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


  1. Michael Bloomberg and his team are well aware that there are "two New Yorks" - one made up of the wealthy elite...and one made up of everybody else. It's sickening that we are stuck with Bloomberg for another four years so that he can continue to go to bat for the wealthy New York, while the rest of us get screwed. This case is such a prime example of how the rich get to take whatever they want from the City's resources while the rest of us have to get in the back of the line. Thank God the courts saw it the other way. The arrogance of Mayor Bloomberg is disgusting to anybody who wants fairness in government.

  2. What would a free and open Randall’s Island mean for me?

    It would mean that I could run and bike and walk and play as fast and as forcefully as my spirit can go.

    It would mean that I could travel quickly from home and school and work to a more natural and holistic environment without having to pay dues and tolls and political favors.

    It would mean that I am warmly greeted by neighbors and community partners and other friendly faces – rather than detained and intimidated and averted by gatekeepers and proprietors and the occasional stranger with gun.

    It would mean that fences and padlocks and other hurdles have been removed and replaced with more equitable opportunities for better health and wellbeing.

    What does a free and open Randall’s Island mean to me?

    It would mean that I have free and open access to a clean and safe space where I am truly nurtured and challenged to prove the value of my common and ordinary life.

    Jessenia Owens