Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Editorial in Norwood News: "Stadium Push Has Feel of Instant Replay"

Editorial published in Norwood News on Jan 26 - Feb 8, 2006. Click on the above title to access the on-line copy.

Stadium Push Has Feel of Instant Replay

“It’s déjà vu all over again.” Yogi Berra said it and who knew it would be so applicable to the current controversy involving his old stomping grounds?

The juggernaut to destroy two south Bronx parks adjacent to Yankee stadium bears many of the same disturbing hallmarks, and even more troubling new ones, of the city’s almost Messianic push for a water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park. Here’s a look at how the two projects compare:

The parks — A vote of the state legislature is necessary to allow a municipality to use parkland for a non-park use. That’s what saved Van Cortlandt Park the first time the city tried to site the plant in the park (they conveniently avoided that little step before the state’s highest court set them straight), but then the city sweetened the deal by offering lawmakers $200 million in Bronx park improvements. State legislators from the south Bronx seem to have exacted little in return for their voting to alienate Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks. But they did seem to learn from the prior controversial alienation vote that the quickest way to alienate parkland is when nobody is looking. Months passed before opponents realized that the critical action had already taken place. Many filtration plant opponents said that alienating Van Cortlandt would set a precedent for other communities. It’s hard to argue with that assertion now.

The unions — At critical points in both battles, unions have bused in their members to pack hearing rooms and shout down community opponents. But at least community residents attending one of the last hearings on the Croton plant at Clinton High School could get in the door to get shouted down. After early-arriving union members packed the hearing room, many community residents were locked out of a recent stadium hearing at borough hall. In the case of the plant, the unions said many jobs would go to Bronx workers, but only 38 of 150 jobs are held by Bronxites. With the stadium, unions say the project would mean jobs, but opponents say those workers could replace the stadium at its current site. Sadly, no common ground between the underdog union movement and underdog residents of low-income neighborhoods has yet been identified on either project.

The air — Norwood residents continue to be concerned about the effect on asthmatics of seven years of digging, blasting and construction for the plant. At Yankee Stadium, much of the worry focuses on the permanent ill effects of new parking garages in the parks, which will accommodate 4,500 additional cars. More automobile exhaust in a neighborhood known for its sky-high asthma rate is setting off alarm bells among public health experts. And there’s no new Metro North station in the plan, as some have proposed, to provide an incentive to fans to leave their cars at home.

The borough president — Adolfo Carrión supported both plans, but he was a minor player on the filtration plant, which hinged on the Assembly delegation’s acquiescence. On the stadium, he’s been the borough’s chief cheerleader for the project even though some of his top priorities – e.g. a hotel, a Metro North station, and a skating rink – are not in the plan. His official recommendation to the City Planning Commission came with a wish list, but it’s non-binding. Will he get what he wants this way? Might he have had more luck if he told the team he wouldn’t support a plan that didn’t fit his bill? Time will tell.

The uphill battle — When the city and most of the relevant local elected officials want to do something, it’s very difficult to stop them. But there’s a new Council speaker who successfully fought the Jets stadium in her own neighborhood. And savvy local residents and park advocates have launched a blog, hired a P.R. firm, and banded together despite some differences among them. If, as a result, the Yankees don’t get to build their stadium and parking lots in city parks, that would be the biggest difference between the two projects.


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