Saturday, August 29, 2009

DPR Releases Limited Info On Awarding of New Tavern on the Green Concession

The DPR announced on Friday it had picked a concessionaire to run a new restaurant at the Tavern on the Green location in Central Park. Dean Poll of Loeb Boathouse fame will run the restaurant which had been in the Warner LeRoy family for more than three decades. Although the DPR released Poll's capital investment ($ 25 million) they however refused to disclose what his annual fee to the city to operate the establishment will be.

Mr. Poll and Loeb Boathouse were the subject of a lengthy 2007 audit by Comptroller Thompson which found they shortchanged the taxpayers $381,070 by under-reporting more than two million dollars in gross receipts. The report received front page coverage when it was released on March 28, 2007. The apparent shoddy bookkeeping did not play into the city's decision in awarding the concession to Poll nor did it prevent the Parks Commissioner from heaping praise upon him in the press release: "We are pleased to select Dean Poll as the new operator of this world-famous location in Central Park. He has done an outstanding job for eight years at the Loeb Boathouse... "

One curious note: According to Crain's, Mr. Poll has no investors but he said he had secured a bank loan to fund the work. Banks don't usually lend money to businesses who have license agreements with the city because they can be terminated at the discretion of the city, in this case, the Parks Commissioner.

No word on whether Poll paid back the city's taxpayers. Only NY Post columnist Steve Cuozzo reminded the public of Poll's recent past in bilking the tax payers.

Read More:

Boathouse Operator to Run Tavern on the Green, and Changes Are Planned
New York Times - August 28, 2009

Gaining Entree: Boathouse Guy Takes Tavern
New York Post - September 2, 2009

City picks new Tavern on the Green leaseholder
Crains New York - August 28, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ferry Point Park "Boondoggle"

A great expose by the NY Post on the costs of the Ferry Point Park Golf Course - a course that no one in the Bronx asked for, and has taken years and millions of dollars to build:

A problem-plagued $22.4 million scheme to transform a 222-acre former Bronx landfill into a spectacular PGA-regulation golf course has not only missed its deadline by eight years, it will now cost an additional $100 million, The Post has learned.

And it'll be on the taxpayers' dime.

In 1998, when then-Mayor Giuliani unveiled plans to build the Jack Nicklaus-designed Ferry Point golf course near the Whitestone Bridge in Throgs Neck, the tab was supposed to be picked up by a private developer he chose, and golfers were supposed to tee off by 2001.

But eight years later, little work has been done besides mob-connected truckers dumping mounds of dirt over the old landfill.

Records show the city has already spent $43 million on Ferry Point and is budgeted to borrow at least another $80 million at a time when many other park projects are being gutted citywide because of the fiscal crisis.

"This is a boondoggle," said Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group New York City Park Advocates. "Instead of building a park the community can use, the city is flushing money down the toilet."

Read More:

New York Post - August 18, 2009 - By Rich Calder

Bronx Golf Course Idea Now A Nightmare For NYC
CBS - August 17, 2009 - By Marcia Kramer

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Perjury, Free Speech and the Great Lawn

Central Park's Great Lawn. During the 2004 Republican National Convention Mayor Bloomberg used his power to deny a protest permit for Central Park's Great Lawn a lawsuit alleged. 

The not-particularly-credible The Great Lawn, Its Public Use, Maintenaince , and Repair, "independent" report  (see below) even fails to mention that one of the authors, Robert Russo, was a former high-ranking DPR official  - deputy Parks commissioner from 1981 to ’89.  Full-Disclosure anyone?


By Geoffrey Croft

Bloomberg and Benepe Under Oath. News of Bloomberg's suppressing free speech during the Republican National Convention once again reared its ugly head as the city released an "independent" study they claim supports the city's reason in denying a permit for a single protest march on the Great Lawn in Central Park. The case dates back to 2004 when the Mayor apparently got a severe case of amnesia that caused him to lie under oath that he had "no knowledge at all" regarding the permit application for a civil rights, anti-war rally on the Great Lawn during the RNC, by the National Council of Arab Americans and the ANSWER Coalition.

The Bloomberg administration maintained that the denial of the permit was not politically motivated but, instead, denied solely out of concern for the natural grass field. Yet, documents obtained by Partnership for Civil Justice (PCJ) during the litigation reveal the involvement of the Mayor's office in the denial of the permit during the RNC, including that the Mayor was receiving updated information on the NCA/ANSWER permit specifically, and its denial, personally from Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. Other documents reveal Bloomberg's office received regular reports on the status and denial of the permit.

Park Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor, denied in an August 19, 2005 sworn deposition that Bloomberg was involved with the issuing of the permit, and denied the Mayor was even consulted. Lucky for people who believe in honest government that "Operon" - Adrian's on-line nom de plume - sent the Mayor an email on June 11, 2004 outlining their complicity. During the lawsuit, the City of New York initially refused to produce a July 11, 2004 e-mail claiming it was privileged. The Partnership for Civil Justice (PCJ) challenged this designation, and forced the City to produce the e-mail.

“Following your call, I spoke to Ray about 10 minutes ago,” Mr. Benepe wrote, referring to Raymond Kelly the police commissioner. “Coincidentally, our lawyer and Chief McManus and the Law Department are meeting at this very minute to agree on the language and strategy of the letter rejecting the Arab-American rally on the Great Lawn,” Mr. Benepe continued, referring to Assistant Chief John B. McManus, who oversaw Police Department strategy for the convention. Mr. Benepe’s message added: “I assume the rejection letter will go out today. I will let you know.”
This is all the more ironic considering Adrian is famous for telling his employees not to use email for things of a sensitive nature: he also directs Alessandro Olivieri, the DPR's lawyer, to send out emails warning employees to be careful. "Hoist with his own petar", as Adrian is fond of saying. Except not really, because our elected officials don't seem to be particularly concerned about accountability. So the Mayor and his Parks Commissioner are able to lie under oath with zero accountability, or without being prosecuted.

The question is often asked how Adrian is allowed to get away with what he does. The answer is simple, when the Mayor himself lied to the court that he did "not have unique, personal knowledge regarding the basis of the decision,”, and that he had “no knowledge at all regarding the denial of a Parks Department permit to plaintiff.”

The New York Times wrote, "Those documents, which include internal e-mail messages and depositions in the court case, show that Mr. Bloomberg's involvement in the deliberations over the protests may have been different from how he and his aides have portrayed it. They also suggest that officials were indeed motivated by political concerns over how the protests would play out while the Republican delegates were in town, and how the events could affect the mayor's re-election campaign the following year."
''It is very important that we do not permit any big or political events for the period between Aug. 23 and Sept. 6, 2004,'' read one Parks Department e-mail message, referring to issuing permits for the days framing the convention. ''It's really important for us to keep track of any large events (over 1,000 people), and any rallies or events that seem sensitive or political in nature.''

While protecting the Great Lawn is important, allowing a single protest would have resulted in minimal damage. There also would have been financial safeguards in place in the form a of a bond in the unlikely event the lawn was damaged. The Mayor was simply trying to prevent embarrassment on a national stage.

While the Associated Press dumped another reworked DPR press release on its subscribers without doing any original reporting, including not bothering to provide at the least a quote from opponents, a few media outlets provided at least some context.

Read More:

New York Sun - July 19, 2006

New York Times - July 31, 2006
New York Times - City Room - August 5, 2009

Limits backed on Great Lawn
Metro NY - August 5, 2009
"Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to fight protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention, even after reaching an out-of-court settlement turning back limits on the use of Central Park’s Great Lawn.

The battle was reignited this week by an independent review supporting the city’s 2004 lawn limit of 55,000 people. The report draws on an assessment by a former city official, Robert Russo, deputy Parks commissioner from 1981 to ’89."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

NY Post Editorial On Friends of the High Line Controversial Park Improvement District Proposal

"No reasonable case can be made for establishing another taxing entity in Manhattan, period -- let alone setting one up merely to finance yet another Manhattan park. Especially since many existing parks could benefit greatly from municipal funding remotely proportionate to the $1 million the High Line is getting."

A BID to Nowhere
NY Post - August 3, 2009

New York Daily News - July 8, 2009 - By Erin Einhorn

Related Articles:

High Line Eyes Tax On Its Neighbors
NY Post - July 29, 2009

The Villager - August 12, 2009 - By Patrick Hedlund

How Valuable Is It To Be Friends Of Friends Of The High Line?
Gothamist - July 9, 2009
"It almost appears to be some sort of back-room deal." Founders of the Friends of the High Line have already given endorsements to Mayor Bloomberg and board members have contributed over $100,000 to Speaker Christine Quinn."

Monday, August 3, 2009

High Line Spending Exposed

Sky High Costs, NY Post, 8/3/09

Another hard-hitting expose of Parks by the Post's Rich Calder; this time the High Line is in the spotlight. The article looks into the cost per acre to maintain the brand new $172 million promenade complete with extremely high compensated salaries of employees. The piece also publishes an amount of Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) at the High Line and for the first time accurately compares it to the number of PEP available in the Bronx and Queens. The disparity is enormous. No wonder why Bloomberg supports this. Friends of the High Line (a private management group) is also pursuing three dedicated sources of funding: A park tax - (High Line Improvement District), revenue from concessions, and an endowment. This while 99% of the city's other parks must rely on municipal funding. One City, One Standard?

Highline Park Designer - Diller Scofidio + Renfro - Liar, Liar Pants...?

Park funding isn't the only issue at the city's newest open space. It seems Ricardo Scofidio, a principal at the high end design firm, tried to pass off responsibility for using rainforest wood at the Highline to the mayoral controlled Design Commission. The Highline is embroiled in a eco-controversy because ipê trees were used instead of recycled material or locally sourced wood. Let's hope they and the DPR get their act together for the second stage of construction. Now if only someone had bothered to question a major design flaw from Diller Scofidio + Renfro's which has caused numerous trip and falls in the "park" since its opening. More on that later.

Showdown on the High Line

To The Editor:
Re “Rainforest activists: High Line wood a ‘pour’ choice” (news article, July 8):

Rainforests of New York (, the long-term campaign to end the use of rainforest wood in New York City government-funded projects, has challenged the much-touted “eco-park,” the High Line, for using it. While passing out fliers to Chelsea residents and tourists there a week ago, the campaign met Ricardo Scofidio, a principal partner of the team of Diller Scofidio + Renfro that designed the High Line park. We discussed the firm’s ecologically insensitive decision to use ipê wood from the Amazon.

During our conversation, Mr. Scofidio repeatedly claimed that the city’s Design Commission “insisted” the High Line use ipê trees, although his firm proffered thoughtful eco-designs that would salvage the old High Line rail ties or use recycled plastic lumber or regionally sourced hardwood from black locust trees. He also claimed that the Parks Department had provided specifications requiring ipê be used — despite the fact that Mayor Bloomberg has declared he would end, where possible, the city’s use of rainforest wood because of its significant contribution to global climate change.

Last week, we wrote to the Design Commission to ask them about Mr. Scofidio’s assertion. They refuted his claim, stating that “[W]hile the Commission reviewed the design of the High Line, it did not request that a particular type of wood be used.”

Read more: The Villager - July 29, 2009 - Letter to the Editor (fourth letter down)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Picnickers trash Prospect Park!

From the Daily News:

"Prospect Park's Monday morning trash problem is worse than ever because of record-high attendance and cuts to the cleanup crew, a park official said.

To handle the mounds of garbage that pile up over busy weekends this summer, officials have resorted to planting a mammoth Dumpster in the middle of the park and are now hoping Saturday and Sunday picnickers will use it.

"It's cheaper to have a commitment to more garbage cans than human beings," said Prospect Park administrator Tupper Thomas. "If I had lots of money, the top thing I'd do is hire more people. But we've taken significant cuts."

Because of city budget cuts, the Parks Department was only able to hire nine seasonal summer workers instead of its usual 13. Combined with full-time workers, there are now only 19 members on the park's cleanup crew.

Tupper said there are four to five workers cleaning up the park Sunday night, and that all 19 report to work on Monday morning - but parkgoers said the workers can't keep up with the trash."

Read more: Prospect Park gets throwaway solution to it's Monday morning trash problem