Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mayor de Blasio's Horse Trade Deal Collapses

Mayor de Blasio adressing the media after finally emerging from his SUV more than fifteen minutes after pulling into City Hall.  The Mayor is pushing a bill that would restricted carriage horses to Central Park as well as have the tax payers foot the bill to relocate the horse carriage industry into a Parks Department owned building in the park. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge


By Geoffrey Croft

The City Council will not be voting on the Mayor's controversial horse-drawn carriage bill.

The move comes after the carriage license owners voted not to support Teamster's Local 553 deal with the Mayor.

The Teamsters themselves finally backed out after a rash of negative publicly.

“We negotiated in good faith with the City Council and the Teamsters to reach this agreement,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement.

"The terms of that agreement have not changed during these past weeks, but today the Teamsters decided to back away from the fair compromise they had previously endorsed. While we are disappointed this bill will no longer be considered Friday, the people of this city know what I believe, and we will work toward a new path on this issue.”

"The Council will not vote on any horse carriage related legislation on Friday since the Teamsters no longer support the deal,” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in statement.  

The Council said they had "sufficient votes to pass the legislation, but will not be moving it because the legislation was predicated on the agreement."

Several council members said they had expressed to Speaker Mark-Viverito their strong to desire to get away from the issue.

"The votes just weren't there. Let's move on," a Council member said today speaking on the
 condition of anonymity.  

The Mayor sat in his SUV surrounded by aids and security for fifteen minutes after arriving at City Hall. 

The Mayor sat in his SUV for fifteen minutes after arriving at City Hall after seeing a phalanx of reporters and members of the horse-drawn carriage industry who had just finished a press conference.

He finally emerged, briefly addressed the media and abruptly left. 

“I’m obviously disappointed that the vote won’t happen,” the mayor said.

“You all know my views on this issue," he added. "We’re going to find a way forward."

The administration has not fared well on this issue following a disastrous public hearing on the bill two weeks ago where officials struggled to answer even basic questions. 

"The hearing was ridiculous, they couldn't answer anything," a Council member said today who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.  

A steady stream of opponents emerged since the January hearing including the Transport Workers Union and the Central Labor Council.

The Central  Park Conservancy, which manages the park under a legal agreement with the City and raises 75 percent of its operating budget from private donations because the city refuses to,  sent an email to members last Thursday saying it had, “significant concerns” about the plan.

NYCLASS  - who waged an expensive campaign which many credit with helping the mayor get elected - supported the deal which, as critics point out, should not come as a surprise.

“Whatever compromise the mayor will agree to, we would be happy with,” Steve Nislick said in an interview more than a year ago. 

"We trust him,” he said. 

The Mayor's  proposed new $ 25 million dollar home for the carriage horse industry in Central Park. The park’s Department’s 86th Street Shops building.

For weeks the administration had tried its best to claim that the seventy-five horses, and sixty-eight carriages planned for Central Park would fit into the existing footprint of the Parks Department’s 86th Street shops.

When everyone with knowledge of the plan knew was impossible. 

The administration finally admited in a "Fact Sheet" sent to select Council members what was coming.

"There may need to be a new structure to house the carriages. The new structure would be contained within the same lot.” 

Read More:

A Walk In The Park - January 19, 2016 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - January 14, 2016 - By Geoffrey Croft

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Battery Park City Removing All Law Enforcement Officers

An AlliedBarton “safety ambassador” on the southern end of Battery Park City. On Wednesday the Battery Park City Authority board secretly voted to remove all law enforcement officers from the premises and replace them with civilian AlliedBarton employees.

By Geoffrey Croft

The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) secretly voted this week to remove all the Park Enforcement Patrol officers, NYC Park Advocates has learned.

The board voted to allow its contract with the Parks Department to expire on Sunday night.  The secret vote occurred in an Executive Session after the authority’s monthly board meeting on Wednesday.  The deal replaced the current $ 2.5 million dollar PEP contract.

For months BPCA officials have told the public that a percentage of PEP officers would remain along side AlliedBarton “safety ambassadors.”

The Battery Park City Authority’s controversial decision to replace Park Enforcement officers with civilians with no law enforcement powers has sparked outrage from residents of the sprawling complex.

The BPCA board had approved a contract for up to $ 2.1 million with AlliedBarton, another $ 400,000 would be allocated for PEP officers officials said.

The Parks Department was kept in the dark about the move until yesterday afternoon according to several city sources. The agency had reached out to BPCA this week several times but got no response.

On Friday afternoon Parks Department’s general council Alessandro Olivieri was finally able to get in touch with the BPCA.

The last tour for the PEP officers will be on Sunday night.  All forty PEP personnel including thirty officers and supervisors, and ten CSA’s will be reassigned to other commands.

Wednesday’s secret vote comes after a group of teens were viciously attacked and robbed in a dark alley in Battery Park City in December.

The attack left one of the victims with a concussion, a skull fracture, bleeding in his brain in three places and a swollen shut eye.

The incident sparked outrage by the victims who claimed the newly hired AlliedBarton safety ambassadors did not intervene to help the teens and delayed calling the police.

“AlliedBarton security personnel on duty did nothing to help the children,” the mother of victim said afterwards.

The actions of AlliedBarton employees further renewed the fears of residents and elected officials who have complained bitterly since finding out about the Authority’s move to replace PEP offices with civilians in October.

In December city, state,and federal elected officials send a letter to Dennis Mehiel criticizing the AlliedBarton move:

Battery Park City Authority board chairman and CEO Dennis Mehiel was blasted at a community meeting last month over the proposed hiring of AlliedBarton.  At the meeting he stated that they were still in negotiations between the City and BPCA.

Mr. Mehiel abruptly excused himself from the meeting leaving of long line of angry residents waiting to speak.

One recent plan called for having PEP officers work two tours comprising of 24 officers in total according to a city source.

The secret ousting of the PEP officers comes amid growing outrage over several recent decisions by the Board without community consultation and transparency.

Calls for the city to take over the Battery Park City in the wake of these decisions have also been renewed.

This week State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick announced the introduction of a bill that would require a majority of BPCA members to be local residents. Only one of the current BPCA’ seven-member board lives in Battery Park City.

The Authority board is appointed by the governor, and confirmed by the State Senate.

“They televise the board meetings then go into executive session. They do all the dirty stuff behind closed doors, “ said a Battery Park City resident.

Several requests seeking comment from the Battery Park City Authority were not returned.

Read More:

Two Arrested In Brutal Battery Park City Attack 
A Walk In The Park - January 13, 2015 -  By Geoffrey Croft

Teens Viciously Attacked In Battery Park City While AlliedBarton Security Ambassador Watched
A Walk In The Park - January 7

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Police Arrest Man For Stalking Girl, 12, In Washington Sq. Park


By Geoffrey Croft

A visit to Washington Square Park turned into a nightmare for a twelve-year-old girl when a stalker followed her home, NYC Park Advocates has learned. 

The girl was in the park with her best friend and her friend’s mother near the dog run around 12:30pm. on Monday. 

After the girl’s friend and mom left a strange man approached her and asked, “will you ride me?”  

The man muttered other phrases the child didn’t understand according to police.

The girl quickly walked away but the assailant followed her home.  When she entered her building on 9th Street the man continued and got into the elevator with her where he asked, “I was recently let out of jail, can I hide in your apartment?”

When the elevator arrived at her floor the terrified girl ran out and into her apartment. Her mother called the police. 

The stalker disappeared. 

Police responded.  They saw a man a few blocks away on 10th Street & Broadway that matched his description.

Police arrested Carl Catapano, 39, a resident of 26 E. 11th Street.     

Catapano was charged with Stalking, Harassment and Endangering The Welfare of a Child.
 He is being held on a $15,000 bond or $5,000 cash bail.

On January 15th  Catapano was given a desk appearance ticket for panhandling in a subway station. On December 4, 2015 he was arrested for marijuana possession.  On February 25, 2006 he was arrested for assault and criminal mischief.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hearing For Mayor’s Controversial Carriage Industry Relocation Plan In Central Park Scheduled For Friday

The pedicab industry protested this afternoon outside the gates of City Hall.  The Mayor's plan would prohibit the group from working south of 85th Street. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on image to enlarge

By Geoffrey Croft

The Mayor’s controversial plan to move and pay for the relocation of the horse carriage industry to a Parks Department owned building in Central Park is scheduled for this Friday at 10:00am.

“The bill would reduce the number of licenses for horses used in the operation of horse-drawn carriages and the number of hours a horse-drawn carriage may operate during a 24-hour period, establish a stable in Central Park, limit the operation of horse-drawn carriages to Central Park, and prohibit the operation of pedicabs below the 85th Street Transverse in Central Park,” according to the language of the bill.

The Parks Department would be responsible for establishing a stable for carriage horses within Central Park by October 1, 2018. The penality for not acheiving that goal on time? 

The Parks Commissioner would be responslble for submitting "a report to the mayor and the council stating the reasons why and providing an updated timeline for the establishment of such stable," the bill reads.  

Unlike other commercial businesses which operate on public park land this one is expected to bypass the competitive bidding process normally required to secure public park land for private commercial uses including consessions. 

The city will attempt to claim it does not need to get State Alienation approval because it is already an existing “park use" according to a city source.

The De blasio administration did not consult with the Parks Commissioner or the Central Park Conservancy, the non-profit group that manages the park, before devising the plan.  

Outstanding questions include whether or not the carriage industry would be required to pay the city rent.  

The hastily drawn up plan has come under attack on all sides of the issue including animal rights activists,  the horse carriage drivers and stable owners, and park advocates.

Proposed new home for the carriage horse industry in Central Park. The Park’s Department’s 86th Street Shops building.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito took a swipe at critics, including Central Park Conservancy founder Betsy Barlow Rogers who questioned relocating the stables to a city-owned Parks Department building and giving it to a private business.  

“It is like building a palace for a concessionaire, ” Ms. Rogers told the New York Times. 

The plan, she said, “absolutely must be opposed.”

"At the end of the day, the city owns the park. The city owns this facility,”  Melissa Mark-Viverito shot back.

“And the city is making a decision to invest in this facility. And there are those who may think that they own the park. Right? The Central Park Conservancy, understood, has a contract with the city of New York. But the park and Central Park is city property and the mayor does make decisions as to what the priorities (are) for this city. We had conversations and we've arrived at a point of agreement," the Speaker said. 

“The well-being of horses is lost in this compromise bill—it only serves the carriage horse industry at the city’s expense,” says Edita Birnkrant, Campaign Director of Friends of Animals.    

The pedicab industry held well attended rally at City Hall this afternoon.   

The horse carriage drivers and stable owners held a rally this morning to say they would not consider the Mayor’s plan to move their business inside Central Park until the stables they are being promised in the park are complete.

Councilman Mark Levine, chairman of the Parks Committee, said the deal was probably the best compromise that could have been reached because the city was spending too much time on it. 

“This matter has occupied a disproportionate amount of the time and energy of the council for the past two years,” Mr. Levine told the Wall Street Journal. 

“Everyone is going be relieved that we can focus our attention on other issues that are facing the council,” he said.

Mr. Levine walked quickly past pedicab workers protesting outside the gates of City Hall this afternoon. 

This is the second time in a month that the City Council is supporting a plan to give away public parkland to a private business at the tax-payers expense.

Last month they voted to give away 47.5 acres of public parkland in Flushing Meadow’s Corona Park to one of the country’s most politically connected developers to build a mega mall.  

Read More:

Metro NY - January 19, 2016 - Angy Altamirano 

Newsday - January 19, 2016 -  By Emily Ngo  

A Walk In The Park - January 14, 2016 - By Geoffrey Croft

Queens Chronicle - January 14, 2016 - By  Geoffrey Croft

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Council Misled City On Willets West Land Grab

Proposed Nightmare - Willets Point West.  Last month City Council voted on a resolution that supported a $1 billion Bloomberg-era giveaway of 47.5 acres of public parkland in Flushing Meadow’s Corona Park to one of the country’s most politically connected developers. 

By Geoffrey Croft
The City Council recently voted on a resolution that supported a $1 billion Bloomberg-era giveaway of 47.5 acres of public parkland in Flushing Meadow’s Corona Park to one of the country’s most politically connected developers. Only that’s not what the resolution explicitly stated or even implied.
The resolution claimed it was authorizing the Council to file an amicus brief, “to support the prior approval of the Willets Point development plan by the City Council,” as well as to “defend” it.
However, that is not the issue before the Court of Appeals that the Council was purportedly supporting. What is in front of the court is Willets Point West, which the resolution conveniently omitted.
The Queens Development Group, a joint venture between the Related Companies and Sterling Equities, is attempting to build a 1.4 million-square-foot mall on mapped parkland west of Citi Field stadium. The proposed Willets West mall project would allow the seizing of the parkland to be used exclusively for non-park purposes without first getting state alienation approval as is required under law. The construction would be unprecedented and represent the largest parkland giveaway in recent history. The appellate court also said it was illegal.
In February 2014, a coalition of residents, environmental groups including NYC Park Advocates, businesses, homeowners and state Sen. Tony Avella filed a lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court demanding the city halt its illegal handing over of mapped parkland to build a mega-mall.
In July 2015 the Appellate Division First Department unanimously rejected the building of the mall because it failed to first obtain the necessary approval. The court ruled that the project violated the Public Trust Doctrine and prevented any construction from going forward.
The court ruled that the original 1961 legislation which authorized the building of Shea Stadium did not allow the developers to build the mall nor the city to give away the land for non-park purposes.
“No reasonable reading of Administrative Code section 18-118 allows for the conclusion that the legislature in 1961 contemplated, much less gave permission for, a shopping mall, unrelated to the anticipated stadium, to be constructed in the Park,” the Appellate Division First Department wrote in its opinion.
The de Blasio administration declined to join the defendants in their appeal, not out of a responsible public policy to preserve parkland but instead in the hopes of renegotiating better affordable housing terms than the deal struck under the Bloomberg administration. In declining to join the case, the city’s Law Department recognized that the defendants did not have legal standing to develop the parkland.
But none of this is deterring the City Council.
“The Willets Point development plan was approved by the City Council in 2013 by a vote of 42-3. The Council and I stand by our process and authority, and we are prepared to defend that decision in the on-going litigation,” Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said in a statement justifying her support.
It is important to understand that the proposed mall was not part of the original Willets Point development that the City Council approved in 2008, or subsequently, as Ferreras-Copeland is erroneously claiming. The parkland was thrown in years later to sweeten the deal for the developers and has never received any legislative approval. Zero. In October 2013 the Council voted to approve a special permit which authorized the temporary use of land in Willets Point for parking. That’s it.
Julissa’s ill-conceived Flushing Meadows Park Alliance, which is predicated on businesses exploiting the park, also stands to gain $5 million from Related if the deal goes through.
The defendants have done their best in court papers and in statements to the media to say these two projects are connected when they are not, and now they have convinced a so-called “progressive” City Council to do their bidding which includes getting them to mislead their own colleagues. This is shameful.
This issue is about greed pure and simple. The defendants are attempting a billion-dollar land grab at the taxpayers’ expense.
This action is a continuation of a Bloomberg policy, a legacy the current mayor went to great lengths to try to differentiate himself from while running for office. What the public got, however, at least in terms of parkland policy, is more of the same.
The Chronicle’s Dec. 17 editorial calling the Council’s resolution “offensive” and characterizing it as a backroom deal was right on point. 
Their shameful support of this irresponsible park land giveaway — voting 46-2 in favor with one abstention — defies logic. There is nothing “progressive” about that.
It is the government’s job to protect public parks and certainly not allow them to be given away to wealthy developers.

Geoffrey Croft is President of NYC Park Advocates, a watchdog group dedicated to protecting and improving public parks.
Read More:
Queens Chronicle Opinion - January 14, 2016 - By  Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - August 20, 2015  - By Geoffrey Croft

De Blasio's New Carriage Horse Industry Home In Central Park

Tight Fit. Proposed New Carriage Horse Industry Home. Under the Mayor’s plan the city would give the Park’s Department’s 86th Street Shops building - located along the heavilty trafficked 86th Street Transverse Road - to the carriage horse industry.   The building is used by Park’s Department trade workers.  (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on Images to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

Mayor De Blasio is proposing handing over a Parks Department building in Central Park used by city workers to the commercial horse stable industry, NYC Park Advocates has learned.

The plan would permanently provide a home for seventy-five horses in Central Park along the 86th Street Transverse near the police Pct.  

The tax payers are expected to pay for the new multi-million dollar facility under the Mayor’s plan. 

City engineers have visited the more than century-old former stable building several times according to city sources.   

Unlike other commercial businesses which operate on public park land this one is expected to bypass the competitive bidding process normally required to secure public park land for private commercial uses. 

Outstanding questions include whether or not the carriage industry would be required to pay the city rent.  

The move would displace approximately forty park workers mostly in the trades - including electricians, carpenters, plumbers, blacksmiths, and steamfitters. 

The horses would to go and from work into the heavily trafficked 86th Street Transverse Road. The not-so-ideal location would necessitate the installation of a railroad style crossing gate and flashing warning lights system to protect the horses from traffic according to several sources. 

The stables would be located nearly a mile and a half away from the horse stands on 59th Street. 

The De Blasio administration is scrambling to finalize a bill which would authorize the land giveaway to the private business which could come as early as Friday according to published reports.

Horse carriages are rarely seen working north of 72nd Street in the park and several park officials were unsure whether or not there is a ban that prohibits the industry from working in the northern areas of the park and if they would be allowed to moving forward under the new bill.

A worker repairs a piece of equipment in the Park’s Department’s 86th Street Shops building.

The location is problematic according to a Parks Department equestrian expert familiar with the area who cited several issues including traffic and the size of the building as issues. 

"It’s going to be dangerous for the horses to be pulling out on the transverse unless you really engineer something that is safe and completely stops traffic," the worker said.  

Once the carriages cross the transverse they are expected to use the park’s existing bridal paths according to city sources.  

“It’s not ideal for those carriages to be on the bridal path it’s too bumpy. The bridle path is for saddle horses," the equestrian source stated.   

Several park employees familiar with the city's plan also questioned whether the site could accommodate the proposed use. 

"If you are going to have a facility that is healthy for the horses you need a lot of space - box stalls which allow horses to turn around as well as lay down, you need an area for the horses to turn out,  grooming areas, and a place to store the carriages, “ the park worker said.

“You also need food storage areas, refrigerators for medicines, it's a lot of stuff. Also large trucks are going to delivering hay. Traffic is going to be a nightmare.  Remember the carriage rider will be controlling the traffic signals every time they leave or come back in. They will be controlling that,” the worker continued. 

The Park’s Department’s 86th Street Shops building.

Parks Department trade employees who work in the building are an integral part of the city’s maintenance workforce. 

“It’ll be a disaster,” said a parks trade worker speaking on the condition they not be identified for fear of reprisal.

“Efficiency will out the window. Where are they going to put us? We’ll be traveling all over the place. This building is centrally located. The cost to the city for us to traveling from all over will be enormous.  The city doesn’t care about that.” 

Workers also sited the physical cost of moving the various trades to other areas.

"That’s not going to be cheap.” 

Another worker compared another century-old Calvert Vaux designed building the city recently renovated in the park.   

“It could be another Tavern on the Green,” the city worker said comparing the tax payer funded debacle that wound up costing more than double the original estimate.  

“This building needs a lot of work, it’s old. We work here so they can get away with it but they can’t if other people are going to be in here.” 

None of the workers spoken to this morning at the shop knew about the plan.

"Why would they tell us, we would be the last to know.”  

The Blacksmith shop dates back more than a century and includes one the city’s last remaining forges. (below)

(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on Images to enlarge.

The Central Park Conservancy which manages the park also had its eye on the building for its operations. They had proposed converting the building into much needed office space to serve as its new headquarters.

Read More:

City Hall, horse carriage operators butt heads over details in bill, delaying hearing
New York Daily News - January 14, 2016 - By Jennifer Fermino   

Police Release Information On Two Suspects Wanted In Highbridge Park Rape & Assault Last Month

The other suspect was described as a light-skinned Hispanic man wearing a red cap, a black jacket and a white hoodie.

Police are looking for two men accused of raping and beating a woman in Highbridge Park on December 17th. The victim was taken to an area hospital with facial trauma and a laceration to the back of her head. One suspect is described as a light-skinned Hispanic. 


Police are looking for two men accused of raping a woman inside a Washington Heights park last month.  

According to police, the 33-year-old victim met her two assailants on W. 179th St. and St. Nicholas Ave. at about 9:30 p.m.  The woman had never met the two before, but agreed to go to Highbridge Park with them, near Amsterdam Ave. and W. 177th St., according to sources familiar with the case, according to the New York Daily News. 

Cops are looking for two men accused of raping a woman at Highbridge Park, one suspect is described as wearing a long black jacket with a fur hood.
The other suspect was said to be wearing a long, black jacket with a fur hood.

Once there, they drank and smoked weed together, and the men raped and physically assaulted her, sources said.  

She was then taken by ambulance to an area hospital, where she was treated for facial trauma and a cut to the back of her head, police said.  

Police released photos of the two suspects Tuesday night, after investigators went looking for “viable video” of the men, an NYPD spokesman said.  

The first suspect is described as a Hispanic man with light skin, wearing a red cap with a black brim, a black waist length jacket, a white hoodie sweater with a black stripe on the hood, light colored jeans, and multicolored white and purple sneakers. 

Police describe the second suspect as a man wearing a three-quarter black coat with a fur lined hoodie, black jeans, a black cap, and multicolored red and black sneakers.  

Police are asking anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or
visiting, or texting 274637 (CRIMES) then entering TIP577.

Read More:

Two suspects accused of raping woman in Highbridge Park in Washington Heights 
New York Daily News - January 13, 2016 - By John Annese    

A Walk In The Park - December 18, 2015 - Geoffrey Croft