The City Council Member Vs. The Parks Commissioner

Last week, the New York City Council Parks Committee held a public hearing to discuss the Parks Department budget. The Parks Department is woefully underfunded and has been for at least twenty years, if not more. It has gotten worse under the Bloomberg Administration — the lack of funds is used as an incentive to encourage privatization of our public parks.

On Thursday, March 22nd, at the public hearing – note: the “public” hearings are always minimally publicized (which is basically, not at all) – NYC Council Member James Oddo had a heated exchange with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. This was covered over at A Walk in the Park Blog which reports that Council Member Oddo (whose district encompasses parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island) at one point called Commissioner Adrian Benepe “arrogant, cavalier and disgraceful.” Benepe told Oddo to “have a nice day.”

An excerpt from A Walk in the Park Blog:

Staten Island City Council member James Oddo and Parks Commissioner Adrain Benepe provided some fireworks during a Council Parks and Recreation budget hearing this afternoon.

Oddo said it was no ‘Act of God’ that lead to flooding dozens of people’s homes six months ago when Hurricane Irene hit – it was a lack of maintenance from the Parks Department.

The pond in Willowbrook Park overflowed, flooding nearby streets, cars and dozens of homes.

The cause, according to the angry council member, was a culvert that was blocked by plastic bottles and errand softballs from nearby fields that had not been properly maintained by the Parks Department.

Adrian Benepe did not agree. He repeatedly said the flooding was caused by Hurricane Irene, not an “Act of God” and refused to acknowledge or take any role or responsibility for the damage.

Many people in the Willow Brook/Bulls Head section of Staten Island suffered huge loses in property damage and personal belongings due to the damage. The four streets that were flooded are adjacent to Willowbrook Park.

Oddo said some residents had eight feet of water in their basements.

If Rudy Giuliani were mayor, Benepe “would have been canned a long time ago, ” the councilmember said.

Oddo said he couldn’t wait until the remaining days of this administration were over and Benepe was gone.

“I’ll tell ya, I can’t wait for the 650 days to be up,” he said. “I can’t wait till we get someone in there who treats all five boroughs equally.”

“I appreciate your passion,” Benepe said condescendingly to the visibly upset Oddo.

(I was wondering how many days were left in Mayor Bloomberg’s term. Really? That many?)

In August, Washington Square had its own flooding and Parks Department maintenance problem:

August 2011

Previously at WSP Blog:

Privatization, Concessions and New York City Parks October 8, 2010

NYC Parks Dept.-2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes April 25, 2008

Heard At City Hall on Artificial Turf: “But Where Will the Tires Go?” … Mayor Bloomberg says this is “a made-up story”

According to a scrap tire recycler who spoke at the New York City Council hearing on artificial turf and rubber “safety surface” mats yesterday at City Hall, 13% of all scrap tires in New York State are used to create artificial turf. If the City Council passes a bill placing a moratorium on “crumb rubber” Turf installations in the city – which is what is being proposed – the speaker asked, “Where will the tires that would have gone to the process… where will they go?”

Now, yes, it’s true that this is technically reuse, one of the environmental tenets, and recycling, but I think that there are other environmental as well as serious health concerns that need to take precedence. They’ll find markets for the tires or find a way to dispose of them responsibly. The issue here is there are too many unknowns and a bunch of frightening knowns. Lead, cadmium, and other chemicals are in these materials. Children should not be exposed to these chemicals. The turf fields get way too hot (165 degrees on a hot day). And we just don’t know how they impact any of us, much less the birds and wildlife, dogs and other animals in our parks and public spaces.

In a city with limited green space, should we be limiting our connection with nature? The allure, the smell of, the interaction with freshly cut grass? The imperfections and uniqueness of walking and playing on fresh grass vs. a lifeless artificial surface?

Then, there’s Mayor Bloomberg.

In today’s New York Daily News (and… is it me, or does he just get MORE. ARROGANT. EVERY. DAY. ?), our CEO Mayor “blasted the controversy yesterday as ‘a made-up story’ and fumed that ‘the real risk is [in] not getting the kids to the park’ to exercise and avoid obesity.”

Right. That’s the real risk. (See 2nd paragraph.) What about giving the Parks Department an adequate budget so they could hire workers to take care of our Parks properly? Instead of giving money endlessly to corporate interests (and, believe me, the “field turf” industry was out in force at the City Council hearing), what about giving it to our city workers? Bolstering our city that way? In the last 20 years, the number of NYC Parks Department workers has been cut by 66%.

First Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanaugh told the Council that it costs $800,000-$1 million to install an artificial turf field. It costs $300,000 to $400,000 to install a natural grass field. It costs $14,000 a year to maintain a natural turf field. No figure was given for the cost to maintain an artificial turf field which needs to be replaced every ten years.

The math does not add up. How is this benefiting the city economically? Why can’t we use natural grass and hire workers to maintain it (without pesticides and herbicides)? What is wrong with this picture?

Note: I am not advocating for any artificial turf, with or without “crumb rubber.” No one knows enough about any of these materials. We need to go back to grass and dirt and work with the natural environment. I certainly don’t think artificial turf is needed at Washington Square Park around the Mounds – which is where it is being proposed.

Game On, Mayor Bloomberg

Much focus on the national election today. And a lot of electricity in the air. All warranted of course. But it’s hard not to think that NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg scheduled his signing of the overturning term limits legislation for Monday, November 3rd when he knew that any news reported, today – Election Day – that wasn’t about, well, the election, would be somewhat obscured. Smart guy, our Mayor.

Except I can’t help thinking that he has overreached. He plotted every last aspect of this elaborate scenario. He maneuvered the system like no one’s seen in a long time. Mr. Bloomberg lined up the media editorial boards, fellow corporate CEOs, reluctant billionaires, compliant charitable groups which receive the benefit of his personal fortune, and 29 New York City Council members to go along with his master plan. And he accomplished his goal: the chance to install himself (with the help of $80 million dollars) for another 4 years of unprecedented power to “finish” what he started and couldn’t quite seem to push through in eight years.

I’m sure our billionaire Mayor is thinking that next year, his last year under this second term, and then the next four, will be like his previous seven.

He’d get away with his deceitful maneuverings to replace the city we know with the affluent, bland city he envisions. His under-functioning agencies would stay under the radar.

The media would continue to only talk about how great he is.

If something went wrong that fell under the domain of city governance, they wouldn’t link him to it by name.

The people who might raise a ruckus about it – mostly community groups – didn’t have the power to really get anyone’s ear. And so it goes.

Except, what if it didn’t?

What if this “game changing moment,” as Letitia James defined it on the day of the City Council term limits vote, is “game changing” for our Mayor?

Yesterday, he sat through four and a half hours at City Hall listening to the people, a large percentage of whom were very angry. They didn’t mince words. They told it like it is. As today’s New York Times article stated: “during the bill signing, a man unaccustomed to direct, public criticism endured a heavy – and very harsh – dose of it from those he governs.” Mr. Bloomberg probably figured he had no choice but to endure it (public comment is part of every bill signing) and this will be over – people have short memories, he memorably said – after this one day.

Except, what if it isn’t?

There was a young man who spoke yesterday at City Hall, David Tieu. His picture is in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and The New York Post. His testimony was show stopping. He said “look at how I’m dressed” which was supposed to signal something about his work but I wasn’t certain what. I read in the paper today that he is a deliveryman. He expressed how he had to drop out of City University when Mayor Bloomberg imposed further cuts onto the CUNY system (City University of New York). He stepped away from the mike and he pointed at Mr. Bloomberg and said: “You’re Public Enemy Number One! That’s all I have to say. To hell with your agenda!” Most of the stories didn’t go into that agenda leaving out mention of the whole having-to-drop-out-of-school thing and what his issue with Mayor Bloomberg is. Mr. Tieu took the day off from work to address the Mayor personally.

Josephine Lee of Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side critiqued Bloomberg’s rezoning plan for those and other neighborhoods, saying “all you’re doing is displacing working class communities and communities of color.”

Under Mayor Bloomberg, there have been more rezonings of neighborhoods than in the previous five administrations combined. Typically, these rezonings lead to displacement of long time residents and businesses. Replaced by shiny glass buildings, high rents, “luxury” housing, big box chain stores, more privatization and corporatization of, well, just about everything, and more shiny people. The kind Mr. Bloomberg likes.

What gave me hope about yesterday, this game changing moment, is, at last — in a public forum — hearing the stories that each individual told … seeing people’s faces, people coming together, people at last having a place to say what is so wrong with this Mayor and, yes, his agenda.

Game on.