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311 Calls To Trim Dangerous Trees Are Being Marked 'Completed,' Sometimes With Claims There's 'No Tree'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- We've reported on stories across the city of 311 requests being marked completed before the job was done – from trash cleanup to an abandoned car.

Now, as CBS 2's Tim McNicholas reported, a South Side alderman says the same thing has been happening in his ward with tree-trimming requests.

"These are the ones that keep falling off," said Selene Arroyo as she showed us branches on a tree.

And Arroyo knows money doesn't grow on trees.

"I can't spend my savings on unnecessary things," she said.

She said the tree at 56th Street and Hoyne Avenue in West Englewood is costing her money.

"I have called several times because the branches keep falling," Arroyo said. "They've actually broken two of my windshields already, and an antenna."

Records from 311 show a June 10 tree-trimming request at Arroyo's address. In November, the request was marked "completed" in 311, but she said no one ever trimmed the tree.

In fact, a city worker even noted "no tree."

Arroyo wishes that were true.

"Once, we were walking from over here and a big branch fell right next to my son. He's a 4-year-old," Arroyo said. "That branch could have fallen on my son's head and... God knows."

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said it is a problem all over his ward.

As to getting the trees trimmed, he said: "We've tried working with the Department of Forestry. That's not something we have direct control over."

But he said city workers are marking "no tree" or "no such address" on tree-trimming requests and moving on.

"Saying a tree doesn't exist, saying an address doesn't exist, is a disservice to the city of Chicago," Lopez said. "It's dishonest and it's, you're lying to the taxpayers on the product you're providing."

He pointed to other examples in his ward in West Englewood and Back of the Yards, including 49th Street and Hoyne Avenue, 46th and Wood streets, 57th and Wood streets, and 50th Street and Seeley Avenue.

All of those trees have limbs hanging over the property. Yet in mid-November, the city marked each tree-trimming request "completed" with the note "no tree."

Ald. Lopez said he found about 30 requests in the past few months that in his eyes were inappropriately marked completed.

"We've seen time and again through various reports - including your own - where things are just being closed out at random throughout the city of Chicago," Lopez said, "and I think for some bureaucrats, it's easier just to close them off and see who complains next and start the cycle all over again."

A city spokesperson told us workers typically only do the work if the address listed in 311 is the exact address where the tree trunk is – regardless of whether the branches are hanging, or falling, onto the listed address.

"How could they just - they just ignore us?" Arroyo said. "They just say no tree and that's it?"

The 311 request for the tree that is causing problems for Arroyo lists her address. But the trunk is technically in front of a vacant, boarded-up house next door.

Many of the other requests we found have trees hanging over the listed address, but the trunk is also actually next door.

"Common sense should tell them there's a tree right here, especially when you send resources to come out and verify that," Lopez said.

A city spokesperson acknowledged they should be getting clarification, and they're working on ways to do that in the future. Maybe then, the jobs will get done – for real this time.

The city also points out that the pandemic and a large storm have kept them busy over the last year. They say they will be working with Lopez's ward superintendent in the future to nail down the exact addresses in question on 311 complaints.

"The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) remains committed to caring for the City's urban canopy during the world pandemic, and was kept busy last year with one of the largest storms the City has seen in years.  In 2021, the Bureau of Forestry will continue to focus on filling residential requests and conducting a tree inventory.

All tree trim requests are inspected by a certified arborist within the Bureau of Forestry to determine the best action or requirement for that individual tree."

The 311 requests Lopez referred to from the past few months were a mixture of complaints submitted by residents and the alderman's office.
Alderman Lopez said three of them were requests from his office for entire blocks to be completed and, rather than doing the work, the city marked them complete with "no such address" and moved on. A city spokesperson denied that charge, saying in those cases workers noted "no such address" but they did trim trees on those blocks.

When Lopez's team emailed the Bureau of Forestry at the Department of Streets and Sanitation a list of trees in July 2020. The deputy commissioner responded "forestry priority at this moment is the 2019 requests only, 15th ward has 106 outstanding requests from 2019."

The alderman said he was told months later the department had caught up but he's not convinced.

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