Thursday, June 30, 2011

City Agrees to Fix McKinley Park Restrooms After Three Years


There is good news for park lovers in Bay Ridge.

The restrooms at McKinley Park, which have been out of order for three years, are going to be repaired — finally! U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, who stepped into the fray last month when a dispute between the New York City Parks Department and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) over which agency is responsible for the repairs stalled any action on the broken bathrooms, received a letter from Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, according to Brooklyn Eagle.

In his letter, dated June 20, Benepe said the repairs should be completed by the end of July.

“We share your concern about the residents’ dissatisfaction with the comfort station’s long closing,” he wrote to Grimm.

Grimm said the restrooms had been caught in the middle of a turf war between the Department of Parks and the DEP. The two agencies were at odds over whose job it is to repair a broken sewer line on Seventh Avenue connected to the pipes in the restrooms located inside the McKinley Parkhouse, according to Grimm.

After Grimm fired off identical letters to the heads of both agencies, he received a reply from Benepe. “I am pleased that the Parks Department has decided to make repairs to the restrooms at McKinley Park an immediate priority,” Grimm said. “This is great news for the people of Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge who enjoy spending time with their friends and family at this terrific park.”

Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, said she was pleased to hear that the restrooms would be repaired at long last.

“I’m happy the congressman was able to get this resolved,” she said.

Read More:

City To Fix Park Restrooms

The Brooklyn Eagle - June 30, 2011 -

Monday, June 27, 2011

Alleged Sara D. Roosevelt Park Rapist Freed on Bail

Yeison Riano is charged with rape for allegedly attacking a drunk woman inside Sara D. Roosevelt Park last Thursday. The alleged rapist left the woman half-naked on a park bench and also robbed her purse. The DA's office had requested the bail be set at $40,000, but the judge decided on the lower amount.


A Queens man was allowed to go free on $10,000 bail after allegedly raping and robbing a woman during an early-morning attack inside a Lower East Side park, authorities said, according to DNAinfo.

The incident occurred inside Sara D. Roosevelt Park along Forsyth Street just below Houston Street about 2:15 a.m. on Thursday, June 23, according to the criminal complaint.

Yeison Riano, 31, of Queens, approached the 41-year-old victim inside the park and attempted to kiss her several times before she pushed him away, the complaint said.

The woman, who was apparently intoxicated at the time of the attack, tried to escape, but Riano allegedly grabbed her and forced her onto a park bench to rape her, the complaint said.

The alleged victim was apparently drunk at the time with a strong odor of alcohol on her breath and had trouble walking and standing up, authorities added.

After the attack, Riano allegedly removed his shirt to wipe himself and then snatched the woman's purse, the complaint said.

She was found with her pants and underwear around her ankles, and police discovered what appeared to semen near where she was laying, according to the complaint.

The woman told EMTs who responded to the scene that she did not know Riano and did not consent to sex with him, authorities added.

She was treated at Beth Israel after the incident, police said.

The incident occurred only hours after spectators packed the park for a high-profile charity soccer match.

Riano was charged with rape, grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

He was released Saturday on $10,000 bail, according to Department of Correction records. The DA's office had requested the bail be set at $40,000, but the judge decided on the lower amount.

Riano is due back in court on Wednesday.

"If it wasn't for a very observant police officer, who knows if we would have caught this guy," said Geoffrey Croft, of NYC Park Advocates, a non-profit park watchdog group, which publcized the attack.

"People should be able to arrive safely from their destinations when using any of our public parks."

The alleged assault is the latest in a string of recent rapes and sexual assaults across the borough, including some in city parks.

Several women have been attacked in recent weeks across the west side of Manhattan, sparking a wave of fear there.

Those suspects remain at large.

Read More:

DNAinfo - June 27, 2011 - By Patrick Hedlund

A Walk In The Park - June 26, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

Danger In Floyd Bennett Field - Fire Hydrants Don't Work


Call Smokey the Bear! More than half of the 100 or so hydrants at Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field either don't work or lack sufficient water pressure to adequately put out fires, FDNY sources told The New York Post.

But that didn't stop the feds earlier this month from announcing a $10 million plan to develop the nation's largest urban campground at the 1,358-acre, underused Mill Basin park.

Ida Sanoff, a Southern Brooklyn environmentalist, called the plan "insane."

"If the wildfires in Arizona and Florida have shown us anything, it’s how quickly these things can explode to epic proportions," said Sanoff, who ripped the plan for lacking public input.

"All you need is one out-of-control campfire or some boob camper flinging a lit cigarette." Floyd Bennett Field, a former Navy airfield that is now part of National Parks Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area system, currently has five campsites. The feds expect to expand to 90 campsites at the park within two years and eventually reach 600 sites.

By the July 4th weekend, 42 of the new sites will have opened, officials said. Raina Williams, a National Parks Service spokeswoman, said the hydrants’ condition “may be questionable” but claimed firefighters could draft water out of adjacent Jamaica Bay in the event of a blaze.

An FDNY source, however, said relying on “drafting” the bay – sucking the water through a hose and suction pump – to put out fires is “very impractical and too time-consuming.” "This is something you can’t nickel and dime," a source added. "They need to fix the hydrants because more campers mean more campfires and a greater risk of brush fires."

Williams said NPS anticipates expanding the park’s utilities and fire-protection features but later didn’t respond to questions about whether money is budgeted for such upgrades. Floyd Bennett Field is Brooklyn’s biggest open space, yet is still one of the nation’s lowest ranked federal parks despite the addition of the Aviator Sports complex in 2006.

The nearest firehouse is a mile away and across the Marine Parkway Bridge in the Rockaways, Queens.

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New York Post - June 27, 2011 - By Rich Calder

"Absolute Joke" Park Smoking Ban Yields One Ticket In First Month


Talya Grimberg of Israel enjoys a cigarette at Times Square. Last month the Parks Department lied about the number of Park Enforcement officers, it had claiming it had 400. (Photo: Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal)


In the first month of New York City's new smoking ban in 1,700 parks and along 14 miles of beaches, the city has issued a grand total of one ticket, according to the Wall Street Journal.

That single ticket went to a newspaper photographer who had been goading officials to issue a ticket, a spokeswoman for the city's Parks and Recreation Department said. The new ban—spanning parks, beaches, marinas as well as pedestrian plazas such as in Times Square—took effect May 23.

City officials say they always planned lax enforcement of the anti-smoking ban in the early days. They say their focus now is on getting the word out, not on writing tickets.

Still, the dearth of tickets, coupled with the reality that many people are flagrantly violating the law, has left some questioning whether the city is truly committed to keeping these new smoke-free zones actually smoke free.

"The new smoking law is an absolute joke," said Ida Sanoff, 59 years old, who lives in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and enjoys spending time at the ocean. "I have asthma and there are days when I've had to move my chair three times because people, sometimes in groups, sat down near me and started smoking like chimneys."

Ms. Sanoff said she's even spotted "vendors" selling cigarettes on the beach since the ban took effect.

"It doesn't make sense to put a law into place without any way of enforcing it. Why bother?" she said.

Since May 23, the Parks & Recreation Department has recorded roughly 700 instances in which officials approached smokers and informed them of the new law; in those cases, the smokers have been compliant, officials said.

Parks Department officials are authorized to enforce the law and may issue fines of $50 per violation.

But the city is hoping the law will largely be self-enforcing. When lawmakers passed the new law, they deliberately prohibited police officers from issuing any tickets related to the smoke ban.

Council Member Gale Brewer, the law's lead sponsor, said this will be the "summer of warnings."

"I don't want people to get tickets and feel like there is somebody doing this for revenue," she said. "I like the fact that there are warnings."

At some point in the future, if people continue to violate the law, Ms. Brewer said she expected the city will step up enforcement.

Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the parks department, and Dr. Thomas Farley, commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, declined requests for comment.

"As with any new law, compliance occurs over time as the public becomes increasingly aware of new rules," the health department said in a statement. "To educate New Yorkers and visitors about the new law, signage has been posted throughout the city's parks and beaches."

Earlier this month, Albert Wyse, a 28-year-old from Manhattan, enjoyed a cigarette while sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park. Mr. Wyse, who gave his cigarette to another park visitor to finish, said he was unaware of the ban in city parks. But knowledge of the law, he said, was unlikely to stop him from continuing to smoke in parks. "I don't think anyone cares because it's not really enforced," Mr. Wyse said. "I really can't see some police officer or park ranger coming up to me and telling me to put it out."

Still, he said, "I would put it out if I were asked politely."

Geoffrey Croft, of NYC Park Advocates, a nonprofit watchdog group, said the notion that the law will be self-enforced is "ridiculous." Smokers "kind of laugh" when told by citizens that they are violating the law," he said.

"They say, 'Well, if it's not going to be enforced, why should we stop smoking?'" he said. "People are going to continue to flout it, if there's no pressure to deal with it."

Read More:

Wall Street Journal - June 27, 2011- By Michael Howard Saul and Richard Autry

A Walk In The Park - June 21, 2011

A Walk In The Park - May 29, 2011

A Walk In The Park - May 28, 2011

A Walk In The Park - May 26, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - February 22, 2011

A Walk In The Park - February 2, 2011

A Walk In The Park - February 12, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Man Charged In Statutory Rape Of 15-Year-Old In Central Park's Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields in Central Park near 72nd Street, was cordoned off for much of the day while police investigated an alleged statutory rape early Sunday morning law enforcement sources told A Walk In The Park. Police were seen checking for finger prints on park benches.


A man was arrested for statutory rape in Central Park's Strawberry Fields Sunday morning sources said.

The suspect, Matthew Woods, 27, was charged with third-degree rape for the alleged 6:15 a.m. incident near 72nd Street and Central Park West, according to DNAinfo.

Sources said the 15-year-old victim said the sex was consensual. It is not clear how the suspect and alleged victim know each other.

The area was cordoned off for much of the day while police investigated.

Read More:

Central Park's Strawberry Fields Scene of Statutory Rape Arrest
DNAinfo - June 26, 2011 - By Tom Liddy

Woman Raped In Sara D. Roosevelt Park


A 41-year-old woman was raped and robbed in Sara D. Roosevelt Park in lower Manhattan early Thursday morning, NYC Park Advocates has learned.

Observant NYPD officers saw Yeison Riano, 31, leaving the scene. The alleged incendent occurred in Sara D Roosevelt Park at Stanton & Forsythe St. (opposite 204 Forsythe St.) on Thursday June 23rd at 2:15 am, according to law enforcement sources.

The victim was treated at Beth Israel Hospital.

The assailant - who lives off the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens - was transported to the 5th Precinct. Riano was charged with 1st Degree Rape, Rape of a helpless individual, and Robbery. – Geoffrey Croft

Read More:

New York Daily News - By John Lauinger - June 27th 2011

DNAinfo - June 26, 2011 - By Jill Colvin and Tom Liddy

Couple Sues Over Central Park Death Of Baby In Tree Incident

CRUEL FATE: One year ago, a massive falling branch in Central Park killed 6-month old Gianna Ricciutti (above with dad Michael and mom Karla Del Gallo, who was seriously injured).
CRUEL FATE: One year ago, a massive falling branch in Central Park killed 6-month old Gianna Ricciutti (above with dad Michael and mom Karla Del Gallo, who was seriously injured).


By Geoffrey Croft

One year after a falling tree branch killed a baby and seriously injured her mom outside of the Central Park Zoo, a New Jersey family is suing the city, the Central Park Conservancy, the zoo management company, and a tree-pruning firm, claiming that parties were aware of the limb’s dangerous condition for weeks before the incident. It was the third time in less than a year that someone had been killed or harmed by a falling tree branch in Central Park.

The mother, Karla Del Gallo, was posing for a photo holding her six-month-old daughter, Gianna Riccuitti, when the limb fell from a 50-year-old honey locust tree. They were standing near the zoo’s Sea Lion exhibit, just feet from the Parks Department’s headquarters. Riccuitti was killed, and Del Gallo was put in a medically induced a coma.

According to the lawsuit, their injuries were caused "by the negligence, carelessness, and recklessness" of the defendants, who had a duty to inspect, prune, and care for the tree. The limb was in danger of falling prior to its snapping on June 26, 2011, when the family was struck due to its "dead, rotted, diseased, decayed and/or otherwise unsafe and dangerous conditions." The tree limb dropped approximately 25 to 30 feet to the walkway, where six-month-old Gianna was in the arms of her mother.

Subsequently, Del Gallo's had multiple surgeries performed on her brain, eyes, face, throat, stomach and shoulder; the marketing executive has lost the ability to read and to dress or bathe herself, according to the New York Post.

“Cognitively, I’m not where I was,” Del Gallo told the paper. “I don't have the full use of my left arm, so I can't do a lot of things. I've lost some vision in my right eye. There's always somebody here to help me, to get dressed, to eat, to go to the grocery store.” She mourns the loss of her daughter and doesn’t know whether she’ll be able to have another child.

The Central Park Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society, which oversees the zoo, refused to provide records about the tree’s maintenance, according to the Post, but the lawsuit alleges “written notice” of the tree’s dangerous condition was given to the tree-pruning company, which did not act “within fifteen (15) days after the receipt of such notice.”

The massive branch broke off this tree in central Park (left and top right), landing on 6-month old Gianna Ricciutti and her mom as they snapped a picture. (Bottom right): A stunned Michael Ricciutti is comforted outside the hospital.

The massive branch broke off this tree in central Park (left and top right), landing on 6-month old Gianna Ricciutti and her mom as they snapped a picture. (Bottom right): A stunned Michael Ricciutti is comforted outside the hospital.

(Photos: Robert Miller (L) / Catherine Nance (top r) / Laura Cavanaugh

The lawsuit was filed Friday after the city didn't settle a $50 million “notice of claim” from the couple last year. It names the city, the Central Park Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Beucler Tree Experts, which the society had hired to perform tree work. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

"We hope and pray that the city takes responsibility for the dangerous conditions it created in its park and in its zoo," Del Gallo’s husband, Michael Riccuitti, told the Post. He was present at the time of the incident. "We just hope that it doesn't happen to anybody else's family."

Karla del Gallo, 33; Gianna Ricciutti, 6 months
Karla del Gallo, 33, and her six-month-old baby Gianna Ricciutti, who was killed by a fallen tree limb in Central Park. (photo: Robert Miller)

Read More:

New York Post - June 26, 2011 - By Kathianne Boniello

A Walk In the Park - October 7, 2010

A Walk In The Park - August 29, 2010

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bloomberg Throws $9 Million Party In Annual Randall's Island Land Grab

Randall's Island. For more than three weeks each year the public is denied access to the park's largest picnic area. The lush passive area is the largest open field now that the majority of the island's open spaces have been converted into ballfields. Each year Bloomberg LP is allowed to rent dozens of acres of public parkland to accommodate a private corporate party for thousands of employees and their families. A security guard called it "a private fair ground." (Photos: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

Public Park, Celebrating Every One? An event map for the Bloomberg LP annual Summer Party (SP). The event's organizers are very careful to avoid using company logos or identification in order to avoid unwanted attention.

Randall's Island

By Geoffrey Croft

Each year NYC's hottest and most lavish summer party on public parkland occurs on Randall's Island - only the public is not invited.

For more than a decade Bloomberg LP has taken over dozens of acres of public parkland on Randall's Island - located between East Harlem and the South Bronx - for more than three weeks at a time in order to hold its a private event for thousands of employees and their families. This year's event - Celebrating Every One - boasted an Aussie beach, mechanical surfer, carousel, theme park rides, palm trees, bumper cars, paintball, numerous bars, mechanical bull, bungee swings, a rock climbing wall, vintage car display, numerous stages, aerial performances, a petting zoo, carnival games, volleyball and badminton. Guests could even "Learn to Rap" in a "Batty Rap" workshop.

The price tag for the one-day event, according to a source with knowledge of the arrangements, was nine million dollars.

The one day event takes two and a half weeks to set up and a week to break down. Highlights according to the event's brochure included, Queen VIC PUB, Bollywood Grooves in the Maharaja Chill, and a Live Celtic Band.

Several attendees highlighted Bloomberg's Got Talent - a take on America's Got Talent as a crowd favorite. "Don't miss your peers perform in the Bloomberg's Got Talent showcase," promotional material advised.

Rides large and small accommodate the invite- only crowd. Click here to see hair-raising video of Bloomberg LP guests flying through the air ten stories above the ground on the Swing Ride. "That was so hot," a young woman is heard saying at the end of the ride. "It's so pretty," she says admiring the private/public views her employer rented. Or click to see revelers at the Dance Party.

Culinary offerings included Latin BBQ, a seafood grill, NYC Smash Burger and a dining pavilion, with the theme, "Celebrating Everyone Dining" together.

"Let's Celebrate Together," the map states, "Make Sure Your Plans Include The Sundown Dance Party."

It's all part of Bloomberg LP's annual public land grab on Randall's Island.

Happy Father's Day - June 19, 2011. Access Denied. The Quinones family picnic adjacent to the security fence. "The days of segregation are over," he said pointing to the fence. "Its a slap in the face. Its sad these things are going on. We're supposed to be living as one."

Each year Bloomberg LP makes a "donation" to the Randall's Island Sports Foundation (RISF) to rent out the island's largest picnic and passive recreational area. The practice was started by long time RISF board member and major benefactor Michael Bloomberg. For years Bloomberg LP paid $ 200,000 according to documents obtained by NYC Park Advocates, however that fee was raised to $ 750,000 in 2009 after news of the land grab began to surface. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the majority shareholder of the company.

Celebrating Every One? "He does what he wants," said 39- year-old Bronx resident Henry Ortiz picnicking near the seven-foot high security fence with his family. In the background Bloomberg LP guests disembarked from New York Water Taxi ferries. "It really bothers us. We want to enjoy the entire park but we can't. He takes over the biggest area for families.

Mr. Ortiz said he comes to the park twice a month.

"Look what he did with the 12 years. He does what he wants. He doesn't care," he added.

For the third straight year Production Glue, an agency that "creates unique live events in New York City and across the globe, " handled the event . Since 2007, production glue has been the producer and technical supervisors of the Mayor’s Awards for Arts & Culture with the Mayor’s Office of Special Projects and Community Events and the Department of Cultural Affairs according to their website.

Production glue was involved with the controversial publicity stunt in January which placed capes on 30 statues of historical figures on parkland including Father Francis Duffy in Times Square and Benjamin Franklin at City Hall to promote an NBC show. A company representative would not supply additional information.

This year Bloomberg LP also rented out the mini-golf and half of the driving range from the Randall's Island Golf Center. Guests partied on the upstairs section of the range while hitting balls.

How much did Bloomberg LP pay to rent out this space?"

"Not enough," a Randall's Island Golf Center employee complained when asked for financial details. "They were rude, demanding and they belittled everyone. They feel they can do whatever."

Bloomberg guests however seemed to have a great time.

"It was the best," an excited party reveler said exiting the event with his girlfriend. "It had everything."

Miniature Golf. This year Bloomberg LP rented out this and half of the driving range from the Randall's Island Golf center. Organizers erected a fence with a green screen to prevent the curious public from seeing the action. A park goer (bottom) peeks through a hole in the screen to see what all the fuss is about.

Corn was singled out by several attendees as a favorite culinary delight this year. "I want back for seconds," said one.

Less than a hundred yards away more than a dozen of South Bronx resident Edilberto Quinones's immediate family were picnicking on Father's Day, twenty four hours after the event. A large chain link fence running from the West end of the Golf Center to the waterfront remained firmly in place, preventing the public from accessing the still cordoned off public parkland.

A security guard politely but firmly redirected teens away who tried to access the waterfront.

"They have the power to do whatever they want," said Edilberto Quinones, 53, father of four, grandfather of nine. "No matter what you try to do they don't care."

Mr. Quinones and his son were leaning up against the fence that separated them from the area where Bloomberg had rented the parkland. He said he's been coming to Randall's Island for more than 20 years. His family paid almost twenty dollars in tolls to get three cars to the island.

"It's very hard, its very crowded, and if you want get away from the music you can't, there's no space. The economy is very bad and on top of that they make things very difficult."

"You almost feel segregated," said his son, 31-year-old, Edilberto Quinones, father five who shares his father's name.

"The days of segregation are over," he said pointing to the fence. "Its a slap in the face. Its sad these things are going on. We're supposed to be living as one. "

Apparently not.

The Parks Department referred all inquires to City Hall press office. Despite numerous attempts Andrew Brent and Julie Wood refused to respond. A Bloomberg LP representative declined to comment.

Access Denied. In 2009 a Bronx couple attending their nephew's birthday party in the park were turned away by Bloomberg LP. security personnel hired for the event (above). This year, (below) they avoided the need for any human contact by erecting a large chain link fence around the perimeter.

Standing Guard. June 18, 2011. This year security personal make sure the general public did not attempt to gain access to the public park land rented out by Mayor Bloomberg's corporation on the other side of a large fence.

Traffic Jam. June 18, 2011. East Harlem and South Bronx residents park cars along a road that has been blocked off by the event. "It's very hard, it's very crowded, and if you want get away from the music you can't, there's no space," said Edilberto Quinones, 53, grandfather of nine.

While Bloomberg LP guests enjoy the public park.

Bloomberg guests check in.


Reverse side of of event map.


According to several people working at the site all the material from the event is not expected to be removed until the end of the week, "hopefully," said one.

June 19, 2011. "This is a private fair ground and they would prefer no photos be taken," said a man who identified himself as providing security a day after the event.

Packing up the field event station.

South/West tip of Randall's Island. Production tents and backstage area.

June 23, 2011. Waterfront Access Denied. South/West tip of Randall's Island.

Yesterday workers removed wooden planks from the now damaged lawn.

Lawn Care. Thousands of yards of cables were buried underneath the grass throughout the site to accomidate power needs. Workers yesterday filled in the trenches. A red mulch-like material was placed on top.

(Photos: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)

Read More:

New York Daily News - February 23, 2007 - By Juan Gonzalez