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