Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"What is the value of a tree?" Christian Science Monitor 04/26/06

What is the value of a tree?
Antoinette Campbell loses an oak: Her a/c bill goes up $120 a month - the toll on her city is even bigger.

By Ethan Gilsdorf in Christian Science Monitor, April 26, 2006

Antoinette Campbell was justifiably shocked when city workers mistakenly chainsawed a 60-foot oak tree last May that shaded the eastern facade of her Washington, D.C., home.

"It was a personal something I had with that tree," says Ms. Campbell.

Besides the emotional distress, the error had an unexpected consequence: She noticed her air conditioner began running a couple hours earlier each morning.

Conventional wisdom is that just one shady tree can save a homeowner $80 a year in energy costs, but Campbell claims her bills skyrocketed once the oak disappeared - up to $120 more some months.

Yes, humble street trees cool the air, reduce pollution, and absorb storm-water runoff, say forestry experts. But the benefits aren't only ecological, they say. Property values are 7 percent to 25 percent higher for houses surrounded by trees. Consumers spend up to 13 percent more at shops near green landscapes. One study even suggests patients who can see trees out their windows are hospitalized, on average, 8 percent fewer days.

Events around the country for Friday's National Arbor Day will highlight the fact that citizens and civic leaders are finally investing in the so-called "urban tree canopy."

But efforts like these aren't a moment too soon. Overall, urban trees in America are threatened, says Deborah Gangloff, executive director of American Forests. "Every city we've looked at, about three dozen, shows a decline of about 30 percent of the urban tree canopy in the past 10 to 15 years," she says. In some cities, the loss from disease, development, and neglect has been catastrophic. In Washington, D.C., for example, 64 percent of heavily forested areas disappeared between 1973 and 1997 - forest that once covered a third of the district now covers a tenth.

And the creep of suburban sprawl seems unstoppable. In the next 50 years, total American land mass reclassified from forest to urban is expected to equal the size of Montana, suggests US Forest Service data. To reverse the trend, cities like Jacksonville, Fla., San Francisco, Albuquerque, N.M., Des Moines, Iowa, and Indianapolis have ambitious reforestation plans. Los Angeles wants to plant 1 million trees. The Sacramento region has a goal to double the urban canopy in 40 years; Baltimore plans to double its own a decade sooner. Washington, D.C. is partnering with tree-planting groups and nonprofits like the Casey Trees Endowment Fund, an organization with a $50 million grant to combat the precipitous canopy decline.

The fund's urban forester program trains volunteers like Campbell, who lost her oak, to conduct on-site censuses that, combined, will locate, measure, and identify every tree in the city. The data is crunched by a US Forest Service computer model, which produces a precise environmental and economic value for each tree. For example: A 50-foot American linden at the corner of Potomac Ave. and E Street in the southeast quadrant of Washington stores 1,476 kilograms of carbon and removes 124 grams of sulfur dioxide from the atmosphere each year. To remove that same amount of pollution would otherwise cost society $5.44 annually. Multiply that by D.C.'s 1.9 million trees and the benefits add up.

Urban trees also reduce the runoff of pollutants into waterways, a problem caused by impervious surfaces like concrete. Foliage slows rain so it gets absorbed better, rather than overwhelming drainage systems, explains Ms. Gangloff. For example, a 2005 study of municipal trees in Boulder, Colo., found that the average tree intercepts 1,271 gallons of precipitation annually, saving the city $523,311 in storm-water retention costs.

For cities struggling to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's air quality goals and build adequate wastewater treatment facilities, trees offer high return on investment. The Boulder report estimates the city gets a $3.67 return on every dollar spent on the urban forest.

"It's worth considering the value of these trees when making policy decisions," explains Dan Smith, a Casey Trees spokesman. The value of tree maintenance, for example, can't be minimized, he says, because a 30-inch-diameter tree removes 70 times more pollution per year than a 3-inch tree does. This is why he's unhappy that over the past five years, federal support of urban greening - such as tree-cover analysis, goal-setting, and technical support - has declined.

Like the urban trees themselves, the programs must also be nurtured. And that's nothing to shake a stick at.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Off Track" New York Times, 5/28/6

Op-Ed Contributor
Off Track

Published: May 28, 2006

I LIVE in Brooklyn, and while I love its human energy and its variety of cultural and culinary offerings, there are days when I need a little nature. Luckily for me, my husband, our two children and other Brooklyn residents, there is a national park right in our backyards, the amazing Floyd Bennett Field.

Floyd Bennett Field is a 1,115-acre historical and natural gem in the southeast corner of Brooklyn. There's fishing, camping, nature trails, the city's largest community garden and a gorgeous bay ripe for dragging a seining net and investigating marine animals up close.

Now the actor and car-racing enthusiast Paul Newman and some city officials think it might be a good idea to bring Grand Prix-style racing to Floyd Bennett Field, creating a 3.5-mile course in the heart of the park. This is a deplorable idea.

Even if the racecourse were used for only one major yearly event (and that's what they're saying now), the negative impact of cars that roar around a track spewing out exhaust at 240 miles per hour would be devastating, causing irreversible damage to local and migratory wildlife as well as the general ecosystem, including a rare grasslands habitat.

The grandstands would hold 65,000 people even though right now there is a rule prohibiting more than 10,000 people at the park. Additionally, local families who now enjoy leisurely bicycle rides on the old runways (Floyd Bennett Field opened as the city's first municipal airport in 1931) on which the track would be built might be displaced.

It hardly seems worth converting the runways into a high-speed track that is used once a year, but things would quickly get worse if the track were used regularly for major events; there would be greater environmental destruction, and traffic jams on the Belt Parkway (already a living monument to tie-ups) and in surrounding communities would wreak havoc on Brooklyn. The park already plays host to a remote-control airplane field, model train enthusiasts and historic aircraft rehabilitators but these sanctioned hobbyists take up little space and have co-existed peacefully with the natural surroundings. An indoor sports complex will open in the fall and will be infinitely less destructive than a race track, while serving the needs of the community.

Of course, Mr. Newman is waving the proverbial golden carrot in front of the park, promising $1 million annually for the use of the "facility." When did we start referring to parkland as a facility to be commandered by wealthy developers? Why can't this parkland, just like the rest of the 26,000-acre Gateway National Recreation Area to which it belongs, get the same respect as, say, Yosemite or Yellowstone?

Just because Floyd Bennett Field is in New York City doesn't mean it has to be fast-paced. When it was created in 1972 as the nation's first urban national park, the intent was to provide New Yorkers with a national parkland close to home. Floyd Bennett Field's role in the life of Brooklyn is especially vital since it has less parkland than any other borough, even though it's the city's most populous.

A major political fight is garnering headlines over plans for an even bigger racetrack on Staten Island. While opponents there must face off against Nascar's might and a more convoluted political process, Floyd Bennett Field's future ultimately rests with the National Park Service.

I hope that the National Park Service rejects this dreadful plan immediately and decisively. We Brooklynites, especially those of us without country homes to which we can retreat, like Floyd Bennett Field the way it is — a mostly natural, wild and wide open place where we can breathe without choking on exhaust and mislaid plans.

Sharon Seitz is the author of "Big Apple Safari for Families: The Urban Park Rangers' Guide to Nature in New York City."

"Air more Stinky, Kids less Thinky" NY Post 05/30/06

...And still the Yankees want to cut down the 400 mature trees from our Macombs Dam and John Mullaly Park to build a tax-subsidized stadium when they know they can renovate the House That Ruth Built.


By CARL CAMPANILE in New York Post

May 30, 2006 -- EXCLUSIVE

Children exposed to high levels of city air pollution while in the womb are nearly three times more likely to have mental deficiencies than other kids, an explosive Columbia University study has found.

The analysis compared the learning ability of 183 3-year-olds from Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx with the level of pollutants they were exposed to before birth. The moms wore air monitors while they were pregnant, and the kids are being studied over a number of years.

The study found that 42 kids exposed to the highest readings of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in utero - mostly exhaust fumes from cars, buses and trucks, as well as power generators - scored 5.7 points lower on cognitive tests than did kids in the sample who were subjected to lower levels of pollutants. The scores were 6 percent lower than the other kids - but that means the risk of being developmentally disabled for the most-exposed 3-year-olds was 2.9 times greater, because the kids tended to fall below a crucial cutoff score.

Such delays in cognitive development could lead to academic difficulties in literacy and math when the youngsters attend school, the study authors claim.

The researchers said the findings were groundbreaking because they were unaware of any other inquiry linking exposure of pollutants in the womb to the mental development of kids several years later. Prior studies have shown that pollutants can reduce fetal growth.

In-utero exposure to pollutants did not have a significant impact on mental development at ages 1 and 2, the report said, and researchers do not know why it took time for the problems to appear. "This is the first time it's been shown that in-utero exposure to air pollutants is linked to delayed cognitive development at age 3," said chief researcher Dr. Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health. "They had a significant drop in scores."

She added, "These findings are of concern, because compromised mental performance in the preschool years is an important precursor to subsequent educational performance deficits.

The researchers said they enrolled the affected children in state preschool "intervention" programs to help correct the developmental delays they had found. The Columbia study focused on moms and kids in neighborhoods surrounding the university, and most of the participants were black and Latino. But Perera said the results were consistent across the race and gender of the kids.

Environmental advocates have long complained that kids in these neighborhoods suffer from higher rates of asthma because of air pollutants caused by bus and truck traffic.

But Perera said the type of urban air pollutants cited in the study are "very pervasive" throughout much of the city.

The mothers who participated in the study were nonsmokers, and the researchers controlled for secondhand smoke. The moms carried air monitors during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Umbilical-cord blood was also collected during delivery, to be tested for pollutants.

Green Belt Movement by Wangari Maathai (2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner)

Perhaps we can get some insight from overseas:

"The planting of trees is the planting of ideas. By starting with the simple step of digging a hole and planting a tree, we plant hope for ourselves and for future generations. Through the process of mobilizing people to action, GBM (Green Belt Movement) addresses a wide range of issues that directly affect the lives of individuals, particularly women, and their families, including education, access to water, equity, and reproductive health. People then begin to stand up for their rights and those of their communities. It is their empowerment that truly leads them to decide to prioritize the environment, good governance, and cultures of peace."

Wangari Maathai
2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Friday, May 26, 2006

"Extra innings for new Yanks park", MetroNY 5/26/6

Extra innings for new Yanks park
Team said construction would begin this spring, but federal approvals remain out of reach

by patrick arden / metro new york

MAY 26, 2006

SOUTH BRONX — In early April, Yankees president Randy Levine made a prediction on the steps of City Hall.

Flanked by construction workers celebrating City Council approval of the team’s $1.2 billion new stadium plan, Levine vowed construction would begin “this spring.”

But in the words of Yankees great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

As the new stadium’s design has quietly worked its way through the city Art Commission, the Yankees have yet to get the final OK to build on Macombs and Mullaly parks, across the street from the House That Ruth Built.

That plan to use parkland — which met with stiff opposition in the community — still requires a go-ahead from the National Parks Service, which had paid $422,650 for improvements to an 11.2-acre portion of Macombs Dam Park in 1979. Any park receiving federal dollars under the Land and Water Conservation Fund must remain a park in perpetuity, unless it is replaced with parkland of equal value, “usefulness and location,” and “all practical alternatives” have been exhausted.

Wind-up, no pitch

Yesterday National Parks Service LWCF manager Jack Howard was still waiting on the application.

“I don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen,” he said. “We have to make sure everything’s in compliance with our requirements. I’m assuming the state is working with the city to ensure that the information is complete.”

So far, the state has asked the city to get new property appraisals twice. A third set of appraisals is in progress, said Ashe Reardon, a spokesperson for the Parks Dept, to insure these comply with federal appraisal standards.

The city wants to replace the Macombs LCWF parcel with 8.9 acres under the current stadium and 1.15 acres of existing pedestrian walkways. But since that replacement property only equals 10.05 acres -- not the 11.2 acres being taken away -- the city is also including a 5.1-acre lot near the Harlem River. This property is next to the Major Deegan Expressway and not connected to the other parkland.

Slated for a private tennis concession, the riverside parcel is also on a floodplain, according to the second appraisal. Stanley Mayer, whose family-owned business Siegmund Strauss was in the neighboring Bronx Terminal Market, recalled flood waters once reached “three or four inches below” his loading dock. “We were sandbagging with rice bags to keep the water out of our store.”

The state held a public-comment period on the parkland-conversion plan until April 3. Lukas Herbert, an urban planner and member of Community Board 4, wants the state to reopen the comment period because the appraisals weren’t public and the city didn’t provide original LWCF documentation, as required.

Triple play

“The public has to have all the facts, or the comment period is meaningless,” Herbert said. “It’s not an equitable swap, because the replacement parkland is not of equivalent usefulness or location. They’re breaking up the replacement in three parcels — one will have baseball fields in five years, one is going to be a concrete walkway, and one will be tennis courts on the waterfront, where you’ll have to pay a substantial fee. There also was a power generator there — we could be getting contaminated land.”

Yankees spokesperson Alice McGillion said yesterday the team has no groundbreaking date.

“The Yankees tried to intimidate the community by saying they’d break ground any day,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. “They knew this project wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.”

Financing on deck

• The Yankees and the Mets await an IRS ruling on whether they can use $1.4 billion in tax-exempt bonds to finance their new stadiums. “The IRS is still reviewing our request,” said Jorge Montalvo, a spokesman for the city’s Industrial Development Agency, who noted the IRS had also requested more info. A determination is expected in “probably a few months.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

“Collective Action Among Neighborhoods Makes Sense” Norwood News May 18-31, 2006

"Collective Action Among Neighborhoods Makes Sense” Norwood News May 18-31, 2006

from the printed edition in the Letters to the Editor column

The Norwood News was right to encourage community organizations to band together (editorial, April 20 – May 3, 2006). Focusing on the lopsided Council vote for the Yankee Stadium project, it’s easy to see how such cooperation would have produced a different result.

The key to understanding the City Council vote is protocol. The City Council doesn’t have time to debate all projects taking place in every district, so they follow the lead of the local Council member. Since Maria del Carmen Arroyo, in whose district the stadium will be situated, favored it, so did the Bronx delegation. And if the delegation favored it, so did the whole Council!

If a Council member were to violate protocol and vote their conscience, they would jeopardize their own chances of getting goods and services for their own districts. The only way that they can go against a local Council member is pressure from their own constituents. The way to bring this about is to have community organizations working together.

When plans were announced to build the Jets Stadium in Queens, taking a part of Flushing Meadows Park, Mayor Bloomberg quickly scuttled this idea, saying that the people would not want to give up their parks. Yankee Stadium opponents asked, “Why do you back down in Queens and not in the Bronx?”Two answers are the Queens Civic Congress and the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces. The first of these is an umbrella for over 100 community groups and the second, an umbrella for 416 parks organizations. With Queens so well organized and united, Bloomberg knew that a ferocious fight, which he could lose, would ensue, along with his chances for a second term.

Noting this development, The Ravens-Friends of Poe Park became the first Bronx group to endorse and support Save Our Parks’ battle against the new Yankee Stadium. Together, the groups gained the support of For a Better Bronx and the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality.

Attempts were made to secure the support of groups outside the Bronx. In Brooklyn, Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and the Prospect Heights Alliance gave enormous help and provided the necessary constituent base for Letitia James and Charles Barron to vote against the project. Save Our Parks also received the endorsement of the Queens Civic Congress and the Queens Coalition for Parks & Green Spaces. Although articles against sacking the parks began to appear in Queens newspapers, and some lobbying took place, time ran out before a more effective campaign could be mounted.

With these examples as encouraging precedents, there are two obstacles that must be surmounted to get communities working together: The first is overcoming parochialism. Community groups have created boundaries beyond which they refuse to act even though it would be in their interest to do so, since what happens next door today could happen in their backyards tomorrow. When parks are stolen in Highbridge, any park could be next. Community organizations must start thinking of them selves as citizens of New York City rather than of Bedford Park, Bensonhurst or Flushing.

The second problem: community organizations fear alienating their local politicians who facilitate action from city agencies and help secure city contracts. This problem cannot be exaggerated. Bronx organizations refused to condemn the stadium project even though their members overwhelmingly opposed it because of the fear of losing grants. Instead of the politicians fearing the voters, it’s the voters fearing their elected officials. Community groups must be encouraged by the courageous stand of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality and For a Better Bronx. Obviously, if more organizations stand together, the dependency on the good will of a particular politician will evaporate.

There are three initial ways in which community groups can start working together: 1) press for action in the City Council on an issue for which support would be overwhelming, such as a law prohibiting the use of parks for private development; 2) unite to fight actions which affect everyone, such as MTA’s desire to close all token booths; 3) get a community organization to step forth and invite representatives from all Bronx community groups to come together under one roof and start organizing an association modeled after the Queens Civic Congress. Such an organization would be powerful in its own right and could easily form citywide alliances.

Working together citywide, community organizations will make the people major players in decisions which affect their lives and make New York City a better place to live in the future.

John Rozankowski
Bedford Park

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"Taking Away Parks – An Alarming Trend" New Yorkers for Parks 03/10/06

Taking Away Parks – An Alarming Trend
by Allison Farina of New Yorkers for Parks, March 10, 2006

What is Parkland Alienation?
Parkland alienation is a fancy term to describe the legal mechanism by which a public park ceases to be used as such. In New York State, courts define parkland alienation as the use of parkland for non-park purposes.

In many ways this procedure of decommissioning a park is every park advocate’s nightmare. One moment a green safe-haven exists in which city dwellers can delight, and the next moment this public place of assembly, expression and rejuvenation is gone for use as something else such as a parking lot, office building or industrial composting facility.

Sometimes a park is taken for another public purpose (water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx) and other times the new use involves a private profit-making venture (new Yankee Stadium in Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks, Bronx). We may agree or disagree about whether the new use is necessary or valuable to society but the common denominator in each instance is a net loss of parkland to the public.

The Public Trust Doctrine
What are park goers to do when a beloved park, beach, playground or natural area is threatened by parkland alienation? There is a reassuring ring to something called the Public Trust Doctrine that is supposed to guard against these public condemnations with its theory that certain lands and parks are held in trust for people and posterity. Its legal origin dates back centuries, from England and before that, Rome. Despite its long existence, in a perpetually evolving city like New York, more is needed to combat the ever-expanding sports franchises and notions of eminent domain. New York, and especially New York City, needs more clarity, a more public process and guaranteed restitution in order for The Public Trust Doctrine to live up to its name and legacy.

Without legal reform of parkland alienation it will be nearly impossible to protect our priceless resource from disappearing. With little certainty under the law, no mandatory mitigation and even less public discourse surrounding the taking of a park, protecting it is a difficult thing to do.

New Yorkers For Parks’ Involvement with Parkland Alienation
New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P) is the only independent watchdog for all the City’s parks, beaches and playgrounds. Through our continued leadership in research, policies and partnerships, we raise awareness of the importance of parks to communities and affect changes to the parks system to increase its resources and efficiency. Our goal is to drive effective solutions that ensure greener, cleaner, safer parks for today and for future generations.

For nearly 100 years, NY4P and its predecessor organizations have looked to promote and protect parkland. In fact, our immediate predecessor organization, The Parks Council, was plaintiff in a lawsuit concerning the siting of a water filtration plant within Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. In 1999, and after a long battle, the New York Court of Appeals strengthened The Public Trust Doctrine in ruling that the City indeed needed State Legislative Approval if it wanted to proceed with constructing a filtration plant within the park. The Parks Council used a reactive approach – suing -- to obtain this partial victory. In 2004, our organization became more proactive in trying to identify and track which parks were being officially, and unofficially, alienated. We found that many parks are being siphoned off for another use by the city or private entity. Most recently NY4P has opposed the Yankee Stadium plan since public discourse on the matter occurred well after Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks were alienated and because of insufficient mitigation issues.

Parks should be the last place we look to condemn. Unfortunately, it is the cheapest available land in our shrinking city. NY4P believes the only way to slow down the loss of parkland is to pass laws that ensure an open dialogue with the community before a park is alienated, require mitigation for the lost public good and provide clear guidelines as to what is a proper and temporary park use. We hope to bring together a committee of legal experts in a working group to assure maximum effectiveness of any future proposed legislation.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Washington Sq. Park to memorialize Jane Jacobs, event 05/23/06

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"White House Policies Divert Funds from National Parks" 05/20/03

White House Policies Divert Funds from National Parks
by J.R. Pegg, Published on Tuesday, May 20, 2003 by

WASHINGTON - Environmentalists say the Bush administration is forcing the National Park Service to cut millions of dollars in needed repair and rehabilitation projects in order to pay for homeland security and to pay for studying the privatization of some 1,700 agency jobs.

A memo from the budget officer of the park service's Pacific West Region details that some 28 percent of funds earmarked for rehabilitation of facilities in the region's six states is being diverted for "anti-terrorism activities and competitive sourcing studies."

The park service has an estimated maintenance backlog of some $5 billion--twice the total of the agency's annual funding.

According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which obtained and released the memo, needed maintenance projects are being sacrificed for the security and outsourcing programs, including an asbestos abatement projected in Yosemite, seismic safety rehabilitation for 18 buildings in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the upgrade of the sewage lagoon at Crater Lakes National Park.

Environmentalists say similar diversions of park maintenance and repair projects are occurring throughout the country.

Funding homeland security is one issue, but the studies to support privatizing park service jobs is something completely different, says attorney Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER.

The administration, which aims to review the prospect for outsourcing as many as 850,000 federal jobs across the government, has asked the park service to study 1,700 jobs by next year. The studies are intended to help determine if it would be more cost-effective to outsource these positions to private contractors, but the administration has not given the agency the $2.5-to-$3 million these studies are estimated to cost.

"This is a quota-based ideological drive to replace civil servants with private contractors, regardless of the cost to the public, the park service or the national assets it protects," Ruch said.

Ruch--and many other environmentalists--worry that the Bush administration is trying to politicize the park service by privatizing its workforce.

Employees hired by a private contractor, environmentalists say, would be less likely to put the interests of the national parks first.

"The national parks should be protected by mission-driven public servants," said Craig Obey, vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

There is a role for outsourcing, Obey contends, but the Bush administration is trying to privatize people in science and resource positions, a move that would blur the line between politics and the mission of Park Service employees.

These current outsourcing studies are a waste of money, Obey said, and the exercise "demoralizes the people who are there now."

David Barna, the chief of the National Park Service's Office of Communications, says this is an "over-reaction" to continued study of a practice now familiar to the agency.

Some 20,000 of the 45,000 individuals who help manage the National Park Service work for private contractors, said Barna, a 28-year veteran of the agency.

"This is not new to us," Barna said. "We are looking at opportunities to save the public some money. Most of these are not even specific park jobs."

There is concern about the effect of the studies on the workforce, he said, but given budget cuts and limited funds, the agency has to learn to do "less with less."

Barna acknowledged that the park service has been tasked with finding $2.5-to-$3 million to pay for outsourcing studies, but stressed that homeland security is a heavier burden.

"Homeland security was the big ticket item, not the outsourcing," Brana said, adding that each day the nation is under the Homeland's Code Orange alert, the agency must pay an additional $66,500 in security costs.

Shifting scarce resources to cover shifting priorities and needs is commonplace at the park service, which has growing responsibilities in the wake of shrinking resources. In addition to the $5 billion in maintenance backlog, the park service is in dire need of increased operating funds.

On average, U.S. national parks are operating with only two-thirds of the needed funding, according to the NPCA.

Conservationists say the diversion of funds for outsourcing studies underscores the Bush administration's indifference to the future of the National Park Service system and is a symptom of the President's hostility toward protecting the nation's natural resources.

During his election campaign, George W. Bush pledged to eliminate the $4.9 billion maintenance backlog at the national parks by 2006. Since he took office, Bush has proposed only an additional $366 million for maintenance.

The administration's proposed budget for the National Park Service is $2.4 billion, only $8.3 million above the 2003 request.

Forcing the park service to use much needed maintenance funds to fund the outsourcing studies shows that the administration's priorities are "sorely out of whack," said Obey.

Some 25 former high-level National Park Service staffers registered similar sentiments with the administration in a letter sent today to President Bush and Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

In their letter, the former career National Park Service employees ask the President to end "this unprecedented attack on America's park lands."

They say the Bush administration's clean air policies will worsen the air quality of the nation's parks and that its public lands policies threaten the boundaries and biodiversity of parks. The administration is willing to shut the public out of the parks management in favor of resource extraction, the former park service employees say, and it is eager to turn over management to the private sector.

"I worked for four Republican Presidents and two Democrats and during the course of that career, never have I witnessed such an ideological war on the natural resource laws, policies or practices or institutions," Mike Finley, former superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, said in a speech today. "Even our national parks are not safe from this assault."

Finley spoke on behalf of the former park service staffers who signed the letter and asked that the administration's policies affecting the national parks get "the same scrutiny that Enron, Worldcom, Monica Lewinski or Whitewater received."

"After all, natural security is national security," Finley said.

Copyright 2003


Source: Common Dreams

MAY 20, 2003

CONTACT: National Parks Conservation Association
Kate Himot, 202-454-3311
Ronald J. Tipton, 202-454-3915

Privatization Imperils National Parks, Says National Parks Conservation Association

WASHINGTON - May 20 - Following is a statement by Ronald J. Tipton, senior vice president, programs, National Parks Conservation Association, on the Bush administration's privatization plan for the National Park Service:

The Bush administration's privatization plan for the National Park Service will neither benefit our treasured national parks nor improve NPS efficiency or effectiveness. And it is not designed with the type of quality control and oversight that a private enterprise would demand when making a similar decision. Instead, it could result in the dismantling of an institution acclaimed by the American public as the guardian of our natural and cultural heritage.

National Park Service Director Fran P. Mainella has warned that privatization could have a substantial negative effect on the diversity of the Park Service workforce, on the experience of Americans who visit the parks, on the Park Service budget and on the taxpayers who must pay millions to "study" jobs for privatization. Finding the necessary funding to study Park Service jobs for privatization will even reduce the availability of seasonal rangers who serve the American public every summer.

In times like these, when Americans are trying to reconnect with the history that our national parks preserve, we should not simply discard historians, archaeologists, museum curators, interpreters, maintenance workers, and architects and place their responsibilities in the hands of the lowest bidder. Decisions to outsource any position at a national park should be primarily the prerogative of the park superintendent and should be based only on the best interests of the parks themselves.

For the sake of our national treasures, the Park Service should be exempt from participation in the new privatization mandate. This is important to ensure the quality of visitors' experience, and to protect the parks themselves for future generations.

NPCA-Protecting Parks for Future Generations(r) Founded in 1919, the National Parks Conservation Association is America's only private, nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated solely to protecting, preserving, and enhancing the National Park System. Today, NPCA has more than 300,000 members. A library of national park information, including fact sheets, congressional testimony, position statements, and press releases, can be found on NPCA's Web site at

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"To Revitalize a City, Try Spreading Some Mulch" NY Times 05/17/06

To Revitalize a City, Try Spreading Some Mulch
By KEITH SCHNEIDER in NY Times on May 17, 2006


IN many ways, this city's current fortunes are all about mulch. It's everywhere. Bark mulch is spread in neat circles around the city's trees; roughly 30,000 new trees are planted annually. Darker leaf mulch fills planters along State, Dearborn, Michigan and the other major thoroughfares now blooming in spring colors.

Mulch adorns 70 miles of green medians that have been sown over the last decade with native flowers, grasses and bushes. It's spread on the gardens and open spaces now required by the city to accompany new homes, stores and office buildings. And it sits on many of the energy-saving green roofs of 200 buildings.

But even more than its soil-enriching, moisture-conserving utility, mulch is an organic metaphor, tying together the various pieces of Chicago's novel development strategy, praised by the Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce alike. By wrapping its arms and famous big shoulders around its Latin motto — Urbs in Horto (City in a Garden) — Chicago has become a global model for how a metropolis can pursue environmental goals to achieve economic success.

During the last decade, the city's performance, measured in virtually every conventional category of civic well-being, has been off the charts, local boosters say. Chicago attracted more than 100,000 new residents, added tens of thousands of downtown jobs, prompted a high-rise housing boom, reduced poverty rates, built thousands of affordable homes, spurred a $9-billion-a-year visitor and convention industry, and transformed itself into one of the most beautiful cities in America.

The generator of Chicago's mulch is Richard M. Daley, the unorthodox and popular Democratic mayor who took office in 1989 vowing to replant the urban forest of his youth that was lost to Dutch elm disease and other blights. At the time, the pledge raised the eyebrows of supporters and critics, who chalked up the mayor's love for trees to his birth on Arbor Day in 1942.

The tree planting, though, evolved over Mr. Daley's five terms into a much more sophisticated understanding of the benefits — including to the city's treasury — of conserving resources, saving energy, expanding parks, constructing environmentally sensitive buildings, reducing the amount of storm water, restoring wetlands, generating renewable energy and doing everything feasible to heal instead of harm the city's natural systems.

Over the years, Mayor Daley's plan to turn his hometown into the "greenest city in America" has ceased to be an unusual experiment in revitalization. Instead it is seen by urban policy specialists as an effective response to the rapidly changing expectations that business executives and residents, especially young professionals, have for cities.

"It's not so much about saving the world," Sadhu Johnston, the 31-year-old environment commissioner for Chicago, said in an interview. "It's more about using green technology to save $4 million here, or earn $10 million there, and make the city better by doing that."

The breadth and diversity of Mayor Daley's environmental and economic pursuits, one idea connecting and supporting the next, mimic natural systems. Take Mr. Daley's fondness for mulch. It's useless unless it gets spread.

That falls to people like Christy Webber, a landscape contractor who has turned Chicago's devotion to lawns, gardens, planters, parks and green roofs into a $13-million-a-year business and one of the city's fastest-growing small companies. "By planting more gardens, the mayor encouraged new businesses to grow," said Ms. Webber, whose company, Christy Webber Landscapes, has helped install many of Chicago's important new gardens.

Ms. Webber, who is 44 and was raised in a working-class family outside Flint, Mich., started her company in 1990, the year after Mr. Daley was elected. Her company's development closely tracks the mayor's evolution of environmentalism as an economic plan.

The Daley administration has planted 500,000 trees, is putting up the most energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive municipal buildings in the country, has agreed to provide developers with much faster permits if they construct green buildings, instituted a $600-million-a-year program to repair neighborhoods and city parks, promised to obtain 20 percent of the electricity used by the city from clean and renewable sources, and converted hundreds of abandoned and contaminated properties into new businesses.

Mr. Daley's commitment is praised by the city's environmental leaders, although they note that there are gaps in the green program — including the presence of two big state-licensed coal-burning power plants that operate without modern air-pollution controls.

"The mayor took the idea of green and has become increasingly serious," said Scott Bernstein, the founder of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a research and policy organization that earlier this year earned "platinum" designation from the U.S. Green Building Council — the nation's highest environmental rating — for the renovation of the center's West Side office. "If you compare where the city was when Daley first came into office and where the city is now, it's night and day."

Nobody in or out of the Daley administration, including the mayor, knows exactly when environmental sensitivity became central to Chicago's development strategy. Ms. Webber is convinced that the moment came in 1996 when Mr. Daley began spending on a citywide beautification program to impress the delegates and the media who were attending the Democratic National Convention that year.

City crews cleared abandoned buildings in the West Side neighborhoods surrounding the United Center, the convention site. Mr. Daley accelerated bush and flower planting, hung flowering pots from new period street lamps and promoted neighborhood gardens.

The sparkling appearance turned heads. Mayor Daley and his green initiative rose to national and international prominence. In 2001, Boeing moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago, partly because the company's executives said they wanted to live there. That same year Mr. Daley built a green roof on City Hall.

Ms. Webber rode the green wave to contracts to cut, plant, mulch, install and maintain enough gardens and parks to employ over 100 people. Her revenue increased to $2 million in 1998, and $6.8 million in 2003. In 2004, Inc. Magazine said she and her squad of workers were the 54th fastest growing "inner city" company in America. This year Ms. Webber is scheduled to move the company to a new green headquarters designed by Farr Associates, the most prominent of the city's growing cadre of ecologically sensitive architects.

"After the convention, business just took off," said Ms. Webber, whose building is going up on the reclaimed site where the 1996 West Side demolition debris was dumped. "And it hasn't stopped."

Indeed, when the results of the 2000 census were published, the magnitude of Chicago's transformation became clear. The city population increased by 112,000 people, the first time that happened since the 1940's. Just as striking was the resurgence of Chicago's downtown neighborhoods, which grew by 16,000 residents during the 1990's, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program. The city's median income increased 12.6 percent in the 1990's, 2 percent higher than the median incomes of the state or the six-county metropolitan region. With the new wealth, Ms. Webber and others here assert that Mr. Daley's crowning achievement is Millennium Park, a 24.5-acre, $475 million expanse of lawn, wild-grass prairie, sculpture and gardens that joins the fast-growing neighborhoods along Michigan Avenue.

Ms. Webber helped install the turf and gardens, but says she lost money on the project because of constant design changes. Mr. Daley, who also encountered turmoil, dedicated the park in July 2004 amid criticism about delays and the cost, which was three times the original estimate.

Hardly anybody is still complaining. Landscape architects say the park set a new standard for design. Environmental leaders note that it showcases some green technologies, especially because it is the largest green roof in the world. Millennium Park is above an underground parking garage and ribbons of old Illinois Central track, which for more than a century separated the South Loop from the lakeshore.

Mr. Daley and his staff say that the park provides more evidence of the value of pursuing green goals. A market study commissioned by the city found that the park attracts nearly four million visitors annually, was responsible for encouraging at least 25 percent of the 10,000 units of new housing under construction or planned in neighborhoods nearby, and increased hotel, restaurant, shopping and entertainment sales by $190 million a year.

Chicago is currently the host for an exposition, Garden in a City, set in an adjoining park. The show, which opened on May 13, is expected to attract tens of thousands of home owners and landscape professionals before it closes this Sunday. On display are plants that thrive in cities, with demonstrations on how to decorate bungalow backyards and build beautiful plazas. Ms. Webber prepared an exhibition to showcase her company's work. No surprise, the event also features beds of mulch.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"Get Your Park Perks for Less" NY Post 05/11/06

Hey, you forgot to mention Macombs Dam and John Mullay Park in the Bronx which is flanked by Art Deco housing along Jerome and River Avenues. The area is near the House-That-Ruth-Built. Unfortunately both the 22-acre centralized park and historic ballfield are under threat of being eliminated for Steinbrenner’s taxpayer-subsidized new stadium.

BY JANET HUEGE in NY Post, May 11, 2006

May 11, 2006 -- THINK you have to spend a fortune for a park view? Can't afford Central Park or Gramercy Park? Getting the park perks you're looking for could be as simple as picking another park.

But those views and that grass often don't come cheap. Properties with views of Central Park can start at $800,000 (a 400-square-foot studio on Central Park South) and go as high as $70 million (Pierre Hotel penthouse at 795 Fifth Ave.). Gramercy Park is pricey, too, with the low end at $625,000 (a 450-square-foot studio on Gramercy Park South) and the high end reaching $16 million (duplex penthouse at 50 Gramercy Park North).

But the city is full of other great parks: Stuyvesant Square Park, Seward Park, Tompkins Square, Fort Greene Park and Pelham Bay Park are five alternatives that offer lots of green for less.

"People love the sense of community that a park view gives them - no matter what park it is," says Corcoran Group senior vice president Glenn Schiller, who notes that park-side property values are always on the up and up. "And if you can pay less for that feeling, it feels even better."

Pelham Bay Park, located in the northeast corner of The Bronx, is the largest public park in New York City. At 2,764 acres, it's three times the size of Central Park. The area was part of the 50,000 acres purchased in the 17th century from the Siwanoy Indians by Thomas Pell.

Today, the park includes two golf courses, a miniature golf course, a driving range, a stable, tennis courts and baseball diamonds.

The park borders the neighborhoods of Country Club and Pelham Bay. Most of the homes with park views are brick-and-frame detached houses sitting on lots that are 3,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet.

There are also many smaller semidetached homes that sit on 2,500-square-foot lots.
Overall, most of these homes have been renovated and include amenities like formal dining rooms, driveways, porches and basements. Prices range from $500,000 to $725,000.

In addition, "There are a handful of mid-rise apartment buildings built in the 1930s to 1940s which have park views on the upper floors," says Prudential Kafcos Realty associate broker Phyllis Basilone. "There are also some multi-family homes with views that have rentals as well."

One-bedroom rentals average $950, two-bedrooms rentals are $1,200 to $1,300, and three-bedroom rentals average $1,500 a month

Bordered by Essex Street, Canal Street and East Broadway, the three acres of land that are Seward Park (named after former Secretary of State William Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska) were acquired in 1897. Seward Park is the site of the first municipally built playground in the United States, which was constructed in 1903.

"The area still has a lot of old-timers, including Chinese and Jewish immigrants," says Manhattan Apartments saleswoman Melissa Giordano.

The United Housing Federation built the Seward Park Co-ops in 1957. Today, 500-square-foot studios there cost $300,000 to $350,000. One-bedrooms, which average 850 square feet, cost between $450,000 and $520,000; 1,100-square-foot two bedrooms go for $575,000 to $725,000, and 1,250-square-foot to 1,300-square-foot three-bedrooms are $775,000 to $1 million. Amenities include 24-hour security guards, parking, a gym and a laundry room.

Not surprisingly, the cost of living near Seward Park is significantly less than Central Park or Gramercy Park. With the influx of luxury condos in the Lower East Side, however, that gap is decreasing.

The Forward Building at 175 East Broadway, built in 1910, was home to the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper. When the renovation of the building is complete this summer, the 10-story building will have 29 luxury apartments ranging from $575,000 to $4.5 million.

Another condo elevating Seward Park's prices and reputation is 7 Essex St., a new building with luxury lofts.

"Today, nothing in 7 Essex is below $1.5 million," Shemesh says, "and the triplex penthouse is $3.5 million."

Bordered by Avenue A, Avenue B, East Seveth Street and East 10th Street, the 10.5-acre park named after former Vice President and New York Governor Daniel Tompkins was designated a public park in 1878.

The properties with park views are largely rentals, although there is a particularly well-known condo.

Most of the rentals are archetypal East Village walk-ups, which means they are usually small and oddly shaped, with the occasional bathtub in the kitchen.
"The average price of a typical East Village one-bedroom rental is $2,300 a month," says Corcoran Group senior associate broker Paul Gavriani. "However, something with a park view will cost you more, running between $2,650 and $2,900."

The Christodora House at 143 Avenue B is one of Tompkins Square Park's most well-known addresses. The 17-story doorman building built in 1928 was converted to condos in 1986. One-bedrooms range from 650 square feet to 850 square feet and run from $650,000 to $850,000. Two-bedrooms, which rarely become available, average $1.6 million for 1,100 square feet.

Painter Dustin Horowitz, 32, has lived in three different studios in five years in the Christodora House.

"It's not like Central Park where tons of people have that view," he says. "Only a handful of people see what I see."

Brooklyn's first park, Fort Greene Park is a 30-acre green oasis built in 1847 at the urging of poet Walt Whitman. Famed Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux redesigned the park in 1864.

The park, bordered by Myrtle Avenue to the north, Saint Edwards Street to the west, Dekalb Avenue to the south and Washington Park to the east, currently houses tennis and basketball courts, playgrounds and a weekly Saturday greenmarket.

The buildings that have park views are predominantly townhouses, though there is a high-rise condo two blocks from the park that offers views on the upper floors.
The townhouses, built in the mid- to late 1880s, are primarily Italian in style and are mostly four stories. They range from 17 feet to 22 feet wide. Prices start around $1.5 million and can go as high as $2.5 million.

The Greene House, a new high-end condo located at the corner of Carlton and Greene avenues, was completed in October 2005. Building amenities include a fitness area, a daytime concierge and parking. A 755-square-foot one-bedroom goes for $549,000; a 1,735-square-foot two-bedroom is $799,000, and a 999-square-foot two-bedroom with 1,208 square feet of private outdoor space is $899,000.

New housing stock is coming to the area in the nearby Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building. The tallest building in Brooklyn at 512 feet, is being converted into condos, which are expected to be ready next year.

Given to the city in 1836 by Peter Stuyvesant, former governor of New Amsterdam, Stuyvesant Square Park is bisected by Second Avenue and hemmed by 15th and 17th streets. Many buildings in the park date back to the 1850s and 1860s.

"The condos with park views are mostly prewar walk-ups," says Prudential Douglas Elliman executive vice president Tamir Shemesh.

One-bedrooms that range from 700 square feet to 800 square feet run $650,000 to $775,000, and 1,400-square-foot two-bedrooms start at $1.5 million, according to Shemesh.

And there are three new condo conversions with park views. Landmark 17 at 233 E. 17th St. is a five-story Victorian Gothic building constructed in 1877. The two- to four-bedroom loft-like units range from $1.7 million to $4.8 million.

"For what you get, it's still cheaper than Central Park and Gramercy," Shemesh says.
Rutherford Place at 305 Second Ave., originally built as the Lying-In Hospital in 1899, now offers 122 multi-level units going for $500,000 to $3 million. The Abbey Condominiums at 205 E. 16th St., originally built in 1888 as a church parish, feature stained glass in studios to four-bedrooms that are around $1 million to $4 million.

THE GREENE HOUSE: $549K to $899K
Two two-bedrooms and one one-bedroom unit are on the market. Agent: Jerry Minsky, the Corcoran Group (718) 210-4010.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

"Trees Won't Grow in Brooklyn" NY Post 05/13/06

Different borough, same dumb taxpayer-subsidized boondoggles destroying our neighborhoods.

NY Post's Letters to the Editor

May 13, 2006 -- THE ISSUE: A Brooklyn group's opposition to Bruce Ratner's plan to develop Prospect Heights.

Contrary to Andrea Peyser's latest diatribe, thousands of lifelong Brooklynites oppose Bruce Ratner's 24- acre land grab ("Celebrity Moles Boro-ing Under B'klyn's Hopes," May 9).

Did it make Peyser feel good to imply that their views somehow belittle poor Tajmere Clark's murder?

And that hypodermic needle trick has already been done by Ratner's p.r. team. Doesn't Peyser have any new ideas up her sleeve?

Maybe she resorted to those ugly tactics because she knows the Ratner boondoggle can't stand up to the slightest criticism, let alone real public scrutiny.

If hate wins the day, Ratner has an invaluable ally in Peyser.

If common sense and the democratic process win, she and Ratner are both in big trouble.
Jezra Kaye


I rent in the giant footprint of Ratner's plan.

Ratner's architect, Frank Gehry, boasts that this is his chance to "create a neighborhood from scratch."

Memo to Gehry: The neighborhood is already here. I live in it, and so do 15,000 others.

We live here because we want to, and we think it's beautiful.

While I don't share Peyser's contemptuous take on Prospect Heights, I do agree that movie stars, who know the neighborhood even less than she does, look pretty foolish as pop-up Jane Jacobses.
Kris Hackett


Peyser's venomous and utterly misinformed article warps reality and defrauds her readers - but that's her stock in trade.

Just one paragraph of lies shows that her column's best use is as fish wrap.

Twenty-six of our 33 board members live within walking distance of the proposed project.

Most have lived in Brooklyn for decades, contributing to its evolution through journalism, fiction-writing, filmmaking, art, architecture, design, music, acting, firefighting, education, publishing, preservation, business, religion, politics, activism and civic leadership.

The remaining seven are experts in issues related to Ratner's proposed plan.

The project, which includes 16 towers and an arena, proposes abusing eminent domain and taking homes, businesses and city streets in the midst of five thriving, low-rise, historic residential neighborhoods.
Daniel Goldstein
Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Friday, May 12, 2006

"S.I. pols wave red flag at NASCAR proposal" NY Daily News 05/11/06

What happened? During the campaign to save our centralized Macombs Dam and Mullaly Park from being paved over with concrete for the new Yankee Stadium, the Staten Island council members were publicly in favor of building NASCAR and therefore voted against our community and ignored our concerns about traffic, tax subsidies for 5,000 garage spaces that will be used only 81 days a year, pollution in an area with record asthma rates, and the lost of our beloved House-That-Ruth-Built. Are people across our great city now realizing that all of these taxpayer-subsidized mega projects are linked? Bronx's Yankee Stadium of seized public parkland, Brooklyn's Ratner Atlantic Yards condemning whole neighorhoods, and now Staten Island's NASCAR.

S.I. pols wave red flag at NASCAR proposal


Not so fast NASCAR!

All three Staten Island Council members banded yesterday against a plan to build a NASCAR track on a former oil tank farm near the Goethals Bridge.

Their united front could signal a flag of doom for the project, which would require City Council approval. Generally, the rest of the Council heeds the wishes of the affected borough's delegation.

Democrat Michael McMahon announced yesterday that he wouldn't vote for the track and called it "finished."

His two Republican colleagues - James Oddo and Andrew Lanza - also oppose the project.

Meanwhile, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) sent Mayor Bloomberg a letter urging him to take a closer look at the controversial NASCAR track proposal.

But the project's lobbyist, Guy Molinari, insisted the $500 million plan to build a NASCAR track and a shopping plaza will move forward.

"We want to take our case to the people," said Molinari, Staten Island's Republican kingmaker during long stints as borough president and a congressman.

The site is owned by the International Speedway Corp. with NASCAR and the Related Cos., a development firm headed by Stephen Ross, a friend and former business partner of Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, who oversees economic development for Bloomberg.

The mayor acknowledged the NASCAR proposal "is obviously a controversial issue on Staten Island," and that it would have serious traffic impact, even if the track is to be used only three weekends a year.

"We should look honestly at what the opportunities and what the costs are of every economic development project," Bloomberg said. "And that's what we've got to focus on."

With Michael Saul

Originally published on May 11, 2006

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Olympic Sites Become Topic Of Hot Debate" The Sun, 5/11/6

Here's is the juicy bit (click the title for the complete article):

Critics say it is wrong to give credit for the city's booming growth to the failed Olympics bid. Pointing to the approval of plans for new Yankees and Mets stadia, the proposed Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and a mall at the site of the Bronx Terminal Market, critics say that an Olympics obsession led the Bloomberg administration to negotiate development terms that were overly generous to private developers.

The author of the Web site, Brian Hatch, an advocate of the Olympics who has been critical of the Bloomberg administration's bid, said most of the development on or near the planned Olympics venues would have happened anyway in today's booming development environment. Instead, he said, the administration's rabid interest in the Olympic sites had a negative effect for taxpayers.

"The deals got better for the developer in most instances," Mr. Hatch said.

Last year, the Bloomberg administration negotiated a deal with a developer, the Related Companies, to acquire a Harlem River waterfront site slated to house an Olympic velodrome. The administration pushed hard for the approval of the developer's project - a shopping center - over the objections of local tenants and some government watchdogs who said the city was giving away too much.

Watchdog groups also criticized the amount of city and state subsidies that are being handed out to build new homes for the Yankees and Mets, charging that the cost to taxpayers outweighs the potential economic benefit. Mr. Hatch pointed out that the mayor announced his backing of both projects, which were to house Olympic events, as the city was waiting for a decision from the International Olympic Committee.

"They got a big boost, and then there were months before anyone questioned them," he said.

"This is an administration that wanted to come in and do real estate deals," Mr. Hatch said. "It's sad that the bid failed. Real estate came first."

Monday, May 08, 2006

"Stars team up to stop Nets arena in Brooklyn" MetroNY 05/08/06

All these mega projects in the Bronx (new Yankee Stadium on seized public parkland), Brooklyn (Ratner's Nets Arena), and Queens (new Mets Stadium), and Staten Island (NASCAR raceway) are the result of top-down decisions made possible by massive taypayer subsidies that finance roughly 40% of these billionaire boondoggles. At every turn the communities' concerns and their alternative plans are being ignored with lies such as "there are no alternatives" and "this is good for the city." We, the taxpayers of New York City - and even NY State- need to realize that encouraging corporate welfare is the not answer to address the concerns of housing, unemployment, pollution, traffic, and failing schools.

Stars team up to stop Nets arena in Brooklyn

by amy zimmer / metro new york

MAY 8, 2006

BROOKLYN — The stage is set for a star-studded showdown over developer Bruce Ratner’s plans for a $3.5 billion basketball arena and high-rises in Prospect Heights and Fort Greene.

In the corner of the New Jersey Nets — the team that would play in the new Frank Gehry-designed structure — is rapper Jay-Z, a part-owner of the team. In the other corner are actors and Brooklyn residents Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Rosie Perez and Steve Buscemi and novelists Jonathan Safron Foer and Jonathan Lethem.

Author Jhumpa Lahiri called Fort Greene “a vibrant, historic neighborhood that has been steadily growing and improving from within; the last thing it needs is to be so radically altered in the name of development.”

The cadre of 33 celebs, academics and architects were brought together by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn to form a high-powered advisory board for the anti-Ratner group.

The board members “will have a level of involvement from lending names to pushing us to have parties, benefits,” according to Daniel Goldstein, DDDB’s spokesman, starting with a June 3 fundraising performance by family entertainer Dan Zanes.

“Not that this issue is as dire as something like the Sudan,” Goldstein said, “but in a similar way, with celebrities using their names for this, it begins to attract attention to something important.”

Literary landmark

• Letham’s novel “Fortress of Solitude” prominently features the Underberg Building — one of the Ratner-owned properties in the footprint recently demolished by the developer to make way for the project.

Friday, May 05, 2006

"13 Stadium Renovation Plans Later, Yankees Are Still Dissatisfied" NY Times 03/09/95

As we mentioned on the 4/23 and 4/28 blog entries, the NY Yankees had lusted after our centralized park, Macombs Dam & John Mullaly Park, for decades. This NY Times article from 1995 reveals that George Steinbrenner declined 13 stadium renovation plans from the architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassbaum (HOK). A few years later in 1998, then Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer had the architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle design a better plan. Titled "Safe at Home" it met the needs of a modern sports stadium and the surrounding community, but nothing satisfied greedy Steinbrenner.

13 Stadium Renovation Plans Later, Yankees Are Still Dissatisfied

By Richard Sandomir in NYTimes March 9, 1995

Several weeks after city officials presented their latest plan to renovate Yankee Stadium, a top team official has suggested that it may be impossible to rebuild the historic stadium in a way that would satisfy the team’s principal owner, George M. Steinbrenner 3rd.

The city’s current plan, a $600 million proposal, would provide new highway ramps and garages to make it easier for drivers to reach and park at the stadium and would include entertainment attractions, retail shops and restaurants.

But in a recent interview, David Sussman, the Yankees’ executive vice president and general counsel, questioned whether it would be enough. “Can any structure or renovation ever satisfy the demands of the mid-90s,” he asked, “consistent with other state-of-the-art facilities around the country?”

Mr. Sussman’s comments may be a sign from Mr. Steinbrenner that if he stays in New York City, it would most likely be in a modern new ballpark on the West Side of Manhattan. Otherwise, he could cross the Hudson River for a site in New Jersey. Mr. Steinbrenner has not commented publicly on the latest plan.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s policy, for now, is to keep the Yankees in the South Bronx. For nearly two years, the city and the team have tried to forge a plan to renovate Yankee Stadium and its environs to satisfy the team’s desires for greater revenue, additional parking and better access from the highways.

Last month, an architect unveiled the city’s 13th refinement of its design, calling for new ramps from the Major Deegan Expressway, a third bridge across the Harlem River and new garages that would combine with existing garages to flank the stadium with parking on three sides.

The new garages would force playing fields and a track to move from Macombs Dam Park north to sites along River Avenue and west to a waterfront parking area.

Vollmer Associates, a consultant hired by Mr. Steinbrenner, is evaluating the traffic-management aspects of the plan and is expected to report soon. Asked whether the city would further redesign its plan to satisfy the Yankees, Mr. Sussman said: “You’re assuming there will be a further plan. The city may say they’ve done all they can.”

Forrest Taylor, a mayoral spokesman, said redesigns would be commissioned from the architect. Hellmuth, Obata & Kassbaum, “as long as the Mayor finds it fruitful and they’re moving in a positive direction.”

South Bronx community leaders assailed the existing plan for turning the stadium into a garage-enclosed enclave, and shifting the playing fields from Macombs Dam Park.

Although the plan looked tailor-made for Mr. Steinbrenner’s desires to ease access into Yankee Stadium and move fans quickly from parking garages, Mr. Sussman said the team had not dictated the process.

“The Yankees didn’t hire H.O.K., and I don’t think the Yankees will ever be in a position to tell the Mayor what we want in Yankee Stadium,” he said. “The approach has been for the city to put forth proposals and for the Yankees to respond. To be sure, H.O.K., interviewed us, but we’re passive, sitting back.”

But John S. Dyson, the Deputy Mayor for Finance and Economic Development, said: “The Yankees have been involved all along.”

Mr. Dyson said that despite community objections to the current city proposal, the driving force now is to satisfy the Yankees enough to stay.

“We anticipated the community’s reaction,” Mr. Dyson said. “We took their reaction into account to create the previous plan, which George didn’t like.”

He added: “We need an agreement from a business we’re trying to retain, much like Disney on 42nd Street. We need that agreement.”

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"The Bronx Bomber" (Stanley Schlein) Village Voice 05/02/06

While working with Randy Levine, President of the NY Yankees, and Jose Rivera, the Bronx Democratic Party boss, in their campaign to steal Macombs & Mullaly park for the taxpayer-financed new stadium, the community would mispronounce his name as "Slime." Now the rest of us know why.

The Bronx Bomber
While rooting the Yankees to a new home, Democratic political fixer Stanley Schlein failed his other clients

by Tom Robbins in Village Voice

May 2nd, 2006 12:05 PM

It is April 5, a big day for the Yankees, and they have sent one of their stars up to bat. He is the tall man in business-suit pinstripes in the corner of the crowded hearing room upstairs at City Hall. He is watching closely as City Council members cast their votes on whether or not to approve a new billion-dollar stadium for the Bronx ball club. His name is Stanley Kalmon Schlein, and although he has never run for elective office and most people don't know his name, he is to politics in the Bronx what Randy Johnson is to baseball in the Bronx: a crafty veteran with a wicked fastball who can throw over the plate or at your head depending on what the situation demands.

In the hearing room, Schlein is listening to every word as intently as Joe Torre watches his players, alert for the slightest flaws. It is not a shutout. One Bronx councilmember has dissented, criticizing the new ballpark because it will snatch 22 acres of parkland from the green-starved South Bronx with too little in return. But this was expected. A Brooklyn councilman has also voted no, denouncing George Steinbrenner, principal owner of baseball's wealthiest club, for rampant greed. But the councilman is a renegade, a member of no one's team, and this, too, was expected. The committee hearing is a warm-up for the vote an hour later by the full council. The tally there is a lopsided 45-2. The Yankees win. The Yankees win.

Stanley Schlein walks quickly from the hearing room, his BlackBerry to his ear. He is speaking in a low voice to Yankees president Randy Levine, the Giuliani-era deputy mayor who hired Schlein at $450 an hour to help guide the team to this moment. Standing in the City Hall rotunda, the cell phone still glued to his cheek, Schlein accepts congratulations from council aides, other lobbyists, reporters.

He is 58 years old, handsome with thinning brown hair and hooded eyes that have been watching power traded in this building as long as anyone. His first lessons came years ago from the Bronx's wily Democratic Party boss, a man named Pat Cunningham, who also served as a Steinbrenner counselor. When Cunningham went to prison, Schlein worked just as hard for the new party chief, a goateed cigar chomper named Stanley Friedman. Schlein carried out the laborious election-law chores, maneuvering allies onto the ballot, knocking foes off of it.

He held City Hall jobs as well, first as a top adviser to the council's leader, then as an aide to Mayor Ed Koch, who named him to an obscure patronage-filled body called the Civil Service Commission. Schlein has remained on the panel ever since, reappointed by Democrats and Republicans alike. When Friedman was later convicted of bribery and racketeering, Schlein suddenly was the last man standing, the party's political bulwark. As such, he helped to school a new generation of leaders who came out of the borough's now dominant Puerto Rican political clubs.

The current Bronx Democratic Party chairman, Assemblyman José Rivera, stands in the rotunda a few feet away from Schlein. Rivera wears a grizzled white beard and a baseball cap, and carries his ever present video camera, with which he obsessively records every event. His title is not to be confused with decision-making power. Rivera's key contribution here is his progeny. His 26-year-old son, Joel Rivera, is the council's majority leader and the chief of the borough's delegation pushing for the Yankees' plan. But Schlein is clearly the shepherd. He has guided Bronx Democrats to an arrangement with Steinbrenner's team under which the lost parkland will be replaced with new open space and public ball fields, albeit constructed with synthetic turf atop new parking garages.

The local community board hated the scheme, voting 2-to-1 against it, citing high asthma rates and increased traffic. But their vote doesn't count. More important to sealing the deal is a commitment by the Yankees to supply $800,000 a year in grants that Bronx pols can dispense at will. Also included are thousands of free game tickets, as good as cash in New York. This is the deal Schlein has successfully packaged and sold.

That he is on both sides of the negotiation by virtue of his power within the Bronx Democratic Party and his Yankees lobbying retainer is a problem only for ethics watchdogs and spoilsports. "It's as though he sat in a room alone and negotiated with himself," remarked one dissident Bronx Democrat, one of many who have long marveled at Schlein's staying power.

Even those who look askance at the wheeler-dealer's behavior have long acknowledged his rascally charm. "Did I hear the word 'indictment'?" he said with wide eyes and a broad grin as he approached a group of reporters chatting in a City Hall corridor a few weeks ago. He has always been a good quote, a patient and courteous handler of an often ill-informed media. He has a tendency to speak in the staccato cadences of another of his mentors, former Liberal Party boss Raymond Harding, who helped keep Schlein in the fold during the Giuliani years and won him a midnight reappointment to his Civil Service Commission post in Giuliani's last week in office.

He doesn't lack for fans. Former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, who used Schlein's legal talents for his mayoral campaigns and even the real estate closing on his home, calls him "a lawyer of extraordinary skill. He is a careful guy. An ethical guy."

But that talent and charisma have had zero effect on some of those who have encountered him in his role as a court-appointed guardian for those unable to care for themselves. His charm has been lost on the families of an injured Bronx construction worker, an ailing elderly Manhattan woman, and an aging Irish domestic servant, all of whom depended on Schlein to guard the well-being of their loved ones. If he attended to every little detail for his Yankee employers with a hawk-like intensity, he has been deaf to these other clients.

A few weeks before he guided the Yankees to their victory at City Hall, some of those complaints, many of them years old, finally caught up with Schlein. They came in the form of a brief letter from Ann T. Pfau, one of the state's top administrative judges. The February 22 letter informed Schlein that he was being removed from the list of those qualified to serve as court-appointed fiduciaries—those named by the court to handle large sums of other people's money and oversee their property.

Such appointments are the stock-in-trade of every political organization. They are part of the portfolio of perks, patronage slots, and handsome lobbying fees that come with a strong party and the successful exercise of power. Judges, elevated to the bench with the party's approval, routinely name attorneys with clubhouse ties to serve as guardians, receivers, or referees. Many of the appointments are on behalf of the elderly or the infirm, those who have become incapacitated for one reason or another and are deemed no longer capable of managing their own affairs. The positions are highly prized because they usually offer a light workload and a virtually guaranteed payday that can range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands for each case.

As befitting his years of service to the Bronx Democrats, Schlein has long been a key recipient of appointments from judges who come out of the borough's political machine. Since 2000 he has received some $125,000 in fees. But that gravy train came to an abrupt halt with Pfau's letter. While offering no specifics, the judge cited his mishandling of property in two cases, that of a Bronx construction worker named Vincent Robinson, who lapsed into a coma after a construction accident, and an elderly Manhattan woman named Sylvia Friedland, who was institutionalized due to dementia.

"Accordingly, you will be removed from the list of qualified applicants by the Court as of the date of this letter," Pfau wrote.

Schlein refused to comment publicly about his handling of either case, or several others where complaints were lodged about his performance. "I am not going to talk about client matters," he told the Voice repeatedly during three lengthy talks conducted from his cell phone. "It's just not appropriate."

There had been occasions, he acknowledged, when he had failed to file required documents in a timely manner. "Mea culpa. I apologize," he said. "I take responsibility for that." But aside from those occasional lapses, he insisted that his wards had always received the appropriate care and attention. Moreover, he said that his attorney who represented him on the investigation had been told that if he chose, he could apply for reinstatement. Yet he had decided not to do so. "I said it is not worth it to me. I don't make a living out of this thing. It is not the core of my profession. I don't need the aggravation."

His real problem, he suggested, was a heightened sensitivity among judicial overseers to suggestions of political influence in the courts. "I know the county I come from," he said. "Other people may have conducted themselves differently. As for me, I have done everything I can to be a person of honor and ethics."

The family of Vincent Robinson, however, was unconvinced. Stanley Schlein entered their lives in 1998, eight years after an electric saw Robinson was using on a roofing job severed the femoral artery in his leg, causing massive blood loss and ensuing brain damage. Robinson's family received $2.4 million from a civil lawsuit. The family went to court to ask that a guardianship be created to allow them to make decisions about his finances. A Bronx Supreme Court judge named Anne Targum, who came out of the Bronx Democratic organization, appointed Schlein as an "evaluator" to determine if a guardian was warranted. When Schlein reported back that a guardian was indeed necessary, the judge promptly named Schlein to that post as well, allowing him to fully oversee Robinson's property and finances. It was one of 16 such appointments that Targum, who left the bench last year, gave to Schlein in the past decade.

Robinson's wife and adult children objected. Through their attorney, Brian Heitner, the family insisted that they were capable, with the help of professional advisers they would enlist, of handling the finances themselves. One of the things the family said they wanted to do was to build a new home that would accommodate Vincent Robinson so that they could take him out of the nursing home where he had been kept since the accident. There, he would be cared for by his wife, Esther, a nurse who had spent the prior seven years commuting daily to the Westchester facility to care for her husband's personal needs.

The judge, a transcript of that May 1998 session shows, adamantly opposed the idea. "We have this all the time, where the family seeks to invade the incapacitated person's funds and benefit themselves. I would never allow that, sir," said Targum.

Heitner, the family's attorney, said that the judge was "misconstruing" their intentions and pointed out that Vincent's daughter, Veronica, had been handling her father's finances since the accident, and that his son, Patrick, was a college graduate who would help as well.

The judge responded that the earlier finances had been "minimal. Now you're dealing with millions of dollars." The new assets, the judge said, "should be handled very professionally." The Robinsons "are not versed in property management," she said, "and have no possible background in that particular field." On the other hand, the judge said she was "fully satisfied with Mr. Schlein's competency, his conduct and everything else."

A few weeks after Schlein's appointment, the Robinsons and their attorney complained to the judge that they could never get in touch with Schlein and that he was refusing to return their messages. The family then moved in court to appeal the appointment. Two years later, a five-judge panel on the appellate division unanimously agreed, ordering that Schlein be removed, and that Robinson's daughter and son replace him. The judges ruled that there was "no evidence" that Schlein, "other than through his status as an attorney, was any better suited to manage large sums of money than a layman."

But the Robinsons had already learned that the hard way. Despite repeated warnings, Schlein had somehow allowed a Florida condominium that had been bought by Vincent Robinson for $72,500 to be sold at a foreclosure action by a bank that held a mortgage on it. In a motion to Judge Targum objecting to fees being demanded by Schlein, Heitner said that his firm had served notice frequently over several months on Schlein about the pending foreclosure, to no avail.

Nor was the condo foreclosure the only problem, the family said. Because they hadn't been able to reach the guardian, they'd also been unable to obtain the necessary funds to buy clothes for Vincent Robinson, pay for a personal-care assistant to help him at the nursing home, and even to make payment for a wheelchair they'd sought to buy.

Schlein termed those charges "ludicrous" in a blast back in his own court filings, in which he insisted no one had ever told him that a wheelchair was needed. He also accused the family of having purposely abandoned the condo in order to "blame me for the loss," as he wrote. He then went on to seek court approval to pay himself $35,000 in fees from Vincent Robinson's holdings for the work he said he had done on the matter.

There were others from the Bronx Democratic organization with their hands out as well. Schlein also asked the judge to approve $4,750 for his friend Gerald Sheiowitz, the treasurer of the Bronx Democratic Party, who had served as Schlein's accountant and attorney in the matter. In addition, he sought $5,000 to pay Flora Edwards, another attorney friend who is a former law partner of a top Bronx Democrat now a judge. Edwards's role, Schlein said, had been to review the appeals motions made by the family seeking his removal as guardian. In effect, he wanted the family to pay the court costs even though they'd won the case.

Finally, Schlein also presented a bill for $4,500 for the services of a lawyer named Alberto Torres, at the time a law partner of then Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez. Torres's role had been to examine the objections raised by the family concerning Schlein's conduct. Torres punted on that question, never offering his own opinion on Schlein's performance. But he did note in his own filing that, under one interpretation of the statutes governing guardian compensation, Schlein could be entitled to $10,000 more than he'd requested.

Ultimately, the Robinsons decided to drop their objections. Schlein and the other Democratic lawyers all got what they sought. "When push came to shove, the family decided they just wanted to put it all behind them and get Schlein out of their lives," said Heitner. A few months later, in September 2001, Vincent Robinson died. He was 68.

The Robinson family's problems with Stanley Schlein would likely have been buried forever in a Bronx court file if not for a feisty freelance magazine editor named Lisa Goldstein, who waged her own dogged pro se battle against Schlein after her 90-year-old aunt, Sylvia Friedland, became institutionalized and unable to handle her affairs.

Here, too, the incapacitated person, as they are called in guardianship-speak, was loaded. Friedland had about $2.5 million in cash, stocks, and bonds when Schlein was named by Judge Lucindo Suarez, a Bronx Democrat then sitting on a Manhattan bench. It was one of six times Suarez chose Schlein to handle cases.

Because Lisa Goldstein insisted she wanted to share the responsibilities for her aunt's care, Suarez allowed her to be Schlein's co-guardian. To qualify, Goldstein took a required course in court fiduciary procedures.

But the joint arrangement quickly fell apart amid mutual nasty accusations. In a series of letters to the court and various disciplinary panels, Goldstein complained that after she and Schlein were appointed, she was unable to get in touch with him for months at a time. She said that she had had to compile the court-required filings on her own, with no help from Schlein.

"Mr. Schlein just didn't seem to have the time for the guardianship," Goldstein said at a hearing last year on the matter. "Any number of times, I called him, paged him, tried him at his office." She had even asked the judge's clerk to track him down for her.

"I was always available, your honor," Schlein responded.

But Goldstein pointed out that there had been real consequences from the communications gap. Her aunt, already advancing into senility, had failed to file taxes for the two years prior to the guardianship. Interest and penalties were piling up. Goldstein said that she appealed to Schlein for help in getting the taxes up-to-date, but that he was unconcerned. Goldstein wrote to the appellate court disciplinary panel that Schlein had told her that "he felt no compulsion" to file new tax returns since her aunt was already behind in prior years and the interest could be waived. She said that Schlein insisted a special accountant, his friend Gerald Sheiowitz, the Democratic Party treasurer, would be recruited to handle the task. But when Schlein made no move to prepare the filings, Goldstein hired her own accountant.

Goldstein said that she had also entrusted Schlein with some $500,000 in expired stock and bond certificates that her aunt had held in a safety deposit box. The certificates were out of date, either no longer earning dividends or in need of exchange for new forms. Goldstein said that Schlein insisted he would handle the task. But as Schlein acknowledged in the court hearing, his only effort was to call an acquaintance at the state comptroller's office to ask how the expired bonds should be handled. In the meantime, a half-dozen corporations sent her aunt's stock holdings to state offices as abandoned property.

An exasperated Goldstein finally got Schlein to return the certificates so that she could handle the matter. She said Schlein, whose law practice is conducted from his cell phone and his home on City Island, had her pick up the documents from an office manager at the Civil Service Commission's offices in the Municipal Building. There, she said, she sat patiently with the clerk while they went over a list of serial numbers to make sure she had them all.

Schlein scoffed at that account, in- sisting that he had never used the city offices for his private work. But others dispute that. The commission's former general counsel, a Bronx woman named Willena Nanton, said that she and others were often asked to assist Schlein with his own legal chores. "I remember that there was a niece of a woman for whom Stanley was the guardian and that she had complained about him," Nanton told the Voice. "He had the office manager xerox all the stocks for her and then meet with her there."

Nanton, who worked at the commission for seven years, shouldn't be believed, Schlein said, since she is currently suing him and the commission in federal court for racial discrimination in her termination from her post. But two other people who used to work at the commission and are not involved in the lawsuit also said that Schlein used the office and its assistants for private tasks, ranging from filing motions in election law cases to meeting with lobbying clients.

"It's absolutely not true," Schlein responded. "I do civil service work there, not business. If I ever met a client there it was to go out to lunch."

He said that in Goldstein's case, her animus against him had been sparked because she coveted her aunt's fortune. "Ms. Goldstein's only concern," he wrote in an oddly worded letter to the court disciplinary panel, "was preserving estate assets to the detriment of her aunt. My dwarfing her efforts exposed me to her ire." He added that he had intended to seek Goldstein's removal as a co- guardian but that, "sadly, Sylvia Friedland died shortly thereafter, rendering any motion I may have had to remove her moot."

A few days after Schlein leveled those charges in his letter, Goldstein fired back a response, saying that she had never considered herself her aunt's potential beneficiary, since her father was still living. Schlein's accusations, she wrote, were "a fruitless attempt to deflect attention from his own inaction as a guardian."

Goldstein also decided to find out if other people had run into similar problems with the attorney. She went to the Bronx Supreme Court clerk's offices and read through all the files where Schlein had been appointed as guardian. She found four cases where family members had complained to the appointing judge about Schlein, including the Robinsons'. Goldstein then sent letters to several authorities asking for an investigation. Among those she wrote to, she said, were Judge John Buckley, the presiding appellate justice in Manhattan and the Bronx; state chief judge Judith Kaye; the Commission on Judicial Conduct; and the attorneys' disciplinary committee.

Eventually she wrote directly to the inspector general for the state's court system. It was an investigation by that office that resulted in Schlein's removal last February.

Up on Gun Hill Road, on the other side of the Bronx from where the Yankees will soon start building their new temple, resides another of Stanley Schlein's wards. Mary E. Johnson, 87, resides in Kings Harbor Multicare Center, and according to her closest friend from childhood she is happy and well cared for, even though she has been largely unaware of her surroundings since 1997, when she fainted at her residence in Manhattan and was found to be suffering from dementia.

An immigrant from County Kerry in Ireland, Johnson came to America as a young woman and worked as a domestic servant for wealthy families. An ardent Catholic, she was a member of the Blue Army of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an organization of laypeople devoted to promoting Christian values. She never married, but she kept close to her few friends and saw her family when they visited from the other side. Her needs were few and she had a substantial sum, about $400,000 in savings, when she was admitted to the nursing home.

The original plan of Johnson's three nephews in Ireland and a niece who lives in Florida was to have their aunt relocated back to the old country, to live in a comfortable seniors' residence near her family. But while she was uncertain about many things, Johnson expressed herself clearly in her desire to stay in New York. "She considers herself a New Yorker now," said one of the attorneys who interviewed her.

The matter of her guardianship landed in the court of Judge Anne Targum, the same judge who handled the Robinson case. An attorney representing the family, Elaine Harrison, suggested that one of the nephews was willing to make regular visits from Ireland and could serve as guardian. But when Targum said she couldn't appoint someone who lived outside the country, the family offered no strong objections.

The one specific request attorney Harrison made of Schlein—memorialized in a December 19, 1997, letter to the judge—was that he use Johnson's finances to pay for car service so that Johnson's oldest and sole surviving friend in America, a woman named Catherine O'Neill, could visit from her home on Webster Avenue in the north Bronx. Harrison even asked that such a provision be included in the judge's order. "It will be very beneficial for Ms. Johnson," she wrote, "if her friend is able to visit her regularly."

But as in the Robinson and Friedland cases, friends and family reported problems soon after Schlein's appointment. Catherine O'Neill, who grew up with Johnson in County Kerry, wrote Judge Targum in the fall of 1998 to state that "Stanley K. Schlein has not performed his duty." No one can reach him, she said, "and many of the things that Miss Johnson needs are being neglected, for example warm clothes." In addition, she said that she had never heard from Schlein about the cab fare. Winter was approaching, she said, and "being that I am 74 years old I fear walking the 18 blocks round trip to the nursing home from the closest bus stop in the ice and snow. Please do not deny Mary the only person in this world she recognizes, and that visits her on a weekly basis."

Catherine Vitanyi, Johnson's niece in Florida, also wrote to the judge that she had tried repeatedly but failed to get in contact with Schlein in order to arrange a meeting with nursing home staff when she visited her aunt. "As far as I know, none of the family has had any communication from him," she wrote. "The social worker at Kings Harbor also said that they have not met him nor has he met Miss Johnson."

Harrison, the family attorney, also wrote Judge Targum about the matter. Harrison said the staff from Kings Harbor had called her recently seeking permission to buy Johnson some winter clothes. "When I suggested that they contact Mr. Schlein, I was informed that the home was unable to reach him by phone because there is no answering machine. Thus, the only way to reach Mr. Schlein is by letter." She also reminded the judge about the order requiring that Catherine O'Neill's car fare be provided. "I doubt that this has been done," she stated.

Harrison's letter, which sits in the court file of the Matter of Mary E. Johnson, is accompanied by two unsigned, handwritten notes by court staff. Both suggest that Schlein was treated with deference in the judge's chambers. One reads: "On November 13, I spoke w/ Stanley. He stated that he gave her his pager and telephone . He will go to nursing home. I told him that I would call Ms. Harrison and tell her to 'cc' him if she is going to write letters about him." A second note appended to the letter, dated November 16, 1998, states: "I spoke w/ Elaine Harrison. I told her to page Mr. Schlein if she needed to speak w/ him and to write to him if she had anything to say to him."

According to rules governing court-appointed guardians, Schlein is obligated to visit his wards at least four times a year, and to file annual accounts of their finances. But records show that Schlein made no such filings for Johnson until 2002, five years after his appointment. He then submitted so-called "annual inventory and account" filings for years 1998 through 2001. For this, Schlein requested and received a total of $16,358 from Johnson's holdings.

There were no further filings until late 2005 and early this year when Schlein submitted more late reports covering the years 2002, 2003, and 2004. He sought and received permission, this time from Judge Bertram Katz, who took over the case after Targum stepped down, to receive $12,655 for the work. To assist him with the filings, he retained Hillary Sheiowitz, the daughter of Gerald Sheiowitz, who worked with Schlein on the Robinson and Friedland cases.

Like her father, Hillary Sheiowitz is also active in the Bronx Democratic Party, serving as treasurer of Bronx Young Democrats, as well as other political committees. She was awarded $2,250 for assisting Schlein. There was one more legal layer applied to Johnson's finances. An independent court-appointed attorney received $2,955 for examining the accountings to make sure they were properly compiled.

The Mary E. Johnson case was not one of those cited by Judge Pfau in removing Schlein from court-appointment eligibility. But despite the close scrutiny it was supposed to have already received, a review of Johnson's file suggests there are a few important questions that could be raised.

Back when Harrison, the family's attorney, was involved with Mary Johnson's case, she had written to the state comptroller's office of unclaimed funds to see if any of Johnson's assets had gone astray. She received a letter back listing several accounts and stocks that appeared to belong to Mary Johnson. One of the accounts was with Republic National Bank of New York and was supposed to contain about $38,000. Harrison then forwarded the state comptroller's letter to Judge Targum with a note suggesting that the new guardian should seek to obtain the funds, a practice known in the field as "marshaling the assets."

But Schlein never acquired the accounts. Instead, state comptroller records show that the office sent a July 2001 letter to Schlein's City Island home address stating that since it had not heard from him in over a year it was rendering Johnson's request file "inactive." The state representative then provided instructions to be followed if Schlein decided to "re-establish" his claim.

A spokesman for State Comptroller Alan Hevesi said last week that the funds were still being held as unclaimed property.

Asked about the matter, Schlein said his recollection was that he had been told that there were no assets to be claimed.

But the slipshod handling of the finances isn't the only question raised by the filings. After Schlein took charge of Johnson's funds, he merged most of her money into a large savings account at Doral Bank of New York that currently holds more than $240,000. Yet records show that the funds are barely earning any interest. In 2003, the Doral account earned just over $2,200—about 1 percent. In 2004, the account brought in just $1,200, about 0.5 percent. The bank's rate listings show that its highest deposit rate is 4.6 percent for a three-year CD. Its lowest is 0.5 percent. That's for its Christmas and vacation clubs.

Schlein, maintaining that it would be improper to discuss his client's affairs, suggested that he had deliberately kept the earnings on the account low because Johnson faced the likelihood that her assets would be taken in a Medicaid repayment action. He declined to provide specifics, and his filings contain no reference to a potential Medicaid problem.

But Doral, a Puerto Rico–based bank, appears in Schlein's own personal financial disclosure statements, which he is required to file with the city's Conflicts of Interest Board. Those records show that Schlein holds 22,500 shares of stock in Doral Financial Corporation. In 2004, he listed the stock as worth more than $500,000 and indicated that he earned more than $30,000 in dividends from it.

Did he know Doral officials?

"I did a litigation and a lease for them," he said. "About $35,000 worth of legal work. And I bought their stock. They are the largest bank in the Caribbean. They are a growing bank here in New York, and I think they are a good bank that services the community. The financial investments are appropriate."

As for his elderly ward Mary Johnson, Schlein insisted he had visited her "periodically"—as required under guardianship regulations. He said he hadn't heard from any of the relatives or from Catherine O'Neill, Johnson's friend, but he denied that anyone had had trouble contacting him. "I am never missing in action," he told the Voice. "You know that."

In Florida, Catherine Vitanyi, whose mother was Johnson's sister, said last week that she had been able to make just that one trip north back in 1998 to visit her aged aunt, a circumstance she regretted. "The last thing my mother said was 'Take care of Mary.' And I am in this situation where this man doesn't even want to talk to anyone, so it makes it kind of difficult. He wouldn't cooperate to even send a Christmas card. Easter, I have always sent a plant to her. I have never gotten any acknowledgment back. I asked Mrs. O'Neill one time about a poinsettia plant I sent. She said there was none there."

Officials at the nursing home said they were not allowed, under federal privacy rules, to comment on whether or not Schlein has been to see his ward, Mary Johnson. Catherine O'Neill, however, said she's never met him.

"I visit Mary all the time. I can't tell you anything about him. I never heard from him. I never saw him." She said her visits had been interrupted last fall when she underwent a hip replacement. "But I do keep in touch with the social worker there."

Up until the operation, she said, she had made all of her visits to the facility on the bus, walking the 18 blocks back and forth from the bus stop because the promised car service money had never been provided. "I take the bus," she said. "The cab fare they don't give at the nursing home, and I can't afford it."