Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Group wants Parks Dept. probe" Metro NY 8/9/6

Group wants Parks Dept. probe
Petition says agency needs more transparency, local inclusion

by patrick arden / metro new york

AUG 9, 2006

MANHATTAN — A group of 82 civic leaders are requesting public hearings and legislative oversight to remedy what they call the city Parks Dept.’s “increasing difficulty in reaching agreement” with communities.

The petition — which appeals for greater “transparency” in the awarding of concessions and the alienation of parkland — comes on the heels of bitter controversies, including the current lawsuits over building condominiums in the proposed Brooklyn Bridge Park and the taking of 22 acres of parkland for a new Yankee Stadium.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and City Councilman Alan Gerson were the only elected officials to sign on, joining members of community boards, neighborhood groups and advocacy organizations.

Gerson, who had been involved in contentious discussions about the planned redesign of Washington Square Park, will introduce legislation next month to require City Council oversight in a range of park matters. The public-private partnerships known as conservancies, for instance, would be required to include representatives of elected officials and to implement an open reporting process.

“I don’t view this in any way as hostile to the Parks Dept.,” Gerson said. “I hope to be helpful to the institution by reinforcing its authority.”

One of the petition organizers, former City Councilwoman Carol Greitzer, is smarting from fights over Washington Square Park and a plan to put a restaurant in the Union Square pavilion. Last week the city decided to appeal a State Supreme Court ruling that the Parks Dept. would have to resubmit its plans to move the fountain in Washington Square to Community Board 2 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“I’ve dealt with Parks Commissioners from way back, and it’s really difficult to work with the department now,” said Greitzer, a Councilwoman from 1969 to 1991. “They are very hostile to public input, and even after they tell you what they’re going to do, they quietly make changes.”

Park conservancies sprouted as a way to fund maintenance in the face of budget cuts to the Parks Dept., but Greitzer worries that they also contribute to park inequities between rich and poor neighborhoods. She also complains that conservancies have no accountability and enable the perpetuation of funding parks through a system of increasing commercialization.

“The parks don’t have a big for-sale sign on them,” said Patricia Dolan, executive vice president of the Queens Civic Congress, a coalition of 110 community groups. “Every time the Parks Dept. peels off a piece of parkland for a private concession, that part of the park is gone for the free use of the public. Once gone, those park properties don’t come back.”

Parks Dept. spokesman Jama Adams said, “The Parks and Recreation Department has an open and transparent process, and follows all state and city laws and regulations for contracts, Parks concession revenues, use, and management of parkland.”


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