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Street Trees & Tree Boxes: What is the City’s Responsibility?

Mon., Oct. 3 (7:30pm): This month’s regular meeting of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, to which non-members are invited to attend, will be held at the Society of the Cincinnati’s historic Anderson House (2118 Mass. Ave., NW) and will feature a presentation by the DC Urban Forestry Administration’s Ward 2 arborist Simoun Banua.

photo--courtesy Office of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans

photo–courtesy Office of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans

Whether or not overgrown street tree boxes will be addressed is not known. But what is known is that too many of them are in states of serious overgrowth that will bring about the death of the primary tree, like the gorgeous, mature ginkgo near 17th Street that, as this photo reveals, is now in desperate competition with the mass of huge bushes and even a small tree of a different species growing up alongside for the limited nutrients available in its small space.

What needs to be asked of Mr. Banua is why Urban Forestry insists that its only responsibility with respect to city trees in public space is to prune or remove diseased or otherwise hazardous trees but not to remove competing growths that threaten the health and even life of those trees. When a neighbor sought to have Urban Forestry send a crew to take care of the problem the response was that it is not for them to do, but for the public works department to take care of. And, upon follow-up with DPW the taxpayer discovered that they claimed an inspector had come out and that the problem had been “mitigated” — contrary to the evidence captured by this photo.

Subsequently, the office of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans has endeavored to intercede with Urban Forestry and has reported to The InTowner that it has recently received assurance that the matter will be handled. (Subsequent inspection by neighbors revealed that nothing was done, despite the promise to Councilmember Evans.) It is not clear, however, whether this promised action is a one-time accommodation to the councilmember who happens also to be the chairman of the Council’s finance and revenue committee or whether it signals a change in policy with respect to city tree box maintenance. Maybe Mr. Banua will be in a position to provide an authoritative answer.