NYS Assembly Member Deborah Glick Will Hold Rally Against NYU 2031 Plan Saturday, February 11th at Judson Church; Where Will Council Member Margaret Chin Fall On The Matter?

At least one elected official is speaking up and organizing around New York University’s Proposed Expansion Plan. New York State Assembly Member Deborah Glick, whose district includes Greenwich Village, will be joining with community groups, including CAAN 2031, Friends of LaGuardia Place, Greenwich Village Block Associations, and Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (links to be added), to speak out against the NYU Plan 2031. Assembly Member Glick has called for a rally this weekend on Saturday, February 11th, from 12 noon to 2 p.m. at Judson Church along Washington Square South across from the Park.

No word yet on where New York City Council Member Margaret Chin will fall. Ms. Chin was extraordinarily evasive at the community meeting in January when asked her position on the topic. Ms. Chin’s position is a potent vote in the matter — the project falls within her district; the City Council as a whole is inclined to follow the opinion of the local Council Member in their vote.

The case of 135 Bowery and its landmarking status should be background information for anyone concerned as to how this may play out.

Our Town Downtown looked at CM Chin’s decision to reverse her stand on landmarking 135 Bowery, as did WestView News in this illuminating piece on her vote, “Questions Abound in Chinatown.”

In addition, neither Margaret Chin nor her office has ever responded to this blog’s queries inquiring into the status of the construction or budget at Washington Square Park. Deborah Glick has.

From the press release from Deborah Glick’s office:

On January 3rd, 2012, the New York City Department of City Planning certified the Draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted by New York University (NYU) for the development of the ‘superblocks’ bordered by West 3rd Street, West Houston Street, Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place. The NYU Core Plan (aka NYU 2031) is now one month into a roughly 7 month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) which involves approvals and recommendations from the Community Board, Borough President, City Planning, City Council and the Mayor.

The application being reviewed through ULURP proposes changing the current residential zoning (R7-2) to commercial (C1-7), which effectively eliminates all open space requirements, allowing significantly greater density than currently allowed, or allowed under any residential zoning. The plan as proposed would add 2.5 million square feet of University owned space (equivalent to the Empire State Building) including a new gymnasium, classroom space, a dorm and a university affiliated hotel.

It would include 4 new buildings, up to 26 stories tall and develop underground space up to 5 floors. As planned, the construction is estimated to last 18 years. Furthermore, NYU wants to buy public park strips, currently owned by the NYC Department of Transportation and convert them to University controlled land in an area where there is only 0.4 acres of parkland per 1,000 people, while the benchmark for an area well-served by parkland is 2.5 acres per 1,000 people.

In January, Manhattan Community Board 2 held 5 public hearings and will hold an additional 7 hearings in February to garner input from the Community at large. Attendance at these meetings has been extremely high, with overwhelming opposition to the plan. Community Board 2 will vote on their resolution for this proposal at the next full board meeting, February 23rd.

When Margaret Chin does finally state her position, will she then flip flop? Community pressure will be of the utmost importance. The vast expansion of New York University and reconfiguration of Greenwich Village space is not equal to 135 Bowery. While in no way diminishing the importance of that vote (and her constituents will remember), this is big time. Will she be able to stand up to the Bloomberg Administration and real estate and corporate interests? This is a critical moment.

To contact Margaret Chin: Stop by her District Office 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or write her at: Chatham Green, 165 Park Row, suite #11, New York, NY 10038; District Office Phone 212-587-3159; email: chin@council.nyc.gov

-links to be added-

NYU Proposed Expansion Plan 2031 — Is the Fix ‘In’ With the Bloomberg Administration?

I’m posting previous WSP Blog entries as refreshers on NYU and President John Sexton’s “vision” for the University’s Expansion Plan 2031. It’s a very critical time right now.

It raises the question — is the ‘fix’ in with the Bloomberg Administration? Given this Admin’s history over the last seemingly gazillion years (will his term ever end?), that would not be much of a surprise.

If so, how to stop it?

If her statements at the Community Meeting on NYU Plan 2031 earlier this month were any indication, Council Member Margaret Chin likely does not have the strength to stand up to Bloomberg and Council Member Quinn who will put pressure on her to go along with it.

More at WSP Blog on NYU here.

Chelsea Now Weekly Uncovers the Real Dirt on Artificial Turf; Turf Scheduled for the Mounds at WSP in Phase III

Chelsea Now has a great story about artificial turf in this week’s issue. Washington Square Park is scheduled to get artificial turf at the base of the Mounds (now scheduled for Phase III construction), despite the fact that pretty much everyone is against it.

Excerpts from Chelsea Now article: Hot Footing It: The heat is on artificial turf August 24, 2011

As reported in the March article, Geoffrey Croft (head of the watchdog group, NYC Park Advocates) took, before noon, temperature readings at a dozen New York City parks in July 2010. Artificial turf fields measured over 170 degrees — the highest temperature recorded in his three years of monitoring. By 9:15am, the temperature had already risen to over 140 degrees. “Young children are particularly susceptible, as it can take only two seconds to burn on solid surfaces greater than 140 degrees, according to doctors,” said Croft. …

… “for ten years, the city put down this surface without doing a single test,” said Croft. Patrick Arden, in his article on the dangers of artificial turf, wrote, “Several credible studies had found the crumb rubber contains known human carcinogens and neurotoxic chemicals, as well as lead, chromium and arsenic” (City Limits magazine, “Was New York City’s Shift to Artificial Grass a 300-Million-Dollar Mistake? A Risky Play,” September 2010).

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Arden ascertained that a group of doctors at Mt. Sinai Hospital identified several “proven and potential” hazards of synthetic turf made from recycled tires: “excessive heat,” with field temperatures reaching as high as 172 degrees; MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection that can be acquired through “turf burns;” and chemical exposures.

The Astroturf-style carpet at Chelsea Park and the crumb rubber infill turf at J.J. Walker were both cited for elevated lead levels.  …

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website’s “Fact Sheet on Synthetic Turf Used in Athletic Fields and Play Areas,” the city is now using “carpet-style or alternative infill materials on all new fields, and implementing protocols to inspect, test and replace any existing synthetic turf fields that may age or deteriorate.” They are “using strict purchasing protocols to select the best synthetic turf products and requiring suppliers to provide information on chemical content, heating absorbency properties, environmental factors and health and safety issues.”

“We forced the city to stop using recycled tires,” said Croft. “City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, introduced a few bills that really helped. It was a first step. Up to then, Adrian Benepe [the Parks Commissioner] made fun of it.” …

I am sure part of the reason is maintenance related, but to me that is not a solution,” said Viverito, “and I don’t buy it half the time.” She pointed out that in the “vast parks system” less than .03 percent goes to parks. “If it is the intent to have a park where people can hang out, when the turf can reach past 130 degrees, this is not a good idea. It is counterproductive to what a passive space is. You want to encourage people to come into the park, not turn them away.” …

Viverito declared, “We will continue to put pressure on this administration to do the right thing. It has worked sometimes. Other times they have put their heels to the ground and are resistant.

There’s much more at the article including quotes from athletes using the fields that are quite interesting!

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Previous on WSP Blog: Heard at City Council Hearings on Artificial Turf: “But Where Will the Tires go?”; Mayor Bloomberg says this is “a made-up story” February 10, 2009

Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency & Oversight Continues – Part II (Updated)

Updated 9/8/10, 12:48 p.m. — A couple months back, I called a Greenwich Village community member who has been involved from the very beginning with the redesign plans for Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park Task Force (and Community Board 2) Chair Jo Hamilton had requested that I put together my “list of questions” around Phase II and said she’d try to get answers. I stated that these were not my questions alone; people in the community had questions. Ms. Hamilton didn’t appear to grasp my repeated attempts to infuse more transparency into the process. I wasn’t trying to write a blog piece – I wanted the Task Force to do what it’s supposed to do (and I’d happily report on that).

Frustrated that I couldn’t get this concept across, I started to put together some semblance of a list. When I asked this community member what questions she had, she responded, “Well, it’s kind of hard. We’ve been given so little information – it’s hard to even know what the questions are.”

And there you have it. We’re in the middle of a multiple-year, $30 Million Dollar New York City project – a redesign of a historic landmark park in Greenwich Village – and all the bodies assigned oversight of the project (as outlined in Part I) have fallen asleep at the wheel.

So, here is my list of some of the unanswered questions plus information I’ve gathered including causes for alarm:

  • OVER BUDGETThe Washington Square Park Redesign project was originally budgeted – all three phases – for $16 million TOTAL but Phase I alone cost that.What will Phase II – budgeted at $9 million – come to? With the delays in work and numerous changes as it proceeds, I’m guessing way over that. The park is nowhere near done and the cost is already $9 mil.
  • COMPLETION OF PROJECT MONTHS BEHIND SCHEDULE – HELLO 2011? Projected date for Phase II’s completion was September 2010. The Villager reported that the Parks Department and contractor Tucci are working towards December 2010 but in all likelihood this project will be going into early-to-mid 2011. The reason: numerous design changes by the Parks Department, mismanagement by the city agency of some of the finer details of the project, and lack of oversight by the appropriate bodies.
    Dead … second time around…
  • DYING TREESWhy do these same two trees around the Fountain keep dying? 2009’s newly planted trees died, were replaced, and now the replacements are dead in less than a year. If you’ll recall, the forty year old original trees that lined the fountain were chopped down to make way for the aligning of the Fountain with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. Could these repeated deaths be due to the re-designer’s error? I think so. (Look for a separate post on this later this week.)
  • JUST HOW MANY TREES ARE BEING AXED IN PHASE II? – How many trees are being chopped down for the extensive work on the SouthWest, NorthEast and SouthEast Quadrants? No one knows. It hasn’t been revealed publicly. Since the blueprints were dropped off on a table with no explanation at the last Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting, there’s been no discussion of this.
    Site of Future “Mounds”
  • WHAT WILL THE “NEW” MOUNDS LOOK LIKE? HOW TALL WILL THEY BE? – The Parks Department says the three Mounds — which seem to elicit a “love ’em or hate ’em” response — will be recreated at 5 feet tall (previously they were 6 feet) but the blueprints show them at 3.5 feet tall with an “elevation” of 26 inches. Call me confused. Of course, a public meeting would answer these questions. The original Mounds, created as part of the 1970 design, were considered an area of “spontaneous play.” In more recent years, they had been closed off to public use and were used in the winter for sledding.
  • CABLE NET PLAY STRUCTURES FOR CHILDREN WITH 6 FOOT DROP? – The concept behind the “new” Mounds makes them part of a more extensive play area, including “Cable-Net Play” structures that the Mounds appear to take a backseat to. It’s rumored that the “cable-net play” structures (you know those steel structures we all grew up playing on that you climb across a bar up top) will be set up so children can fall into a 6 foot deep ‘hole’ underneath — which will be covered in artificial turf.
  • CONTROVERSIAL ARTIFICIAL TURF ABOUNDS – Tho’ this was greatly opposed by the community, the entire area around the Mounds is swarming with dangerous artificial turf.
  • WILL THE DOG RUNS REMAIN IN PHASE II? – It’s proving difficult for the dog runs (large dog run and small dog run) to be completed without interfering with the Parks’ administrative offices which border the area. Will the completion of the dog runs remain in Phase II? Everyone pretty much thought the dog runs were fine where they are now – but the Parks Department insisted on moving them onto the southern edge of the park.
  • Chess, Anyone?
    • CHESS AREA – TREE IN THE WAY? NUMBER OF CHESS TABLES IN JEOPARDY? – The famed Chess area at the Southwestern quadrant is being made somewhat smaller. The plaza here, like every quadrant entrance, is circular. However, it was discovered recently, that, what worked on paper in George Vellonakis’ design, doesn’t in reality: the chess area diameter runs straight into an old tree. (Surprising they don’t just chop it down, eh?) The number of chess tables was supposed to remain at 19 but, with this new glitch, the chess tables may be reduced in number. Previously, the circle of this Quadrant included a ‘cut out’ for the tree, thereby making the “circle” not entirely symmetrical (can a circle be symmetrical? I’m not sure but you know what I mean… Apparently, yes.). This designer loves symmetry so it’s doubtful that’s going to happen here — throwing the number of chess tables into jeopardy.
    • PATHWAY OBSTRUCTIONS – The pathway that enters at LaGuardia Place — that many use to walk past Garibaldi Plaza (previously included “Teen Plaza”/performance area) and head over to the NE side of the park — will only lead into the Fountain Plaza, blocked by the lawn and Performance Area. In addition, the pathway leading from the Fountain to the Eastern Side of the park, previously connected to this route, will no longer have a big, open feeling to it – impeded by a narrow path and a large planter.
    • OTHER AREAS THAT ARE IN DESPERATE NEED OF REVIEW: GARIBALDI PLAZA/PERFORMANCE AREA, GARIBALDI STATUE, and CHILDREN’S PLAYGROUND (NorthEast) – also – SEATING ALCOVES, ALL THE PATHWAYS.

Many of these items are over budget, behind schedule and needing oversight primarily due to Parks Department changes to the plans, sometimes error and often mismanagement.

However, more alarming is the stunning lack of transparency by the New York City Parks Department coupled with the lack of supervision by anyone else. Most of this information has been kept as quiet as possible with the complicity of the very bodies, namely NY City Council, Community Board 2 and Washington Square Park Task Force, that are charged with the Park’s oversight.

The larger question — will any of this get a public airing? — remains to be answered.

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Part 1: Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II: An Eerie Silence – What’s Going On?

A Letter from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn re: Term Limits Vote

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn sent this letter out yesterday via email to New Yorkers who had contacted her expressing their opposition (prior to the vote) to the City Council overturning of voted-in term limits.

Ms. Quinn writes:

As I’m sure you now know, on October 23rd the Council voted to extend term limits for city elected officials from two to three four-year terms.

I understand how strongly you and others felt about this issue. This decision wasn’t one that the Council and I took lightly, and it came with a great deal of deliberation, dialogue and debate, including two days and nights of public hearings.

WSP Blog Note: which she didn’t attend.

I realize there’s very little I can say at this point to convince you that my support for extending term limits was based solely on what I absolutely believed in my heart was best for our City: that in these extraordinarily difficult times, New Yorkers should have the choice to keep their current leadership or vote us out at the polls.

WSP Blog: As Council Member Bill de Blasio (Brooklyn) said the day of the crucial vote … by taking away the voters’ right to choose, Mayor Bloomberg and Christine Quinn make the argument, in true Orwellian fashion, that they are giving the voters more choice.

I would like to promise you this, though. As Speaker, I will continue to work as hard as I can each and every day to earn your trust and respect and to help make city government more responsive and effective for all New Yorkers.

WSP Blog: Responsive… would have been listening to the voices of New Yorkers -89% of whom stated in a Quinnipiac poll they did not think the New York City Council should overturn these previous votes.

Next November, you and other voters will have the opportunity to vote for me, any of my colleagues, or Mike Bloomberg for another four years – or to make a change. The decision will ultimately be yours. That, to me, is the essence of democracy.*

As difficult as this decision was, I appreciate and respect your views and hope we can continue to work together during these tough economic times.

Sincerely,
Christine C. Quinn, Speaker

* definition (Webster’s Dictionary): democracy (n) : government by the people

A closer look at the “arm-twisting” tactics of Bloomberg-Quinn

Interesting article today at the New York Times site about Council Member Darlene Mealy (Brooklyn) who close to two weeks ago was at a press conference with Comptroller William Thompson (a Mayoral candidate) speaking out against City Council overturning of term limits.

The article “How a City Councilwoman changed her mind” is pretty much about how Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn changed her mind. Charles Barron (Brooklyn) states that Mealy was under enormous pressure from Bloomberg-Quinn. In other words, they smelled weakness. When asked whether she had been “threatened” by Bloomberg or Quinn by the Times, she answered, “I don’t want to discuss it.”

From the article:

What could have transpired in such a short time to convert one of the strong voices of the opposition to a supporter the mayor’s bill?

Some of her colleagues have charged that Ms. Mealy was the subject of a high-pressure effort from either the speaker of the mayor. In fact one Council member reported seeing Ms. Mealy emerge from City Hall late last week in tears, saying that she was the subject of intense pressure.

They put unbelievable pressure on her in a way that may have been unethical,” said City Councilman Charles Barron, who represents an adjoining district to Ms. Mealy in Brooklyn and who was a strong opponent of the mayor’s bill.

“She has said that she was under intense, intense pressure,” Mr. Barron said. “I think it merits some kind of investigation, to be quite honest.”

And in the New York Post, David Seifman writes:

“Mealy, considered mercurial, was under constant watch by Quinn aides from the moment she entered the council chambers to the moment she left. When she was summoned out of the council chambers at 2:45 p.m., there was a flurry of speculation. It turned out to be a routine break.

When Mealy left a second time, at 3:10 p.m., Councilwoman Diana Reyna (Democract, Brooklyn), a Quinn ally, was hurriedly dispatched to find her and insure she stayed in the fold.”

Quite incredible, isn’t it? Partly that it’s all so out in the open (which is … great?) and largely that this is how Bloomberg and Quinn do their bidding.

Further Update from City Hall On Term Limits Vote

5:30 p.m. — You’ve most likely heard by now that today the NY City Council passed Mayor Bloomberg’s bill to buy himself a third term. Of course, there were many courageous City Council Members who voted against this. The vote was 29 for, 22 against. I think most of us understand the tremendous pressure these Council Members were under from our billionaire Mayor — who has shown his true colors. The afternoon was at times heartening, at times mind numbing. It felt like a historic moment in our city’s history to witness; it was certainly an educational one. You can find good coverage at the New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, NY1, among others. Council Member Charles Barron (Brooklyn) said mid-way — before the vote was finalized but recognizing the Mayor would most likely prevail — “Even tho’ the Mayor will win today, he is the big loser. His legacy will be forever tainted.” As Letitia James (Brooklyn), who spoke so eloquently, said, “This is a game changing moment.”

And indeed I believe it is. Stay tuned.

Update from City Hall

11:30 a.m. — Well, the NY City Council Committee on Governmental Operations voted this morning 6-0 in favor of letting the term limit vote proceed, and so it will this afternoon. I wish I could tell you I thought any of the City Council members who voted for it said anything truly compelling. It sounded mostly self-serving.

Sewell Chan and Michael Barbaro continue their comprehensive and fine reporting on this issue at the New York Times site.

Two great (among many) reader comments:

Councilperson Felder ( who voted to extend term limits) stated: “Many have tried to make this issue about one man….” No, Mr. Felder, Mayor Bloomberg made this about one man. The vast majority of New Yorkers know this is about our democracy. and the arrogance and imprudences of the Council over riding the will of the people in two referendums for the benefit of that one man. – Madeline

These pro forma hearings only provide the appearance of a public debate at City Hall. In reality, the vote has already been fixed on the most important issue to emerge in our generation regarding the future of democracy in our city. Thank you Mayor Bloomberg! – Antonio G.

More to come!

Two City Council Members file court papers to stop Council Term Limit vote Thurs. 10/23. Update: Vote will proceed as scheduled at 10 a.m. at City Hall

NY City Council Members Bill de Blasio and Letitia James (Go Brooklyn!) filed papers in court this morning to stop the scheduled City Council vote tomorrow morning on Mayor Bloomberg’s bill to extend term limits from two terms to three. Voters in NYC have voted for term limits twice over the last 15 years and those votes, via referendum, call for a two term limit. Mayor Bloomberg, who believes he is indispensable to our city during this financial crisis — but had been floating this idea long before it even happened — would like to stay on for another 4 years stating that he has not “finished” everything he wanted to achieve. Frankly, I think he may not realize it but he is finished.

The case – which calls for a restraining order – is being heard now, beginning at 2 p.m., in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Read more here from the New York Times. (As always, check out the reader comments, always insightful and illuminating.)

If their petition for a restraining order fails, the vote will take place Thursday, October 23rd at 10 a.m. at City Hall in Council Chambers, 2nd floor. The public is invited to attend.

Update: No big surprise (although I think it is a wrong decision). State Supreme Court justice Jacqueline Winter Silbermann did not agree to stop the City Council term limit vote scheduled for tomorrow. (Read more at the Times site.) Another new development has City Council member Alan Gerson (Washington Square Park falls within his district) in the mix who (of course…?) is publicly undecided. Council Member Gerson and two other City Council Members, David Yassky (Brooklyn) and Gale Brewer (Manhattan), called for a referendum amendment to be added to the existing bill. According to the Times, unless the amendment gains support, it is “expected” that Alan Gerson will vote for the Mayor’s extension of term limits to three terms.

New York Times is live blogging from the term limits hearing… Also NY1 is carrying hearing live.

New York Times is live blogging from the term limits hearing today at City Hall. It’s well done and somewhat entertaining. Apparently, Mayor Bloomberg got 50 of his supporters in there early and it’s unclear if they were paid to attend.

Council Member Charles Barron took on the Mayor’s reputation (at last someone did):

“It was under Mayor Bloomberg — under his watch, that Wall Street collapsed,” Mr. Barron continued, adding, “If he’s so sharp, a big-time businessman, why didn’t he foresee this?” he asked of the crisis. “Not only did he not foresee it, what he did was come in and cut this budget. He’s closed down seniors’ centers and youth centers. He robbed the poor and gave to the rich. And you’re going to push Bloomberg on us.”

You can read up-to-the-minute information here.

They will be signing people up to speak until 8 p.m. tonite (but will go later than that if necessary) and it starts again at 10 a.m. tomorrow. (Getting there earlier before the Bloomberg “supporters” arrive is probably a good idea.) If you’ve never testified before the City Council, it can be a little daunting but it’s such a magnificent building and sort of fun to do.

Updated: NY1 is carrying the hearings live til 7 p.m. !  I just discovered this.