From the windows of Mayor Mike Bloomberg's townhouse on East 79th Street, he can see the sloping green fields and tree-lined pathways of Central Park. A longtime member of the board of trustees of the Central Park Conservancy, he has acknowledged the impact the park has had upon him and his company. "Not only do I use it, but Central Park is where many of our employees exercise, relax, and congregate," he writes in his autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg. "Because CPC renovates the park, the city's better off, we get better workers, and our company prospers."
Yet so far, the mayor has not extended his awareness that parks are more than mere self-tending gray zones in the city's real estate into a legitimate parks policy. His parks budget is a brutal document that slashes 16 percent in direct operating and maintenance costs from an already ravaged agency.
While Bloomberg refuses to discuss new taxes, he is planning to charge an annual fee of $50 to $75 for adults to use rec centers they're already paying for with their tax dollars. He is considering shutting off the lights in parks, something once unthinkable for safety. While recent protests forced him to extend a federally subsidized jobs program that had 3500 former welfare recipients working unionized jobs in the parks, according to the union, the program will persist only for people just leaving welfare. The 3500 current workers are being laid off.
In the past, officials made up for lame budgets by using public-private partnerships to primp green spaces in wealthy white areas of Manhattan, while dedicated staffers and overburdened volunteers kept a bare system functioning in the boroughs. The problem with the public-private approach is simple: Donors don't give big to parks in poor neighborhoods. "On 91st Street and Fifth Avenue, they happen to have a water fountain for dogs," notes Reverend Ruben Diaz, a Bronx council member. "There is no working water fountain for people in my district."
While Giuliani compensated with capital dollars to build and acquire land, Bloomberg slashes the parks capital budget from $321 million to $155 million, then halves it again the next year. Officials say volunteers fill the gaps. But the department doesn't always treat its volunteers well.
For 20 years in the South Bronx, Al Quiñones and other volunteers have resuscitated, defended, and programmed popular concerts for 52 Park on Kelly Street. But following his appearance in a Voice story criticizing the Bronx department, Quiñones's group was driven out of the park house in January. Officials said they needed the park house for new employees. But nowhere does Bloomberg suggest new hiring. "What they did sends the wrong message to the community," Quiñones says.
Budget details are being negotiated with the council this week.
A Rent Guidelines Board survey released this year found that landlords' operating costs for rent-stabilized apartments dropped for the first time in the 33 years that the board has studied them (mainly because of plummeting fuel costs). Yet in a counterintuitive preliminary vote, the board decided to raise rents next year by 2 percent for one-year leases and 4 percent for two years. Tenants can fight back at a hearing Wednesday, June 26, at Cooper Union, starting at 10 a.m. More info at www.housingnyc.com.
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