Governing is all about choosing – Politicians cannot duck - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the March 2009 Juniper Berry Magazine

Governing is all about choosing – Politicians cannot duck

Big Bully Bloomberg on his bulldozer

Other articles in this Berry inform you readers about the High School that the NY City School Construction Authority (SCA) plans to build in Maspeth on 74th Street and 57th Avenue. The SCA also plans to acquire the property ‒ the former Restaurant Depot site ‒ through the use of eminent domain.

Eminent domain is used here as a first resort to seize this privately owned property by force and to pay what the city desires rather than what the current owner is asking. Normally, property transfers from owner to purchaser take place after negotiation. That's how you purchased your home or plan to sell it eventually. Eminent domain is the thuggish use of force.

Apart from the use of eminent domain is the planned construction of a high school at that location. The stated plan is to construct a school for 1100 students. Can we trust stated plans from this mayor? Should we?

Within a very short distance from this large high school are two other, already at or near capacity schools, PS 58, down the block on 57th Avenue, and IS 73, on 70th Street. Between just these two schools, the number of students is 2600. The proposed school will accommodate 1100 more, for a total of 3700 students arriving and leaving at pretty much the same time.

The vast majority of those students will be coming to school to be educated; they will be from families who believe in education. If just 2 to 3 percent of these students arrive to cause trouble by vandalism, fighting, and otherwise causing trouble, then the number will be as many as 100 troublemaking teens loose in that small area.

There are the concerns that residents have that there will be added traffic congestion, overcrowded buses, parking problems, and more youngsters crossing dangerous streets already clogged with heavy truck and commuter traffic. This stop and go traffic causes drivers to lose patience and drive dangerously. There is no police presence possible to avert traffic injuries involving these students.

The Juniper Park Civic Association and many residents of Maspeth vigorously oppose the construction of a new high school at that location. The School Construction Authority conducted a farce of a hearing to concerned citizens to express an opinion regarding their planned use of eminent domain to acquire the land. (In a City Council Hearing many months ago, Council Member John Liu asked the SCA witness a direct question: Does the SCA plan to use eminent domain to acquire land to build high schools in the coming year? The witness testified, in answer to that clear question, that there was no intention at all for the agency to use eminent domain.

Just recently, on Monday, February 23, the SCA was before the City Council to obtain approval to use eminent domain to take this property by force. John Liu was diplomatic. He stated that the SCA's position was contrary to stated testimony.

We will be blunt. The SCA lied to the City Council. Why that witness continues his employment at the SCA would be puzzling in some other city (other than Chicago). Here in NY City where the mayor and his agencies lie to the public for sport, this is a frequent occurrence.

To add to the insulting SCA actions, the SCA scheduled the February 23 hearing at the City Council, which they withdrew as soon as the gavel went down to start the hearing. The hearing was rescheduled for 30 days later. This is an invitation for concerned citizens to attend to express disgusted opposition to this incompetent agency's plans.

Just how does the Executive branch of NY City government have the power to announce to the City Council, the Legislative branch, that the legislators must hold a public hearing on a specific date for any reason? It looks like the City Council is far too compliant in satisfying the demands of this mayor. Try to imagine the President of the US announcing a demand that one committee or another hold hearings on a specified date regarding a specific issue. Try to imagine the press conferences that the legislators would hold putting the president back into his place.

Why did the City Council permit this intrusion and imposition on its own schedule?

The insult was that the SCA wanted the Council's approval before holding a hearing on Thursday, February 26th at PS 58. At that hearing the SCA Lawyer stood, leaning on a piano as he waited for the chaotic meeting to finally end. The lone lawyer lost control of the meeting almost immediately. Where were the other SCA officials? Did they feel there was no need to attend a hearing since their proposal was already a done deal?

So, the Civic Association reached out to the newly elected City Council member, Elizabeth Crowley, representing the affected district to ask her intervention.

Sadly, that was fruitless. Elizabeth delayed allowing an interview until March 2nd (the day of the bad snow). At Elizabeth's request, we emailed a series of questions regarding the selection of that particular location. Elizabeth and I spoke at length on the phone, but Elizabeth will not be pinned down to a firm position that she can defend.

Finally, Elizabeth agreed to reply by email, answering our questions. Late on February, past our article submission deadline, an email arrived, essentially stating Elizabeth's position that she will only support the construction of this high school provided that it is zoned for our neighborhood children ‒ not likely. She further stated that if the DOE agrees to give priority to children in the neighborhood, she will support the school ‒ again that DOE agreement is unlikely, or, if given will be worthless. How would it be enforced? Who would do the enforcing?

And, in any event, there are a very few residents with children in the age bracket to use that school, so, why approve a school for a student population of 1100, when only a small number live in the vicinity and the rest will come from other neighborhoods take up space on our already crowded buses?

To our question: If that is your belief [that the proposed school would be locally zoned], what makes you believe that the DOE will honor whatever promises, commitments, guarantees it makes? Elizabeth replied: I will get their commitment in writing and work to make sure whatever agreements we make are reflected in the legislation that goes before approval in the council.

Does anyone expect that this mayor, who got himself an additional term of office from the City Council, will honor any agreement he makes with a newly elected Council Member?

We asked: Have you yourself proposed any alternate location for the school? Elizabeth replied: I asked the school to review the location at St. Saviour's. They expressed serious concerns for student safety due to traffic issues.

The SCA was concerned about student safety due to traffic issues? How, then, did the SCA select this location (Restaurant Depot). When did they evaluate the location? On a Sunday night, after midnight, during a blizzard on the night before Christmas?

And, if they ever considered the Saint Saviour's site, why was that fact absent from the SCA site evaluation document labeled Exhibit 1 at the PS 58 SCA hearing? Why has this document been (A) presented as Exhibit 1, and then (B) hidden from the public (it was secretly photographed, ironic that a publicly paid document has to be secretly photographed to counter the fact that it is being kept a secret by this mayor).

This writer believes that the newly elected ‒ and soon to be campaigning to hold the seat ‒ Council Member Elizabeth Crowley is falling into the habits of her predecessors by failing to vigorously represent her constituents regarding this proposed school.

In emails and conversations, this writer has counseled Elizabeth that she owes neither this mayor (nor any mayor, for that matter), nor Council Speaker Quinn any favors, no loyalty. She does not represent the mayor or Quinn to her constituents; they have PR staff and TV access whenever they want to communicate their proposals to citizens.

Her loyalty, all her energy, all her time must be spent learning what her constituents want. She must evaluate and weigh those wishes, and then totally represent her constituents in all her activities in the Council.

If this sounds like a lecture, it is. If Elizabeth Crowley represents her community, then her community wins, and she will win.

QUESTIONS FOR COUNCIL MEMBER ELIZABETH CROWLEY:

Why would Crowley advocate for a school at this location with 2 other schools in close proximity? The traffic situation is horrendous as it is and this cannot be mitigated. Is this not a concern for her?

Why would Crowley advocate for a 1,100-seat locally zoned school at this location when Maspeth and Middle Village do not have enough children to fill it, requiring kids to inundate Maspeth by taking the bus from other neighborhoods, with the buses on Grand Avenue already operating over capacity?

Why would Crowley advocate for a 1,100-seat school when smaller schools have been proven to be more ideal?

Considering the detrimental effect this will have on the surrounding community, why isn't Crowley advocating for the alternate location at 55-02 Broadway which SCA feels is a feasible site and is located in a community from which more of the children will come?