Sunday, October 11, 2009

Politics and Parks Collide at Bronx Speak Up

Politics and Parks Collide at Bronx Speak Up

At the Bronx Parks Speak Up, Yuritt Zeron and Tonia Ann German of Rocking the Boat give a presentation on how their group removes toxins from river water using an oyster garden. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz)
At the Bronx Parks Speak Up, Yuritt Zeron and Tonia Ann German of Rocking the Boat give a presentation on how their group removes toxins from river water using an oyster garden. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz)

Bronx parks advocates, employees, and elected officials gathered last Saturday at Lehman College for the 15th Annual Bronx Parks Speak Up, which was highlighted by a heated discussion among City Council members about the Yankee Stadium replacement parks and the fate of parks maintenance in this year’s budget.
The event also offered workshops, presentations on green jobs and the relationship between health and environment in the Bronx. But the main event centered around a panel discussion on parks and politics featuring six of the borough’s nine council members, including James Vacca, Helen Diane Foster, Annabel Palma, Joel Rivera, Oliver Koppell, and Melissa Mark-Viverito. State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz moderated.
There was some disagreement on the future of the perennially underfunded parks maintenance budget. Rivera painted by far the rosiest picture, saying he supports a “one percent for parks” initiative, which would allocate one percent of the city budget for parks beautification and maintenance.
Koppell dismissed that as wishful thinking. “[I’m] not going to stand here to please the crowd and say we’re going to increase parks maintenance budget,” he said, adding that if the city can avoid significant cuts in the parks budget, “we’ll be lucky.”
But Vacca said the problem is bigger than this year’s budget woes. “The budget crisis is the newest pretense the city is using” to underfund parks, he said. The real issue is that the city sinks billions of dollars into park renovation and creation, he said, but then “we don’t safeguard those investments” by funding parks maintenance and programming.
The hot-button political issues came at the end, with Dinowitz saying the city “all too often treats parkland as real estate.” He singled out the Croton Filtration Plant being built in Van Cortlandt Park and the new Yankee Stadium being built on a public baseball field. (Dinowitz was a prime opponent of the filtration plant, but he voted for the alienation of Macombs Dam Park, paving the way for the new stadium.) Replacement fields can’t be built until the old stadium is completely razed, which the city says won’t happen until at least 2010.
Karen Argenti, a longtime parks advocate, pushed further. “I want to know when Yankee Stadium is coming down, and if it’s not tomorrow, why?” she said. “Why are you not standing up to the mayor? Tell him, ‘It has to come down.’”
Foster defended the Bronx delegation. “You’re looking at a body that does stand up to the mayor,” she said. “I’m the elected official who lives the closest. I hear the crack of the bat.” She said her first committee meeting, in April, will focus on when the old stadium is coming down.
Bronx Parks Commissioner Hector Aponte said the Yankees will leave the old stadium April 1, and after preliminary work, the actual structure will begin to come down in late summer or early fall. He predicted it will take at least a year to tear down the old stadium, ending in mid-2010, and that the ball fields slated to be built on the site should be finished by the fall of 2011.
Aponte added that the whole process was delayed because the Yankees had unexpectedly exercised a provision of their agreement with the city, which allowed them to extend their lease on the old stadium for up to two years.
Joyce Hogi, a neighborhood resident, activist, and vice president of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality, said those timelines were nonsense.
“It’ll take six months just to get the scaffolding up,” she said.

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