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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Judge Scornful of Bloomberg Administration Arguments in Randall's Island Lawsuit

State Supreme Court Judge Shirley Kornreich heard arguments Thursday morning in the lawsuit brought by East Harlem public school parents and community activists. The parents are seeking to void a no-bid contract granted by the Bloomberg Administration that grants exclusive access to most playing fields to twenty elite private schools in the peak after-school hours.

While today's arguments were to determine whether attorneys for the parents could extend the complaint to address the city's failure to file the proper environmental impact statement, Judge Korneich asked both sides about the core issue of whether the city ignored the land use approval process required by the City Charter.

The judge's comments suggest the city could be in for some rough sledding. Changes in use of large tracts of land are required to go through the land use review process know as ULURP which includes review by the community board and approval by the borough president and City Council. But when the mayor's attorneys claimed that the number of fields can be roughly doubled without any change in the use of the parkland on Randall's Island, the judge sarcastically said "that's magical". At one point after listening to the city's circular arguments, the judge stated "you can't have your cake and eat it too".

See NY Times coverage here which concludes with "Justice Kornreich told the lawyers that she would be inclined to annul the city's plan unless she were presented with documents showing that the city was not taking land used for other purposes".

The public school parents and community activists are represented by civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel and Alan Klinger of the firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.

The contract granted by the administration would reserve 66% of the total fields for 20 private schools in exchange for funding to partially offset maintenance costs. Public schools and athletic programs associated with the Department of Education would have the remaining 33%. Everyone else including catholic schools and yeshivas would get nothing. The city provided no information on how the twenty schools were selected or how the rental fees were set.

Statements from plaintiffs:

“I felt very good about our day in court,” said Marina Ortiz, an East Harlem community advocate and co-plaintiff in the suit. “It’s important to challenge the City’s failure to undergo community and environmental review to ensure that the law is followed in matters regarding public parkland,” said Ortiz.

Plaintiff Eugenia Simmons-Taylor, a parent leader in East Harlem and former president of the District 4 Presidents Council, said: “Public school parents in East Harlem joined this fight because our children are being excluded from having equal access to the Randall’s Island sports fields for the next 20 years. This is a sweetheart deal with the private schools that is unjust and we’ve got to stop it before it’s too late.”

“All children deserve an equal opportunity to play on old, new and future sports fields,” said Matthew Washington, a plaintiff and member of Community Board 11 in East Harlem. “Privatization of public land is completely unacceptable; public parks need to remain accessible to all members of the public at all operational times.”

For more information see earlier posts here and here.

UPDATE: more news on the lawsuit from the NY Sun, the NY Post and metro.


Anonymous said...

I don't get it...I think many who object to the plan have never really set foot out on the Island.
I have spent untold hours out on Randalls and Wards Island over the last 10 years as a baseball parent in CYO-Manhattan Youth Baseball. Except for the fact that the island is surrounded by water and that makes the views attractive, the place is an absolute DUMP!

The playing fields are abysmal, they are laid out in a horrific design, and the "alleged" open space is nothing more that gross patches of dirt, and when it rains, MUD. Soccer players and rugby players who play in the "open" areas play on patches of weeds, broken glass, and rocks. Moreover, trust me when I say this: NOBODY goes to Randalls Island to sunbathe, as was alleged by Mr. Siegel during the court hearing...

As for the ball infields, they are now a safety hazard, with broken glass, infields with big holes and uneven grading so that children playing on them are more likely to be injured.

There are no restrooms for the thousands of people who use the park every weekend; parking is unsupervised and laissez-faire, making it incredibly dangerous for young children.

The RISF plan optimizes the land use to provide the most opportunities for the thousands of baseball, softball and soccer players who yearn for more and better playing facilities by putting more ball and soccer fields in the same amount of space. It provides for additional restrooms in logical spots to make being out there more pleasant. It controls traffic flow to minimize the pedestrian dangers that currently exist.

It eliminates the huge patches of swamp in the middle of the island and makes it usable land; the cluttered areas near the edges of the Island are a haven for RATS!! I know from personal experience; you have to watch out for them when you use a ball field located near the water.

Why would ANYONE not want to take advantage of private financing to make a terrific public facility?
Would the critics of the plan to complete the renovation of Randalls Island have also preferred that dump of a track stadium that used to occupy the space remain where Icahn Stadium and the beautiful soccer fields next to it now exist? What the RISF plan does is bring the rest of the Island up to those standards.

What is so wrong with that?

The alternative is what? More of the same?!?

Patrick Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick Sullivan said...


The funds for the renovation were in the city's capital budget long before any deal was struck with the 20 private schools.

Everyone agrees that the fields are in a poor state. The question is what the island is to become and how the field access is to be divided up. No one has ever explained why the normal land use process, the one that allows for public hearings, a community board recommendation and a vote of the council needed to be ignored. If your arguments are so compelling, then go and make them in the public process the city charter calls for. For me, as a person responsible for protecting the interests of public school families, I'm not so convinced.

Certain private schools were allowed to buy permits on a long term basis, why were public schools not offered the same opportunity? Schools Chancellor Klein just provided successful schools with awards exceeding a hundred thousand dollars to spend as they please. Who says they can't buy access at the $7K per seasonal playing slot the private schools were offered?

And who decides what schools are in or out? I know of at least one private school that wanted "in" but was told no. And what of the schools of the Archdiocese? Forever locked out? Why? What does CYO say about that?

You may have already decided that these are acceptable sacrifices to make but the decisions are not the prerogative of Mike Bloomberg alone. That's why we have land use review process.