course the work crew went right to where the city had promised the 79-year-old widow it would not put a tree.
A tree had stood on this spot for decades but died six years ago, shortly after Smith lost her husband.
"It died right after he died," she noted.
She kept after the city for five long years before the stump was finally removed. She is disabled and had expressed concern that she would have difficulty sweeping up the leaves if a new tree were planted there.
"Don't worry, they won't put another tree there," a very nice city official assured her.
With that pledge, Smith had the pit paved over at her own expense. She was understandably surprised to see a small bulldozer with a pavement-busting attachment take up position there Friday morning.
"What are you doing?" Smith inquired from her front door.
"We're putting in a tree," the man in charge said.
"I didn't ask for a tree," Smith said. "I told them I didn't want a tree there. Put it somewhere else."
"This is going here," the man said.
"I don't want a tree there!" Smith exclaimed. "Who's going to rake the leaves?"
A particularly good-hearted neighbor, Nancy Cardozo, approached and attempted to intervene.
"She doesn't want a tree," Cardozo noted.
"Sorry, I have the contract and I have a big payroll," the man replied. "I have to put the tree there."
The man's tone remained remarkably amiable, even though Cardozo positioned herself in a way that might impede the work.
"You can have the tree moved later," he offered.
"Wouldn't it make more sense just to put it where we want it?" Cardozo inquired.
"No, this is what I have to do," he said.
Cardozo dialed 311 from her cell phone. An operator informed her the city owns the sidewalk and has the right to put a tree there.
"Who's responsible if somebody slips on the leaves?" Cardozo inquired.
"The homeowner," the operator replied.
The operator then connected Cardozo to somebody in the Parks Department who did not answer. Cardozo left a message that would not get a reply.
Meanwhile, the man in charge was on his own cell phone to the Parks Department forestry office. He handed his phone to Cardozo.
"The tree's going in," an instantly nasty forestry guy told Cardozo. "There's nothing she can do about it."
Cardozo inquired if perhaps the work could be suspended until Smith spoke to the city.
"Do you want me to send the police and have you arrested?" the forestry guy responded.
"No, thank you, but I would like you to give me your name," Cardozo said.
"I need you to move," the forestry guy said.
"I need you to tell me your name," Cardozo insisted.
"You'll find out my name soon enough," the forestry guy said.
Smith called to Cardozo from her front door, asking what was happening.
"They're sending the police," Cardozo replied.
"Nancy, I don't want you to get arrested for a tree," Smith declared.
Cardozo stepped back from what a passerby might have taken to be the opposite of tree hugging. She is in truth a big supporter of the Million Trees program. And she had to admire the work crew's speed and precision in breaking up the pavement and planting the tree.
"One in a million - that's what this tree is, one small step toward a green New York," the tag also said.
The tag reported that this particular tree was a ginkgo. A female ginkgo means cleaning up fallen fruit whose smell has been variously compared to rancid butter, vomit and dog droppings.
"We're hoping it's not a female," Cardozo said.