Memorial Day weekend began with a May storm on Friday night.
It was the kind of classic midwestern storm we have been getting a lot of lately: thunder, lightening and fierce wind gusts.
Poor Ulysses spent the night huddled in a corner by my bed.
Saturday morning Anne went out to get the paper and came back to interrupt my coffee with the news that there was a huge tree limb stretching from the curb to our picket fence.
Amazingly no car was damaged. Even our front fence appeared unscathed. The limb was too large to move. It was now an impassable barricade for anyone walking on our side of the street. The annoyance factor was that people had to walk into the street and through our hell strip. That’s the planted area between the curb and the sidewalk where Anne has been trying to replace the grass with plants and flowering shrubs.
I called the non-emergency city help line, 311, and reported it. The operator told me she would report it to the Forestry Department as an emergency. “Should I call the Alderman’s office or the ward superintendent?” I asked. “No need,” she politely responded.
Sunday morning the limb was still there. I posted pictures on Facebook in hopes it would get some attention.
My new Alderman Carlos Rosa responded:
“Hi Fred, I wish you would have told me about this sooner. This Facebook post is the first that I hear about this fallen tree limb. What’s the exact address of the fallen limb? I’ll call it in to Forestry. That said, the city that works only works when constituents make problems known to their ward office. My staff inform me that no one has reached out to report this problem, had we known sooner we could have worked to ensure the city made it out there in a timely manner. Wednesday night a tree limb fell on the 2800 block of north Christiana, a neighbor reached out to me directly and the limb was removed in 3 hours. You have my email, don’t hesitate to reach out.”
Is that true? Does “the city that works” only work if I call the Alderman to remove a tree limb from my sidewalk?
Was the problem that I didn’t call him sooner?
I know that it once was true. In exchange for a vote, aldermen would provide a garbage can, a n0-parking sign or get a fallen tree limb removed from your sidewalk. That was in the days before the Shakman decree that outlawed much of old-time Chicago Machine patronage.
And before most of the power to provide ward favors was taken from the aldermen.
I talked with some city worker pals of mine.
“Forestry is the least funded and smallest of the Chicago departments. It is no longer an actual department, but rather a ‘bureau’ of Sanitation. (So is electricity.) Chicago really lopped down its department three years ago, the same time we went to the miserable grid system. There is not an ‘on call’ team any more after hours or on the weekends. The earliest it will be possibly dealt with is Tuesday morning, unless you call it in to 311 and say that it is blocking traffic or has hit a car. Forestry only pulls out of a few yards now, the north side being Reed, which is behind Wright College or Bomanville, near Foster and Western,” Pat told me.
“Half the job of alderman was providing these services. They can’t anymore,” said another city work pal of mine. “Except in rare instances, the alderman will simply make the same 311 call you did.”
He went on to explain that the city claimed that the grid system was intended to provide efficiency. City workers will work from one end of a grid to another and pushed to do more with less. But except in cases of weather or other extreme emergencies, they may not get to you for weeks. The wait time for tree pruning is two years.
In the Facebook exchange Alderman Rosa essentially admitted this.
“Fred, I felt it salient to specify you had not reached out to me or my staff because you began your post with ’35th Ward services.’ Given that the city has centralized services and done away with ward yards, the only ’35th Ward services’ there are to speak of are those rendered by myself and my staff.”
Right. So unless Alderman Rosa or his staff were going to come over and help me and my friend cut up the large limb, “the city that works” wasn’t going to work for me for a while.
Last summer I actually saw another alderman painting black paint over graffiti on a traffic signal box. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been done.
My city worker pal didn’t agree with the Alderman that the problem was my failure to reach out to the ward office.
“Forestry has had their staff cut from somewhere around 4oo down to 150. They are overworked and understaffed. The city and the county are in discussions to merge the two forestry departments, which will likely reduce city services more.”
The Alderman seemed upset that I had suggested it was a failure on his part. “You implicated my staff,” he complained.
And that I had gone on social media.
But I hadn’t blamed him.
The problem is what I write about all the time: the Mayor would rather spend money on a sports arena for DePaul and Star Wars museums, while schools are closed and neighborhood services decline.
And violence is out of control.
There is, after all, a common thread here.
In fact, in the larger context of the crisis our city is in, the lack of response to a fallen tree limb in front of my house is a minor hiccup.
Pat came by with a chain saw and cut up the tree limb and the parts now sit on the hell strip. It all took less than half an hour.
How long will the tree parts sit there? Who knows?
When the Alderman was running and he stood in my living room giving his campaign speech to my friends, I invited him because I felt we were on the same page about the Mayor, neighborhood services and about the way the city is being run in the interests of the wealthy and the powerful rather than working families.
I’m hoping we still are on the same page.