Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Locals unsold on park; Bloomberg’s first ‘redevelopment park’ far from Yankee Stadium" Metro 4/21/8

Locals unsold on park
Bloomberg’s first ‘redevelopment park’ far from Yankee Stadium
by patrick arden / metro new york

APR 21, 2008
MELROSE. On Friday, the Bloomberg administration opened a new artificial-turf ballfield on an old schoolyard here and billed it as “the first Yankee redevelopment park.”

The city had promised to create replacement parks in the South Bronx to make up for the 25 acres of parkland lost to the new Yankee Stadium project.

But the replacement scheme has yet to show an actual gain of open space. A hodgepodge of parcels, the plan relies on 12.5 acres that were already mapped as parkland or were asphalt playgrounds like the lot here at P.S. 29, which was built 45 years ago.

The city spent $2.4 million to put down the fake turf in this schoolyard and to build bleachers, dugouts and a handball court. But the new park is one mile away from the parks that were taken away — it’s in an entirely different neighborhood, overseen by a different community board.

Joyce Hogi walked 15 blocks to attend Friday’s ceremony. “They were long blocks, too,” she said. Last year Hogi testified before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee about the community’s opposition to the Yankees’ stadium project.
“If they had asked us where we wanted replacement parks, guaranteed no one would have said, let’s come all the way over here,” Hogi said.

Artificial turf under fire in other states

The new artificial turf field at P.S. 29 was unveiled just as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced it’s looking into the possible health hazards of artificial turf.

Last week, two artificial turf fields were closed by New Jersey health officials after detecting high levels of lead. Lead can cause brain damage and other illnesses.

While the concerns arose from surface coloring and airborne dust, many turf fields use crumbled tire rubber, which has also been found to contain lead.

The city’s Health Department is currently compiling its own report.

“There’s no doubt in my mind it’s safe,” said Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

The city is spending $190 million on the new replacement park facilities, upgrading existing spaces and cleaning up some land by the Harlem River.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bronx Community Board 4 continues its anti-democratic ways

Last Tuesday at the Bronx Community Board 4 Parks & Recreation Committee meeting, one community resident asked how he could become a committee member. He was told that there was a moratorium on community residents becoming committee members. Below are two articles from the New York City Charter and a paragraph from the Community Board Member Handbook that outline the participation of community members on the community boards:

It is the intent of this chapter to encourage and facilitate coterminous (adjacent) community districts and service districts to be used for the planning of community life within the city, the participation of citizens in City government within their communities, and the efficient and effective organization of agencies that deliver municipal services in local communities and boroughs.

11-83 Although the Charter requires that the chairperson of each Community Board committee be a Board member, there is no limitation as to the number of non-Board members who may be appointed to serve on a Board committee.
Non-Board Members on Committees - The Charter permits community residents who are not Board members to serve on Board committees. This is a good way of drawing on additional expertise and manpower. It is also a method of recruiting potential Board members. A Board member must chair each committee.

Previous to the purge of CB4 board members over the last two years, members of the community could join a committee by attending three consecutive committee meetings. It is not as if CB4's committees are bursting at the seams with members. Most of the committees cannot get a quorum, and meetings are far and few between. Therefore, it appears that this so-called moratorium is just another tactic to keep the people from participating in the process of city government within this community.

Community boards cannot be run as private clubs restricted to like-minded people. We, the community who live and work in this district, need to get CB4 back to being the forum where all can voice their concerns and vision for this community; and, thus, work together to make this district a better place to live.

Anita Antonetty

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Serrano Letter to Mayor on Congestion Pricing and Yankee Stadium Parking 4/2/8

April 2, 2008

Honorable Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, New York 10007

Mayor Bloomberg:

In the past year, I have provided strong and unwavering support for the city's congestion pricing plan, even when that position has not proven politically expedient. My support was based on the plan's merits and the fact that my community suffers a disproportionate number of environmental burdens. I continue to believe that congestion pricing is a major step toward rectifying environmental and social injustice.

I also believed that congestion pricing would not only reduce smog-producing vehiculartraffic in Manhattan, but in all the boroughs of New York City. The aim of congestion pricing is to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home, and not overburden our boroughs with additional traffic. Residential parking permits gave assurances to local communities that their neighborhoods would not become a haven for commuters seeking to avoid the congestion pricing fee.

With that said, it troubles me to learn of a major loophole emerging outside of the congestion pricing zone - specifically, the rules and regulations that concern several new parking facilities under construction or already completed at the new Yankee Stadium site.

The South Bronx community, with extraordinarily high asthma rates, will suffer if parking lot spaces remain open for commuters on non-game days. Given the increasing costs of gas, and the potential congestion pricing fee, the South Bronx will become an attractive park-and-ride destination for commuters from Westchester, New Jersey and other areas. As current policy indicates, most if not all existing parking facilities are only open for fans attending Yankee games. They are closed on all other days of the year. My hope is that this policy does not change to accommodate drivers bypassing congestion pricing fees.

Since Yankee parking for the old stadium lots is not open now, I see no reason why the lots should suddenly need to be kept open year-round for the new stadium.

My understanding is that any decision on the new parking lots will be made several weeks from now. It alarms me that such decisions are being made after legislative votes in the City Council and State Legislature on congestion pricing, not to mention the fact they were not made in concert with the Traffic Mitigation Commission.

Opening up the parking garages in this area will draw increased automobile traffic into the South Bronx. For example, commuters who currently park daily at high-priced Manhattan garages will be encouraged to rent space in the lower priced Yankee garages, and then take the subway downtown.

I also want to prevent these lots from becoming a transportation crutch for those who commute to the South Bronx for work. Many of these people take mass transit, but will consider driving should there be an increased supply of parking spaces.

Expanded commuter parking defeats the purpose and spirit of congestion pricing, the whole point of which is to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home and to enhance mass transit.

I thank you for taking the issue of residential street-parking permits seriously. But in the neighborhoods around Yankee Stadium, the issue of lot parking is just as important as that of street parking. A failure to deliberate on this matter opens up a real loophole in our parking strategies and traffic mitigation efforts.

I am urging you to take this issue seriously. Please take the necessary steps to prevent park-and-ride sprawl in the South Bronx. As the congestion pricing vote approaches Albany this week or next, I ask you for a timely response to my concerns.


José M. Serrano

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"Showing Power, but Weakening a Neighborhood" NY Times 3/31/8

Showing Power, but Weakening a Neighborhood

Published: March 31, 2008

Baseball season is an 85-year-old fact of neighborhood life. Happens every spring. Still, opening day is no less jarring, a fresh reminder to a longtime resident of how the Yankees rule.

Joyce Hogi lives on the Grand Concourse, a five-minute walk from her job as assistant to the principal at All Hallows High School on 164th Street in the South Bronx. “Once again, it’s so much in your face, cars and police barricades everywhere, everything geared to the comfort of the Yankees and their fans,” she said.

The Yankees win. When John Sterling makes the “the” sound hysterically polysyllabic on the radio this season, take a moment to consider at whose expense.

By the tens of thousands, fans will come Monday for opening day, Toronto at the Yankees, and every game day thereafter to gape at the retrofit future Yankee Stadium that stands, however unfinished, alongside the weathered timepiece that pays tribute to baseball’s past. The House That George Herman Ruth Built and the one that George M. Steinbrenner privately financed, with the exception of taxpayer-financed infrastructure upgrades and a land grab with costs best measured in cruelty.

Two classic edifices, one season only; has there ever been a more shock-and-awe demonstration of Bronx Bombers power?

“There was no one in this neighborhood that was against development, against a new stadium,” Hogi said in a telephone interview. “But responsible development, not what we got.”

With the stadiums side by side, the end of one era blurs with the beginning of another. Baseball’s sights and sounds are always familiarly welcome. But I wonder how many visitors inching their cars through the narrow streets from the northern suburbs or New Jersey this season will notice what has been lost, or taken, from that crowded urban landscape.

How many will mourn the fallen trees, the oasis of green that was Macombs Dam Park, the way Joyce Hogi will?

“A lot of people in the neighborhood really never thought it was going to happen until the trees came down,” she said.

In stages, the park was shuttered, the people of what is often called the poorest Congressional district in America, thrown out at home. Finally, last November, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation issued a news release announcing the closing of the last remaining section, including the ball fields, the handball and basketball courts, to make way for another sure sign of artistic urban development, Garage A.

“The students in our school used those fields, all of the neighborhood kids did,” Hogi said. “Now they are gypsies, going here, going there.”

The community activists, Hogi among them, lost the court battles and the war to save the park as the community centerpiece. The Yankees got what they had long lobbied for. The city said it would replace every park acre, roughly 24, and would actually add space. This all sounded perfectly reasonable to the outsider, but the fine print diluted the promise. On a miniature scale, this was Central Park being broken up, spread among the boroughs.

“The story was always about the fragmentation of the park,” said Geoffrey Croft, the president and founder of the NYC Park Advocates, a nonprofit group. “And when I started looking at the replacement scheme, it never added up.”

The politicians say otherwise, gushing about public ball fields that will replace the original stadium. Croft, who happens to have grown up on 167th Street, complains about an existing schoolyard called part of the replacement acreage, a pedestrian walkway he says the city is also trying to count. Turf fields planned for the roof of Garage A will not exactly invigorate on a sweltering August day when visiting sport utility vehicles are belching fumes.

This all could have been avoided, argued Hogi, a member of the Community Board 4’s parks committee. The Yankees could have gone to Shea Stadium for two seasons, as they did in 1974 and 1975, had their new stadium been built on the existing site.

She blames the politicians who cut the deal, not the Yankees, a capitalist enterprise, after all. But it is interesting how Steinbrenner, 77, is now portrayed as a civic hero, a respected city elder, in New York and Tampa, a far cry from when many considered him something between a would-be robber baron and the raving village idiot.

In the time since he has slowed down, as his sons like to put it, we have all been conditioned to consider Steinbrenner’s softer side, his charitable deeds. But it wasn’t too long ago, when he was his old blustery self, that he and members of his organization were ruthlessly disparaging in their characterizations of the South Bronx while scheming to abandon it for Manhattan, or Jersey.

Luckily for them, they failed. Now, for one season, there are two Yankee Stadiums, no more Macombs Dam Park. Until the city makes the very best possible restitution of what right now is a deplorable situation, we may be impressed, even awed, by what is said to be progress. We cannot be proud.

E-mail: hjaraton@nytimes.com