Pols ask city to hold off on plans for sanitation garage

East 26th Street approximately where garage would be built (Photo by Lou Sepersky)

East 26th Street approximately where garage would be built (Photo by Lou Sepersky)

By Sabina Mollot
Last week, East Side elected officials made a last ditch effort to the Bloomberg administration to see if the city would hold off on plans for the Brookdale Campus sanitation garage. Via letter, the politicians argued that while there is no plan in place for the parcels of property set aside for development on both sides of the intended garage site, the city has still been moving along in getting needed approvals to get the garage built.
The local politicians, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Council Member Dan Garodnick and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, reached out to the Department of Sanitation last Wednesday with a letter asking to “table this proposal until a comprehensive plan for the entire site, and more clarity regarding the many issues that have been raised, are provided.”
The many issues referred to are the concerns of residents at nearby Waterside Plaza, East Midtown Plaza and Kips Bay about impacts on air quality and increased traffic on nearby streets due to the expected steady steam of garbage trucks in and out of the garage as well as various safety issues related to the site itself. The fact that the street is in a flood zone was also cited by the community.
It was following a land swap between the city and CUNY that the school’s Brookdale Campus, located on First Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, was fated to become the site of a sanitation garage that will be built in 2020. The deal is attached to a plan for a new hospital to be developed on the Upper East Side.
However, the garage aspect has been consistently blasted by East Side residents and politicians. Along with the aforementioned reasons, many feel the surrounding neighborhood, better known as Bedpan Alley due to all the medical and science facilities, is simply not the appropriate location for a sanitation garage.
Additionally, with the garage not expected to be ready for use until 2020, Hoylman, Kavanagh and Garodnick said there seemed to be no reason for the city to rush the plan along, other than the fact that Bloomberg will no longer be in office.
“We are conscious and we know they are conscious of the change in administration,” Kavanagh said. “Clearly this proposal is something that came out of the current administration.”
Recently, the Department of Sanitation produced renderings of the garage, which it has presented to the Public Design Commission for preliminary review.
While the pols wrote they “have no issue” with the DSNY continuing work on the requirements on the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Reform Procedure), there’s been “little effort,” they continued, “made in addressing our concerns.”
When asked about the letter, Kathy Dawkins, a spokesperson for the department, told Town & Village that work on the project was not about to be put on hold.
“The Department does not intend to consider slowing down the process until there is a determination on uses for the portion of the site not required by DSNY,” said Dawkins.
“Our analysis will assume that the neighboring parcels will be developed. The required air, noise and traffic analysis will be part of the EIS (environmental impact statement) and address all traffic concerns — vehicle and pedestrian — as well as air quality and noise issues.”
As for the renderings of the garage, Dawkins said they weren’t available at this time since the designs are preliminary. “It is anticipated that the renderings will be available early next year,” she said.
On the DSNY’s response to the letter, Kavanagh said he didn’t want to comment, though he did reiterate a point in the document to say the plan should include information about the non-garage space at Brookdale.
“We feel very strongly that if this is going to be done rationally, it has to be done in the context of the overall site,” he said. “It doesn’t seem rational for a city agency to not consider what another agency might do on the same block.”
(See the full letter to the DSNY.)

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Letters to the editor, Dec. 19

Fences cut off access to kids’ ‘sleigh hill’

The 20th Street Loop hill on Saturday afternoon (Photo by William Oddo)

The 20th Street Loop hill on Saturday afternoon (Photo by William Oddo)

To tenant organizers and local elected representatives,

For the first time in Stuyvesant Town’s history this past weekend, our children were prevented from sleigh riding on the “hill” safely because of the installation of a hideous bent metal fence and posts. The metal fence created an obstacle for kids to safely sleigh ride as they have done after every snow event for generations.

Kids were attempting to sleigh ride and have fun while avoiding the perils of the metal fence and poles. In fact, the higher and more fun hill was just too dangerous so most kids and parents used the adjacent smaller and slower area. To top it off even the Oval was fenced off.

I’m writing to you all because there is no one in management to address or contact concerning this very timely issue.  As many of you know, the “hill” along 20th Street Loop and Oval as it known is the only “sleigh ride hill” within a radius of more than three miles of our community. Without any capital expenditure, or entrance fee or expensive “produced family event” our kids were able to just have fun in the snow.

However, the current management is on a tear to fence off virtually every bit of space no matter how absurd the effect or benefit. Management has fenced off areas so small that the fences themselves comprise more area than the space it protects besides wasting money. It has even included a fenced off access to the Oval lawn Christmas tree (reserved for summer “practically no bathing suit” sunbathing) and a second fence around the new and not ready for prime time “Christmas” tree.

So please use your collective access to see if you can contact anyone in management to “temporarily” remove these “temporary wire fences.” They can be removed quickly and reinstalled later if needed at all.

In all fairness, I understand that leaf control was a partial reasons for metal fence policy. However, the many private park spaces have employed much less costly temporary natural material during late fall season, then removed it later. It has also been reported that fences were installed by management partly in response to complaints from tenants of pets ruining our flower garden areas. Perhaps a discussion could be organized to address these concerns and perceptions and resident pet owners’ concerns and not have our children suffer from a poorly thought out management policy.

What should management (who ever they are) do now? What you could tell them:

• Start by recognizing this longtime community activity and put in place temporary measures to support sleigh riding on the “hill” for our children.
• Remove the wire fence and metal poles.
• Install temporary safe barricades at the curb to protect sleigh riders like redeployed haystacks from Halloween events.
• Create a temporary safe walking path adjacent to the “hill” for other residents.
• Redeploy security personnel from standing inside the skating rink tent and post them outside in advance of the “hill” to protect kids and direct traffic.
• Open up the Oval (early spring is plenty of time to restore grass for sunbathers).

A longstanding community activity like “sleigh riding on the hill” supports an authentic and vital community. As a student of urban planning, community activities like these are a designer’s delight that planners, developers and architects work mightily to create. It’s what current management has failed to recognize here.

Lastly, this management team’s effort to control and watch everything in this community only serves to undermine and ruin their efforts. Worse yet, the world knows a fence, a wall or “security” camera can never contain a genuine human activity. I would be happy to help in this effort and appreciate a tenant organization’s or others’ response.

Respectfully,

William Oddo,
Resident, organizer of Stuyvesant Town
Quiet Oval Group 

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‘Orange is the New Black’ author talks prison reform at East End Temple

East End Temple Rabbi David Adelson with Piper Kerman, author of a memoir that inspired the Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black” (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

East End Temple Rabbi David Adelson with Piper Kerman, author of a memoir that inspired the Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black” (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
When Piper Kerman graduated from Smith College in the early ‘90s, she was looking for an adventure. But she didn’t expect that a little more than a decade later in 2004, she would be entering a federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut as a result of that adventure. This was the start of a year of hard time that would inspire her memoir, which in turn inspired the new hit show on Netflix, “Orange is the New Black.”
Kerman spoke about her experience at the East End Temple last Friday to a packed room after the synagogue’s weekly Shabbat services. The temple often invites speakers to come discuss secular issues and Rabbi David Adelson said that he was enthusiastic about having the author be a part of that event.
“It’s such a widely recognized show and she’s an expert in prison reform,” Adelson said. “I’m pleased with how many people came. So many people wanted to hear the true story and learn about real human rights issues. We have speakers come talk about issues that reflect Jewish values, human rights issues and justice. Judaism speaks to all issues of society and it’s about how we live our Jewish values.”
Kerman was indicted six years before she actually went to prison, for carrying a suitcase full of drug money from Chicago to Brussels. In her post-college adventures, she had become involved in a relationship with an older woman who also happened to be a drug dealer.
“I followed her around the globe,” Kerman said. “I was telling myself that being around those people was one thing but it came to the point where I crossed the line. I knew it wasn’t legal. It scared the pants off me and soon after that I left.”
The six-year delay for her imprisonment was due to the drug kingpin at the top of the operation being taken into custody not long after Kerman had signed a plea agreement, giving her a 15-month sentence or 13 months with time off for good behavior, which is the amount of time she ultimately ended up serving.
“We never knew how long it was going to take and during the first year I knew I was going to prison, I was just flat on my back, thinking: I’ve ruined my life, this was unethical and wrong, I threw my life away,” she said.
“After that I was thinking, my life might be over but I might as well get on with it. I just had to manage the looming idea of prison. And all of our lives contain that; sometimes you can predict what’s coming but sometimes not.”
Kerman is now an advocate for prison reform and addressed a number of the problems with the prison system that she encountered during her time behind bars. Much of her coping and means of survival came down to luck and circumstance, she noted.
“Not all Americans are policed in the same way,” she said. “Practices like stop-and-frisk send people into the system, often unnecessarily and Americans are prosecuted in different ways. My story is a great example of that. There’s no question that the staff in the prison treated me differently because of the color of my skin.”

Piper Kerman speaks to a packed temple. (Photo by Maria Rocha Buschel)

Piper Kerman speaks to a packed temple. (Photo by Maria Rocha Buschel)

She also noticed that a number of the women that she was in prison with had a lot more time than she did and she questioned whether the crimes they committed were really that much worse than hers. She found that wasn’t the case.
“It has to do with socioeconomic status and race,” she said. “Most of the women I was in prison with were too poor to afford an attorney. I was lucky enough that I was able to afford an attorney but 80 percent of the people in prisons are too poor to afford a lawyer.”
Her fiancé (now husband) Larry Smith, was able to visit her every weekend and she said that his visits helped keep her going.
“Larry really stuck by me,” she said. “Knowing that someone else sticks by you is really powerful.”
Having a positive mental state helped her through the experience and she added that connections with people on the outside can have a huge impact on motivating women to finish their sentences and get released.
“Relationships in prison are important but relationships on the outside are also important,” she said. “They remind you that you’re going home. Having someone who cares enough is a powerful reminder that you will one day return to the outside world.”
The facility where Kerman spent most of her sentence is being converted into a men’s facility. Currently, that Danbury facility is the only prison that holds women in the federal system in the northeast from Maine to Pennsylvania and after the conversion, those prisoners will be sent to a new facility in Alabama. Because so many women in the prison system are mothers, Kerman noted, this could have a detrimental effect on the relationships those prisoners have.
“It’s very cruel and capricious,” she said. “It has a negative impact on public safety and will sever powerful incentives to motivate them to come home. To have Mom dispatched to Alabama is like sending her to Mars.”
Many of the women in prison with Kerman, many of whom were mothers, were incarcerated for crimes similar to hers: non-violent drug offenses.  She said that her experience was different from the popular images of prisons as places of relentless violence because most of the people locked up were non-violent offenders who had long sentences because they had poor legal representation.
“Women’s prisons are much less likely to be violent and these women are emblematic of the people that we’ve been putting in jail,” she said, adding that there has been incredible growth in the prison population since the 1980s. According data from to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are currently 2.3 million people in jails in the United States, compared to under 500,000 in 1980.
One of the things that interests Kerman the most in terms of prison reform is sending fewer people there in the first place. She noted that there should be decriminalization for things like drug possession and shorter sentences for other offenses because longer sentences can ultimately be counterproductive, since it can be difficult to adjust back to life outside.
“In my mind, the war on drugs is a complete failure,” she said. “It’s cheaper and easier now to get access to certain drugs and (putting people in prison) hasn’t made a dent in that type of crime.”