Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comptroller Liu Investigating Ferry Point Park Golf Delays Cost Overruns

Comptroller John Liu is looking into why golf course city is building for Donald Trump is riddled with delays and huge cost overruns.  He is also looking into another Parks Consession, Tavern on the Green.   (Photo: Michael Schwartz for New York Daily News) 


The city comptroller has begun looking at cost overruns and delays at the golf course the city is building for Donald Trump in the Bronx, the Daily News has learned. 

Last Thursday, Comptroller John Liu sent city Parks Commissioner Veronica White notice that he was reexamining the agency’s handling of the project, which is behind schedule and has ballooned in cost to at least $97 million from $22.5 million.

The move follows the Daily News’ revelations Sept. 23 that high levels of methane gas were found in June and July at the edge of the site, which used to be a landfill. 

City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx) has summoned government officials to a meeting next week to explain what effects the gas could have on the surrounding neighborhood. 

Liu is reopening a 2007 audit by then-Comtroller William Thompson that found lax oversight by the Parks Department caused the city to lose $25 million in overpayments and potential earnings at the project. 

On Thursday, Liu informed Parks that the audit “will determine whether the Parks Department carried out or implemented recommendations” from that prior audit. 

The recommendations included tracking progress of the project against its start and completion dates, preparing an “itemized breakdown of all required activities” at the project and carefully monitoring all “invoices, canceled checks and other related documentation.” 

Parks spokeswoman Vickie Carp did not respond to requests for comment about whether the agency had implemented the 2007 recommendations. 

The Parks Department says the project is expected to cost the taxpayers $97 million, although The News found contracts assigned to the Ferry Point golf course totaling $120 million. 

Carp also would not comment on that finding. Trump has agreed to spend $10 million himself on a clubhouse, and he’s negotiated a 20-year lease. The links are expected to open in 2014.   

Read More:

New York Daily News - September 29, 2012-  By Greg B. Smith

A Walk In The Park -  August 15, 2012

A Walk In The Park - February 4, 2012 

A Walk In The Park - January 9, 2012  By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - December 24, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

Dangerous Criminals Being Hired At Parks

Parks Dept. hires workers despite major criminal rap sheets, advocates charge
Some dangerous criminals have been hired at Parks.  Robert Swann, who was hired despite a lengthy rap sheet which includes arrests for assault and weapons, was charged in the killing of a co-worker at the Al Oerter Recreation Center in Flushing on September 4, 2012.  (Photo: William Miller)
What exactly might cause the Parks Department not to hire a perspective employee? According to the Parks Department spokesperson as long as the applicant "didn't exhibit anti-social or disruptive behavior during the hiring process we would decline to hire that person.”

The issue is compounded because for years the City's elected officials have refused to allocate proper resources for the Parks Department so the agency has relied on hiring personnel with questionable backgrounds.

It’s the Department of Perps and Recreation.
Advocates say the city Parks Department overlooks the sordid results of its background checks on job applicants — and even puts new hires in the field before the criminal screening is complete, according to the New York Post. 
“When you go into your public park, you should know if the person working there is a murderer, sexual predator or bank robber,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates.
The ex-cons on the payroll included:
* Vernon Gowdy, a Central Park maintenance man who was once busted for groping a female co-worker while exposing himself. Before being hired by the city, Gowdy did a five-year prison stint for armed robbery. He also was arrested in 2001 for the decade-old murder of a Bronx woman, but the DA declined to prosecute despite a DNA match.
The now-suspended Gowdy ironically became a public face of the parks system when he was featured in the 2007 documentary “The Pool,” which chronicled a day at a Lower East Side public pool.
According to the film’s Web site, the story follows “park employee and ex-convict” Gowdy, who “never thought ‘in a thousand million years’ that he would get a job as a city employee.”
Parks coordinator Kaceen Jordan allegedly flashed a teen.
A Parternership For Parks coordinator Kaceen Jordan was arrested in July after allegedly exposing himself to a teen at Marcus Garvey Park in Manhattan. Days later he was charged for multiple sex acts involving minors.

* Parks coordinator Kaceen Jordan, who was arrested in Harlem in July for allegedly flashing a 15-year-old boy while off-duty — nearly a decade after a similar incident involving a 12-year-old. Days after the July arrest, Jordan was charged in Brooklyn for a spree of sex acts involving minors from March to June, according to court documents.
* Robert Swann, 51, a Parks staffer who allegedly killed co-worker Ezra Black, 31, with a knife in a fight over picking up a garbage bag. The killing happened in broad daylight at a recreation center in Queens. Swann’s rap sheet before his hiring included gun and theft arrests.
Shockingly, even when the city is aware of an applicant’s violent past, the job seeker is not automatically rejected for work in the parks.
“A criminal record in and of itself does not disqualify an applicant,” agency spokeswoman Vickie Karp said. “If the offenses involve recent behavior, or if an applicant exhibits anti-social or disruptive behavior during the hiring process, we would decline to hire that person.”
Karp said the city collects fingerprints, which are sent to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. The state then checks for convictions through an FBI search.
The background review continues during the term of employment if new details are brought to Parks’ attention, Karp said. She refused to say whether workers are put into the field before background checks are complete — which several Parks employees told The Post was common practice.
“You’re getting people out of the welfare rolls that aren’t screened, and they’re put in jobs that are sensitive,” said Joe Puleo, vice president of the union that represents Parks enforcement officers.
“The question is, what will make them disqualify someone?”
In the fatal stabbing, the cleanup crew came from Job Training Participants, a program of nearly 3,000 welfare recipients who earn $9.21 an hour. The welfare workers make up a third of city Parks employees.
State law prohibits employers from “unfair discrimination” against candidates based on criminal record, unless a job seekers’ offenses are directly linked to the job for which they’re applying. A convicted shoplifter, for example, should not be denied a gig as a tree pruner under the law.
But John Jay College professor Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD cop and prosecutor, said the city must disqualify job seekers with violent criminal histories in order to protect the public.
“It shocks the conscience that [some of these people] were hired,” said O’Donnell. “This is an agency where people are out unsupervised and interacting with people. Some unfair judgments should be made to err on the side of caution.”
A former Parks personnel employee told The Post the agency sets a low bar for new hires.
“They hold them to a different standard than other city workers,” she said. “As long as you tell them up front [about a past crime], they’ll let you in. They let murderers in.”
One of her welfare workers was hired 11 years ago despite being convicted of manslaughter.
When the department learned he recently had a physical altercation with his teen son, they fired him and cited his criminal background.
New recruits even brag about their bad raps.
“They’re not shy about it. They like to let everybody know they’re criminals,” said one Parks employee. “Even the last incident [in Queens], the man was letting everybody know he was going to kill this guy.”
Another Parks worker said she’s been threatened by trainees who were never given proper background checks.
When she asked him to help shovel sand off the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach, he went nuts.
One agency supervisor said he had a Parks security officer in the field before his criminal past resurfaced five months later.
The ex-con was required to prove his gun-possession charges had been cleared, but couldn’t get documentation and was fired.
“We’ve had [workers] that were involved in gun possession, prostitution, domestic violence, narcotics, a slew of things,” said the supervisor. “The city says they were cleared, and they find out later on that they had this in their past.”
Additional reporting by Kathianne Boniello and Kirstan Conley
Read More:

New York Post - By Kate Briqelet - September 30, 2012

A Walk In The Park - September 5, 2012 - By Geoffrey Croft

Oil Released Into Jamaica Bay

Paerdegat Basin Park/Paerdegat Basin Creek. Paerdegat Avenue North and Seaview Avenue. 

A yellow oil boom was placed around a storm sewer between the Midget Squadron Yacht Club and Sebago Canoe Club, two of the Parks Department's five maritime concessions which were impacted by the spill. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

At least 1100 gallons of petroleum were released into Paerdegat Basin Creek - part of Jamaica Bay - when a power company's abandoned pipe line ruptured.

National Grid was working on filling in an old gas main pipe with cement when it ruptured spewing oil into the much improved creek.   Dozens of concerned Canarsie residents called 911 and 311to report the noxious smell which began on Thursday and could still be detected blocks away over the weekend.

Some people complained of headaches and nausea.  Boaters where worried if dangerous PCB's were released into the area.

"You could taste oil in your mouth" a boater said at the Midget Squadron Yacht Club. 

The Coast Guard sent out pollution responders. The FDNY, and NY State DEC also responded.   Miller Environmental Group, an environmental waste crew was quickly dispatched and sent two large vacuum trucks, and a tanker truck.

The containment and clean up included laying down oil booms and blue absorbent pads in the water. The clean up is expected to last days. 

Both NYFD and the Coast guard personnel were out over the weekend surveying the area and warning boaters about the spill.   The public is advised to avoid fishing and recreational activity in the area.

Oil. Blue absorbent pads were placed in the spill area.

In addition to what got discharged into Paerdegat Basin National Grid contractors were seen filling up multiple 55 gallons drums along Seaview Ave in front of Canarsie Park. 

"Our whole club filled with gas," said Mike Keller from the Diamond Point Yacht Club, one of five Parks Department maritime concessions in the spill area.

He said he was entering the club's driveway on Paerdegat Avenue North on Thursday when he was hit with the oder.

"My car completely filled will the smell of methane gas to the point where I was gagging.   This whole area was filled with methane gas, waves of gas," he said pointing to Yacht Club grounds.

Mr. Keller  who has been coming to the club for 25 years said the spill was helped by the outgoing tides on Friday. He brought up the information on his cell phone which showed that from 7:35am-1:32pm on Friday the tides were going out to Jamaica Bay.

"That took a bulk of it out to sea. It's disbursed into the bay.  We've been through it all out here."

Gianni Lopez, 52, experienced the unpleasantness first hand when his Kayak tipped over into the putrid waters.

"It was my first time out here. You could smell the stench as soon as I got out here, I didn't go out very far," said the Park Slope resident wiping down his Kayak at the Sebago Canoe Club.

"I went under, I wasn't too happy about that. I'm going to wash very well today."

A number of boaters thought the 1100 gallon estimate was "conservative."

"This is an unfortunate environmental incident as our waterways are a local treasure,"  Petty Officer 2nd Class Erik Swanson, Coast Guard spokesman in New York said in a statement.    

"Coast Guard pollution responders, working closely with city and state partners, will ensure the responsible party performs a proper and complete cleanup of the spill site."

"On Sept. 27 National Grid and its contractor were working on filling in an old gas main that is no longer in service with cement, the energy company said in a statement.  

"During the process an oily water residue spilled from the exit pipe into a valve box. An odor from the residue was released, resulting in a number of odor calls. We were onsite with crews throughout the night investigating and did not find any gas leaks. We immediately notified the appropriate agencies and we and our environmental contractors are working under the direction of the Coast Guard and the NYS DEC to clean up a spill in Paerdergat Basin."

FDNY investigating the scene.

Oil on the water.

Coast Guard personnel inspects the conditions with a boater at the Sebado Canoe Club. 

A yellow oil boom was placed around a storm sewer between the Midget Squadron Yacht Club and Sebago Canoe Club. 

Read More:

Metro NY - September 30, 2012 - By Jesse Greenspan 

CBS - September 30, 2012 - Alex Silverman

New York Post - September 30, 2012 - By Dan Macleod

NY1 News - September 30, 2012

Sheepsheadbites -  September 29,  2012 - by Ned Berke

The Associated Press - September 29, 2012

WABC - September 29, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

$ 2.3 Milion Dollar Bathroon Finally Opens In Elmhurst Park

The stylish comfort station at Elmhurst Park earned a $2.3 million price tag.
Form Over Function. The infamous $2.3 million comfort station. While Elmhurst Park patrons are finally happy to be able to have access to a bathroom it has only two urinals, one toilet and two sinks in the men’s half, and three stalls and two sinks on the women’s side — ill-equipped to serve the six-and-a-half acre park that is heavily used by the community.  


So this is what a $2 million public bathroom looks like. 

The long-awaited comfort station at Elmhurst Park, with its edgy design and spacious bathrooms, has finally opened its doors.  And local civic leaders say its better suited for a museum than a busy Queens park, according to the New York Daily News.  

“This breaks all the rules of form follows function,” said Robert Holden of the Juniper Park Civic Association as he stood outside the building on Tuesday. 

“There’s an obscene amount of wasted space here. Shouldn’t this money go to pay for more cops or for more parks maintenance?”

The park, built on the former site of the Elmhurst Gas Tanks, has been open for over a year. 

Scores of kids and adults have flocked to the park to enjoy its rolling hills, sitting areas, sprinklers and and brightly colored playground equipment.  But until a few weeks ago, parkgoers needing a bathroom break were forced to use a few portable toilets parked along the perimeter. 

Parks Department officials said that the site’s history required contractors with the ability to test and monitor the site for possible contaminants.  The new comfort station is a striking building, with a facade of curved brick and glass blocks.  Inside the cavernous men’s side, just two urinals and two sinks take up the outer area. There is a single toilet in a handicapped-accessible stall. 

Lime green and white tiles line the walls in a funky, geometric pattern.  The women’s room features three stalls including one that is handicapped-accessible and two sinks. Its walls have a similar pattern in orange and white tiles.  Each room has a diaper changing table built into the wall.  

Back when it was initially approved in 2010, the price tag for the comfort station was $1.9 million. It has since ballooned to about $2.3 million.

“Public buildings are exposed to more intense use than typical private buildings,” a Parks Department spokesman said in a statement. 

“To extend the life of the building and to reduce maintenance costs we use more durable materials.”  

“It should be noted that one of the most common complaints of our traditional comfort stations is that they are dark and cramped,” he said. 

Holden and Anthony Nunziato, who launched an aggressive campaign that helped convinced city officials and Keyspan Energy to turn the former industrial site into a park, said they are convinced the facility could have been built at less than half the cost. 

“It’s overbuilt and oversized,” said Nunziato. “How does this help all the kids who use this park?”  

Read/View More:

My Fox - October 3, 2012 - By Heather Brown 

Queens Courier - October 2, 2012 - By Alexa Altman

New York Daily News - September 26, 2012 - Lisa L. Colangelo

CBS - September 26, 2012    

Senior Citizen Violently Mugged In Isham Park for iPhone

Isham Park Stairs
In yet another mugging a senior citizen reported being attacked by two men while walking home along the stairs near Broadway leading to Isham Park on Sept. 26, 2012. ( Photo: Carla Zanoni/DNAinfo)


Police are searching for two suspects who assaulted a senior citizen while stealing his iPhone in Isham Park Wednesday night, according to DNAinfo.

The 65-year-old Park Terrace East resident was approached by two men while walking up the stairs leading from Broadway into the park just after 7 p.m., police said.

The men confronted the victim and hit him in the mouth with what he believed to be a handgun before stealing his phone and running off, police said.

Police did not immediately have a description of the assailants.

Witnesses said the victim was bleeding profusely from the head before he was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital's Allen Hospital.

Although witnesses said they thought the victim had teeth knocked out, police could not confirm his condition.

This area of Isham Park that has repeatedly been the scene of reported muggings and assaults dating back to at least 2008.

Most recently, Michael O’Reilly, a Grammy Award-winning recording engineer, was also assaulted and robbed by two men while walking along the same path in Isham Park in early June.

O’Reilly suffered a broken nose, two black eyes and lacerations and has been seeing a neurologist for continued headaches and an opthamologist for an eye problem while recovering. His assailants have not been caught.

After several similar incidents took place throughout the 34th Precinct, police announced that they thought a crew was responsible for the attacks.

The NYPD increased patrols after the June incident, with police driving through the immediate area beside the park more regularly and at times walking through the park on foot patrols.

Read More:

DNAinfo - September 27, 2012 - By Carla Zanoni

Thursday, September 27, 2012

High Line Closed Due To Bomb Scare


The High Line was closed this evening due to a bomb scare NYC Park Advocates has learned.

Police requested the popular elevated park be evacuated at 9:30pm while they investigated a suspicious suitcase on 10th Ave between 16th & 17th street below the park.

The suitcase did not contain a bomb and the park was closed as a precaution according to the police.  

- Geoffrey Croft

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Revenue & Memberships Plummet After Recreation Center Fee Increases

Seniors, The Poor and Bronx Residents Hit The Hardest

In yet another Bloomberg park revenue deal that has cost the taxpayers money the city lost  $ 200, 000 last year - and more than 50, 000 memberships after the city imposed dramatic fee increases for recreation centers.

As predicted the large fee inceases initiated last year by the Mayor for Parks Department recreation services has resulted in a dramatic decrease in public usage and revenue.

Recreation centers serve the poor, middle and working class in the city for the most part.

Senior-citizen membership dropped by more than half as seniors saw their recreation center membership fees rise by 150% - from $10 to $25. Adults saw their fees increased by 100%, from $50 to $100 for centers without an indoor pool, and from $75 to $150 for centers having an indoor pool.

NYC already ranks dead last in the provision of recreation centers for a high density city

In 2011 the Bloomberg administration quietly pushed through massive recreation fee increases for Parks Department recreation facilities as well as tennis and ballfield permits.

For the second time since 2003, Mayor Bloomberg doubled the cost for a seven-month tennis permit in city parks. In February 2011 tennis fees were quietly raised to $200 from 
$ 100. In 2003 the price was $ 50. Single-play more than doubled from $7 to $15. 

- Geoffrey Croft


Who put these people in charge of the green?
In a remarkable feat of fiscal stupidity, the city Parks Department lost $200,000 last year after it doubled fees at 32 neighborhood recreation centers, according to the New York Post.
Records show that more than 50,000 people shed their memberships during the 12-month period beginning July 1, 2011, when the annual admission charge for adults soared from $50 to $100, and from $75 to $150 for facilities with pools.
That’s cheap by private health-club standards, but it had a devastating impact on the lower-wage population that gravitates to the city’s more affordable workout centers.
Half of the 36,153 senior-citizen members bailed out when their entry fee jumped from $10 to $25.
The membership roll of 79,357 other adults shrunk to 44,877 in the same period.
To top off the fiasco, revenues fell from $4,548,552 in fiscal 2011 to $4,335,973 in fiscal 2012 — $212,579 less than before the increase.
“There’s only so much you can squeeze people,” said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), chairwoman of the Parks Committee. “It’s obvious the pricing policy was not effective.”
When they first proposed the hike in 2010, parks officials estimated recreation-center enrollment would fall by 5 percent. It ended up plummeting 44.5 percent, giving weight to the argument that raising taxes or fees too much can backfire.
“This was a stupid move from day one,” declared parks advocate Geoffrey Croft.
He pointed out that Mayor Bloomberg has been pushing New Yorkers to adopt a healthier lifestyle by watching what they eat and by exercising — which thousands abandoned last year because of the higher cost.
“It’s beyond ironic,” observed Croft.
The Bronx, the borough with the poorest residents and the highest unemployment rate, saw the largest dip. Attendance there fell from 295,007 to 237,858.
Parks officials stood by their decision, claiming that overall attendance at the recreation centers remained stable at about 3.1 million thanks to a jump of almost 30 percent in visits by “nonmembers.”
Kids attend without charge, as do those who take part in no-fee exercise sessions.
“Hundreds of free Shape Up classes and other programs may have influenced some active New Yorkers who opted to use free classes and not renew for a full membership,” said Parks spokeswoman Vickie Karp. She insisted that even at the higher price, the centers are “still one of the best bargains in town and a great value.”
Read More:
New York Post - September 26, 2012 - By David Seifman

A Walk In The Park - March 7, 2011 - Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - March 18, 2011