Saturday, May 31, 2008


UP FRONT News May 7, 2008
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
"The paper that can't be bought and can't be sold."


By Tom Weiss

A major part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's at least outwardly environmentally friendly ("green") revitalizing and development program is focused on the North Shore of Staten Island.

Last Monday for the first time I attended a meeting of the Land Use Committee of Staten Island Community Board 1. The major item on the agenda was a presentation by a repre- sentative of the Bloomberg Administration and by an architect of the planned new courthouse project for St. George, the community closest to the ferry terminal. The project will substantially change the character of a neighborhood that is very diverse, economically ethnically. St. George is commercial and residential and contains most of the Island's government buildings. It has some luxury high rises, middle class housing and a drop-in center for homeless people. It has very good mass transit access and simultaneously vehicle-created very bad air.

And it is the air pollution reality that highlights the apparently Bloomberg Administration and Community Board 1-caused irony of creating a "green" project with a garage component that will only make the environmental problem worse. Garages attract motorized vehicles and motorized vehicles cause cancer and are bad for asthmatics and other living beings.

The project includes a plan for a huge garage facility next to the court building. Increasing the irony is the fact tha the project includes space for a bucolic memorial garden for people to sit in the shade of trees and perhaps even meditate. The problem is that if an asthmatic chooses to meditate there he or she might next be medicating in an emergency room.

I raised that question with presenter mayoral representative Scott Sigal at the CB meeting.
In his very cordial response he immediately acknowledged that I had a very good point. He added however that, as far as he was aware, I was the first person to express objection to the size of the garage. He also made a general reference to "community" support for the garage.

I have since communicated in more detail with Alison Silberman, the Construction Coordinator of the Mayor's Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator. In response to my e-mail to her asking her about the nature of "community" support, she identified several groups such as the Rotary Club, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Brighton Heights Reformed Church as being in support of the project as a whole although she made no reference to the garage in particular.

I spoke by phone also with Mary Bullock, the treasurer of the St. George Civic Association, which has been described as supportive of the garage. Ms. Bullock, while stating that many merchants favor the garage, said that she will take up my concerns with the Civic Association's Land Use Committee.

During my conversations with Ms. Silberman and Ms. Bullock I stated some realities about community outreach. The presenters had mentioned that there had been coverage and related announcements in the Staten Island Advance. My reply to that is that the Staten Island Advance may have something of a mainstream media monopoly here but the fact is that many people (including, as she acknowledged, Ms. Bullock) do not read the Advance. That is entirely understandable since, politically speaking, the Advance is perhaps the most censored and news-slanted daily paper in New York. And the perception of the Advance in Staten Island's African-American community is understandably negative even if (a la the Republican National Convention of 2004) they hire some black reporters and even if they do occasional stories on Rev. Demetrius Carolina, perhaps the most important civil rights leader on the Island, and a man I respect greatly. I happen to be a member of Rev. Carolina's largely African-American First Central Baptist Church in Stapleton, a very short breathing distance from St. George. While I regard the Advance as censored Rev. Carolina's char-acterization of the paper as "controlled" is certainly accurate. But then what would one expect in a newspaper run by a Republicrat clique and owned by a billionaire mogul like Donald Newhouse, a guy who makes New York Post owner Rupert Murdoch appear journalistically libertarian by comparison?

The point here that that coverage and hearing announcements in the Staten Island Advance
are no measure of community outreach. That is certainly true in a community with many African-Americans, (the black population in general having repeatedly been victimized by by environmental racism, e.g. a pollution-spreading recycling plant which George Pataki once tried to dump into East New York that was stopped by a coalition led by community activist and now City Councilman Charles Barron).

My experience with community boards is that they are largely extensions of the political establishment. On the heavily African-American North Shore of Staten Island the Manhattan-run lily-white political establishment consists of City Councilman Michael McMahon
(a close ally of the Slush Fund Queen City Council Speaker Christine Quinn), State Senator Diane Savino and Assemblyman Matthew Titone, a man whom I have described as the worst legislator in what has been labeled "the worst state legislature in the country." (Read more about Titone, not in the Tom Wrobleski/Marjorie Hack-censored Advance, but rather in my newspaper UP FRONT News.)

Although I now live in Stapleton I may be one of the few people around to have lived in all five boroughs of New York City (as well as upstate, in and around Binghamton). I have some familiarity with Community Boards. Manhattan CB1 did little to prevent the tsunami of over- development and gentrification that led to the displacement of thousands of working class loft tenants and small businesses in Tribeca, easily affordable now to the likes of Robert DeNiro.

In recent years I have recurrently attended the meetings of Manhattan CB3 (East Village, Noho, Lower East Side) which I describe as the Ground Zero of the community vs. developer wars. The fact that the the gentrification-related alteration of drug activity in that neighborhood (now cocaine powder rather than crack rocks) may have reduced street crime ignores the fact that working class people are being pushed out as the sterile high rises and luxury hotels give the the neighborhood the feel of corporate districts in White Plains and Long Island. It is also true that CB3 is accused by many surviving residents there of a selective version of outreach and community involvement.

I am not aware that CB1 in Staten Island has done much outreach in my neighborhood. Should that unnecessarily gargantuan garage be built as threatened, I will have to inhale the bad courthouse garage-generated air also. No inhalation without representation!

Ms. Bullock of the St. George Civic Association told me that Staten Islanders have a deep attachment to their vehicles. Well I have an even deeper attachment to my lungs.

The garage needs to be sharply downsized. I can understand the importance of adequate parking for mechants and delivery people. Judges, lawyers, jury members, etc., however, can use public transportation of which there is plenty in St. George, rendered even easier by virtue of the fact that the ferry is free while the toll on the pollution-generating Verrazzano Bridge is exhorbitant.

Downsizing the proposed mega-garage will also save the City money as the construction costs (which translate into profits for another one of our lovely politically connected contractors) will diminish. We can then use the money where it is really needed.

Mr. Sigal, while acknowledging the merits of my point at the CB meeting, suggested that the garage project, not scheduled to start construction for several months, may be a fait
accompli. Fate accompli? That is what in October of 2004 the sports pundits were saying when the New York Yankees had a 3-0 lead in games over the Boston Red Sox in the American League Playoff.
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