Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Judge Rips City/Parks Department Over Randall's Island Pay-To-Play Concession Deal - Lack Of Environmental Review

Tree Destruction - Randall's Island, July 31, 2007. (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) As part of the Randall's Island  Sports Foundation master plan thousands of trees were destroyed on the island to
 make way for athletic fields.  At over 200 acres this project represents the largest park reconstruction job in the City's modern history yet  it has managed to escape all proper environmental and public reviews. On Tuesday a Supreme Court Judge ruled that the City violated the City Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and cancelled the pay-to play concession agreement with twenty private schools and ordered the City to undergo a ULURP review.    

(December 22, 2009 - New York) Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Shafer found that the City respondents violated the City Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in entering a concession with twenty private schools for the exclusive after-school use of newly constructed ball fields on Randall's Island.  The case involves the Randall's Island Sports Fields Development Project as part of the larger Randall's Island redevelopment plan.  The court vacated the concession and ordered the City to undergo such ULURP review.   In addition, the court vacated the Negative Declaration issued under the State's Environmental Quality Review Act, finding that the City did not consider the increased "intensity of use" of the Randall's Island Park nor the cumulative impacts of the different parts of the redevelopment plan in its environmental review.  Finally, the court found that the petitioners were entitled to reasonable attorneys fees.  


"I am thrilled about the decision, which will hopefully allow the East Harlem community more direct input on the future development and preservation of Randall’s Island. I am also deeply appreciative of the all the hard work and dedication provided by our legal team and my fellow advocates to ensure that justice was served once again, said plaintiff Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation.

"Our public parks must be protected from these pay-to-play schemes. It is the city's responsibility to allocate proper funding to maintain our public parks instead of relying on wealthy benefactors. Major land use decisions must go through the proper environmental reviews and clearly this massive project did not," said plaintiff Geoffrey Croft.   

This case has always been about public school kids’ access to athletic fields on Randall’s Island.   They were shut out of this process until parents on the Citywide Council on High Schools joined with other community members to assert our rights.  We now need the city's support and cooperation to give our kids what they deserved all along.  We thank our co-plaintiffs and our attorneys for this great victory," said David Bloomfield, former President Citywide Council on High Schools (at the time initial litigation was undertaken)
“The general public should always have a say in what happens with public land and the court showed once again that it agrees,”  said Matthew S. Washington, CB11 Chair-elect, and one of the original plaintiffs. 

“This is a great day for the public school students of East Harlem.  Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved, we prevailed and now our children will have a chance to have their fair share of these sports fields, which are so desperately needed.  Given this opportunity, perhaps they will go on to be future athletes, even Olympians,” said Eugenia Simmons-Taylor, former head of the Presidents council in District 4, East Harlem and one of the original plaintiffs.

“The extreme disproportion between the twenty 20 elite private schools that would receive exclusive access to the majority of these fields, compared to the minimal use afforded the city’s 1400 public schools spurred us to become involved in this case.  The city and the Parks Department need to learn a lesson:  You are subject to the law like everyone else.  Hopefully, the era of Emperor Bloomberg is over, and the East Harlem community and the City Council will now have a real chance to weigh in on whether this deal is in the public’s benefit or not," said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters and one of the original organizers.

"Its a major win. The decision sends a strong message to the Bloomberg administration that the rule of law applies to the City.  Moreover when the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure Law is violated  the courts will hold the City accountable," said lawyer Norman Siegel, who provided legal services on behalf of the petitioners in the case.

"We are pleased that the affected communities and public schools will now have the benefit of the required review processes which are designed to provide public participation in government decision-making.  Further, this decision should assure equal access of public schools and communities to the fields in Randall's Island Park," said E. Gail Suchman from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, which provided legal services on behalf of the petitioners in the case. 

"We are thrilled that Justice Shafer has denied efforts to avoid open, democratic decision-making over such a valuable shared resource as public park space.  We hope that her decision provides the impetus for a process that ensures that all members of the public, particularly residents of East Harlem and the South Bronx, have a meaningful voice in decisions about how Randall's Island will be used and by whom," said Gavin Kearney, a lawyer with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest which also provided legal services on behalf of the petitioners in the case.

“I am happy to learn that the court has validated what we knew all along, that this concession required the ULURP process.  This decision represents a significant victory for the community and advocates who have engaged in long standing efforts to preserve open, public space on Randall’s Island.  I will continue to monitor the developments of this case to ensure that the community gets the maximum benefit out of further negotiations on this matter," said City Council member Melissa Mark Viverito who represents the area.

ALL OUT -Tree Destruction - Randall's Island,  January 13, 2007.  (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)


Read More:

New York Times - December 23, 2009 - By Charles Bagli

WABC News -  December 23, 2009

New York Post -  December 23. 2009 - By  Laura Italiano & Yoav Gonen

New York Daily News - December 23, 2009 - By Juan Gonzalez

The Real Deal - December 23, 2009

New York Times  - City Room - December 22. 2009 -  By Charles Bagli

WBAI  NY Evening News -11:00pm  December 22, 2009 - By Jose Santiago 09:35 - 14:50

WNYC - December 22, 2009 - by Matthew Schuerman


City has no count on felled trees
NY Metro - April 14, 2009 - By Patrick Arden

Ballfield battle — again

Round 2: Bloomberg, Harlem grapple over use of Randall’s Island

Metro  NY -  March 10, 2009 - by Pat Arden

Reject Bloomberg's pay-to-play arrogance
New York Daily News - March 10th 2009 -By Juan Gonzalez

Tennis center enthusiasts prepared to cause racket
Randall’s Island rehab’s latest addition could spark more furor
Metro NY - April 9, 2008 - By Patrick Arden

City has fuzzy math on Randall’s Island redo,

Number of new fields lowballed,  bypassing eco-review

Metro NY-  February 19,  2008 -  by Patrick Arden  

New York Observer - By Lysandra Ohrstrom - February 19,  2008 

New York Daily News - February 13, 2008 - By Juan Gonzalez

Judge kills Randall’s Island deal
Metro NY - February 1, 2008 -  By Patrick Arden

NY 1 - February 1, 2008 -  By Lily Jamali

NYC sued over private school deal to transform public parkland 

Associated Press - January 27, 2008 - By Clare Trapasso 

New York Sun - August  3, 2007 -  By Erin Durkin

WNYC  - August 3, 2007

Lawsuit Seeks to Break Deal Over Use of Randalls Island 

New York Times -   June 15,  2007 - By Timothy Williams

On Randalls Island,  New Ball Fields via Deal With Elite Schools

New York Times - February 10, 2007 - By Timothy Williams

No $ 64 million Amphitheater Without Environmental Review Says Design Commission

Artist rendering of  proposed concert amphitheater at Asser Levy Park on Surf Avenue.


Borough President Marty Markowitz’s drive to build his new $64 million “Coney Island Center” at Asser Levy Seaside Park will not go forward until an environmental assessment is done, according to The Bay News. 

The mayor’s office confirmed this week that the Design Commission will not vote on the amphitheater project without benefit of the assessment.

Borough Hall had hoped to begin construction on at least part of the park project by now, even though it remains unclear whether the overall plan will ultimately be subjected to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Read More:

Bay News - December 21, 2009 - By Joe Maniscalco

Bay News - December 21, 2009 - By Joe Maniscalco and Michele De Meglio 

Bay News - December 16, 2009 - By Joe Maniscalco

New York Post - The Brooklyn Blog - December 14, 2009 - By Rich Calder

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Park Conservancy Community Representation Bill Passes Unanimously


(City Hall, December 21, 2009.) City Council member Melissa Mark Viverito and colleagues at a press conference announcing the Local Representation on Park Conservancies legislation. "The legislation will ensure greater  transparency, accountability and community participation from the city's conservancies," said Viverito, the lead sponsor. The bill passed 50-0. (photo: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)

By Geoffrey Croft

The City Council unanimously passed legislation that will mandate local representation on park conservancy boards.

The bill requires conservancies to have at least one board member who either lives or has a business in the City Council District in which the park is located. Additionally, parks that abut more than one council district, like Central Park, will be required to have at least two community representatives on the conservancy board. The new board member(s) will be appointed by the local City Council member in consultation with the Parks Department and the conservancy. 

The legislation grew out of a frustration over the lack of transparency and accountability in park conservancies, which are proliferating and have become more powerful. In particular, the Randall's Island Sport Foundation (RISF) has repeatedly come under fire after a string of controversial decisions pertaining to the island. This includes the lack of local representation on their board. Questions have also been raised about the city's lax oversight of these public/private partnerships.

The vote, originally scheduled for the City Council's November 30 stated meeting, was postponed twice to allow for further negotiation. One sticking point was a provision calling for four new board members at the Central Park Conservancy due to the park's location in multiple Council Districts. The sides compromised on two. The bill, Intro 1083-A, had 20 sponsors and was passed on the last legislative session for 2009, which also was the last day for 12 City Council members. If the bill had not been voted on, it would have had to be reintroduced.

"The legislation will ensure greater transparency, accountability and community participation from the city's conservancies," said Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, the bill's lead sponsor. "I think this is an important first step. Our parks are a public resource, and we have to make sure the decisions that are being made regarding their use are as open as possible and that the community's voice is always present at the decision-making table."

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the public currently has no input in determining the make-up of park conservancy boards. "Until this  piece of legislation, there was no requirement that the community where the park was located had a seat on the board and be actually a part of that park's conservancy governance," she said.

"For too long, others have dictated," added City Council Parks Chair Helen Foster. "I think the importance of this is making sure that the community people -- the folks who are actually affected most by the the conservancy and live closest to the park -- have a place at the table."

For months Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and other Parks employees have been been lobbying Council members in an effort to defeat or withdraw the bill, claiming it was unnecessary. At an October 30 hearing, 10 out of 13 people testified against it, including a Parks Department representative, the agency's former commissioner (and Benepe mentor) Henry Stern, and the big conservancies for Central Park, Madison Square Park, and Prospect Park. (RISF was a notable no-show.) Among the people who testified in favor of the bill were former City Council member Carol Greitzer and Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund president Judi Francis.

"I know [the Parks Department] was not happy with the legislation, and they were actually asking me to withdraw it," Viverito said. "But I had the support of the Speaker, and I had the support of many others, and we moved forward because we believe in a more open process."

Did Adrian Throw Aimee Under the Bus?

Sources have told A Walk in the Park that Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has been publicly blaming RISF head Aimee Boden for bringing unwanted attention to public/private partnerships which led to the creation of this legislation. The non-profit conservancies were created in large part to offset horrific cuts in city funding for parks and recreation programs.

Viverito said the genesis for the legislation was her East Harlem district's experience with RISF, which did not have a single board member who lived in the area.

But the larger questions to come out of the October 30 hearing, she said, concerned the lack consistency about what is expected of conservancies, how they are set up, and their oversight and power. 

"They do have a lot of control over our parks, and we need to create a more consistent process with accountability," Viverito said after the vote. "I think we have to put more pressure on [the Parks Department] about being more accountable and what's expected of conservancies and the level of community input. Having community members on the board is one aspect of it, but I think there are other things we need to look at. When we had the hearing on this bill it really raised a lot of questions about how Parks oversees or maybe loosely oversees the conservancies."

Speaker Quinn said that the mayor is expected to sign the bill into law.

The Parks Department declined to comment.

Animal Sacrifice in Inwood Hill Park


Every weekday morning, Sagrario Almonte dons a pair of thick black gloves, picks up her long-handled garbage grasper and starts her rounds in Inwood Hill Park. Almonte is an assistant gardener in the park, responsible for planting, pruning and cleaning up the playgrounds. Park cleanup is not the most pleasant job – especially on the many mornings when Almonte has to pick up big black garbage bags stuffed with animal corpses – the remains of Santeria religious sacrifices.

Read More:

Animal Sacrifice in Inwood Hill Park

Northhattan - November 27, 2009 -  By  Nusha Balyan

gothamist - December 22, 2009 - By John Del Signore 

Read More:

NY Post - October 25, 2009  - By James Fanelli
NY Post -  October 25, 2009  - By James Fanelli

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Free" Bryant Park Ice Rink -VIP's Skip Line For Fee

The Pond - Bryan Park. Skaters taking advantage of the historically free entrance fee have some stiff competition this year under a new plan quietly hatched by the Bryant Park Restoration Corp. The Pond, which includes the Holiday Market which is inaccessible to people with disabilities, is sponsored by numerous companies including Citi


Danny  Biederman comes up with some pretty interesting logic when he tries to justify Bryant Park charging $ 19 for VIP's passes which allow people to skip the line at the popular skating rink in the NY Post. The entire activity is supposed to be free - if you have your own skates - but if you have the money you can buy access to the rink before those who are either unable or unwilling to shell out the funds. Furthermore in his attempt at justifying this scheme he says that the $ 19 includes skate rentals (what if you bring own skates, do they still charge that amount? More on that later) What's not mentioned is that the $12 they charge for skate rentals is twice the amount of say Wollman Rink in Central Park for instance.  The Pond at Bryant Park, is made possible by Citi.   

Bryant Park Rink Pulls A Fast One 

This will leave skaters cold -- the Bryant Park ice rink, which boasts it is the city's only free skating venue, now sells "VIP fast passes" for $19, allowing skaters to bypass the masses waiting an hour or more on busy weekends, according to the NY Post.

Dan Biederman, head of the Bryant Park Corp., insisted the price was "not out of the reach of everyday people," since it includes a $12 skate rental.

New York Post - December 20, 2009 - By Melissa Klein