Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005

Letters to the editor

Town square needs more green 

To The Editor: 
I have lived in Greenwich Village since 1960 and on West 11th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues since 1968. Through more than four decades as my neighbor, Washington Square Park has been a source of great pleasure. I first encountered the park during a visit in the early 1950s to a high school classmate who lived on West 10th Street (I lived in the West 70s). I still have a clear memory of playing handball against the arch and even as a teenager being aware of the park’s special sense of place.

I have watched the steady decline in the park’s infrastructure, horticulture and landscaping that began only a few years after completion of the renovations of the 1970s. No doubt the city’s financial distress of the 1970s contributed to an appalling lack of maintenance which lasted until a few years ago. The last few years have seen some improvement as the Parks Department has worked hard to install seasonal plantings and temporarily restore grass. But overall, as a green space, the park has been in serious decline as important trees die or lose key limbs, as soil is eroded, tree roots exposed and grass dies and soil turns to hardpan.

The last park renovation, inspired and guided in part by Bob Nichols, whose Lower East Side abandoned-lot reclamation community projects were emblematic of the period, while adding playground space and eliminating the traces of a roadbed around the fountain area, did almost nothing for the restoration of the park’s landscape — arguably any park’s most important feature. Without open green spaces, trees and plantings, a park is not really a park. At the same time, I think we all recognize and celebrate the fact that in the last half century Washington Square Park has increasingly served another need — that of “town square.” This is not a tension between uses or even between park users — but rather a tension between the space devoted to green parkland and to hard surface town square. This tension is to some degree what is at the root of the continued debate between proponents and opponents of the Parks Department current and approved plan for renovation.

It is precisely for the reason that the renovation design makes an effort to restore and add to parkland and at the same time to incorporate the town square uses that I support the Parks Department’s renovation plans as subsequently approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. While the approved plan design may not be perfect — no plan ever is — it certainly makes a genuine effort to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of uses and users of Washington Square Park.

Think about it — what self-interest can the Parks Department have in any of the design elements of the park? But the approved plan’s opponents are all about self-interest; whether it’s the few who want asphalt mounds to stay as the park’s artificial cordillera or those who argue, perhaps based on principles of feng-shui that the dog run entrances need to face north rather than south, or those who reinvent the park’s history to claim that the plan dishonors the dead.

The reality is that no park renovation plan can be expected to please everyone. All we can reasonably ask it that it please the majority of community members and that it incorporates the diversity of uses that has made Washington Square Park so unique over the years. While the community can argue forever over the nuances of how well the approved plan has achieved these goals — the fact is that the majority of community members appear to want the plan to proceed.

The issues of the opponents are myopic — each group wants to preserve or enhance the thing they care most about — no matter what the cost to the whole.

Washington Square Park is truly our “commons” serving many needs of our community. The commons in olden times was green space, where animals grazed and people gathered. It existed to support the needs of the community that surrounded it — and not the special interests of the few. I am glad the community board is standing by their original decision allowing the approved plan for the park to move forward without delay. To let this window of opportunity close and to send out a message that Greenwich Village is a community which is unable to accept compromise and consensus would be a tragedy.

Arthur Aaron Levin MPH

Board betrays the community

To The Editor:
I attended the Community Board 2 meeting last night. Interestingly, it was held at New York University. The hot topic on the agenda was Washington Square Park. Since this is a public park, Community Board 2 should represent the community’s wishes and not be concerned with what benefits N.Y.U. However, this didn’t happen; the community was screwed by Community Board 2. The proceedings were very convoluted with resolutions overriding the original resolution. These were followed by a proposed substitute resolution that was followed by another substitute resolution.

In the end, the community board voted against their own community which they’re supposed to represent! They voted for a plan that would benefit New York University at the expense of the neighborhood and everyone who visits Washington Square. This despite the fact that most of the more than 200 people in the meeting room were against the plan, while only about five were for it, and that 7,000 people have signed a petition against the plan.

The community board vote was taken by a show of hands because the board refused the residents’ request for a roll-call vote. As a result board members didn’t have to take individual responsibility for how they voted. I thought we lived in an open democracy. What a disgrace.

Here’s what community residents want done to Washington Square Park: clean the bathrooms so people are not afraid to use them; repair broken concrete so people don’t get hurt; clean the park so people can sit without getting smelly stuff on their clothes; replant the grass so it doesn’t become a dust bowl; and, if the Parks Department really wants to spend over $2.5 million, instead of using it to move the “Tisch” fountain, spend it on park programs for the elderly and children.

Contact Mayor Bloomberg at http://www.nyc.gov/ or call 311 and tell him what occurred at the Community Board 2 meeting and that you do not want his Parks commissioner going against the community by giving away Washington Square Park. The community board recommends what should be done with the park. However, in the end it’s the Parks Department’s decision.

Ernest “Joe” Budnick
Budnick is president, UMO Music

Praying that pastor goes away

To The Editor:
Re “Graffiti is latest fray in sidewalk food fight” (news article, Oct. 12):

No decent human being would be opposed to hungry people getting food, but every decent human would be opposed to the way hungry people get it from Pastor Diane on East Ninth Street. On Wednesdays, though food is not handed out until 6 p.m., people begin gathering on the block by 1 in the afternoon. In cold weather elderly people wait hours in line, and then wait through a hymn sing and sermon before they get to eat. Why doesn’t Pastor Diane just hand out the food and let the people go?

In the late ’90s I heard that some of the elderly were getting the flu and dying. I called Mayor Giuliani’s office to ask if there was a warm shelter where the food could be handed out, and was told, “It’s a free country. If people want to stand in line and freeze to death, that’s their business.” Historically, both the mayor’s office and the police have been very unwilling to get involved, even when block residents have been threatened by Diane or one of her followers.

I have listened to many sermons by Ms. Dunne. After 9/11, I heard her compare the worship of Allah to the worship of Satan. At Halloween I have heard her preach against parents in the park having a party with their children, comparing it to the worship of Satan. When the owner of a bar called Louis complained to Diane about people hanging out in front of his establishment, she preached a sermon against him, saying he was a servant of Satan because he sold liquor. Louis was subsequently sprayed with graffiti saying “HANDS OFF DIANE!” It sure shut the bar owner up.

She has given sermons against me, calling me a “Babylonian.” She had spotlights shone on my apartment windows and told the crowd, “This is where the man lives who wants to take food from your mouths.” When a neighbor called the police, and the police came, they told me, “Don’t look out your window when she’s here.” When does free speech end and the reckless endangerment of people’s lives begin? One of Diane’s followers has thrown rocks, trying to hit my windows, although I am on the fifth floor. I have never thrown eggs at Pastor Diane, but I’m sure readers of The Villager can understand why someone might want to.

Eugene Zych, who owned and operated a business at 647 East Ninth Street, moved away this year. Over the years Mr. Zych and Diane had many fights over parking. Mr. Zych had trucks to get in and out of his garage, which Diane’s food vans were often blocking. The irony is that in 2004 Diane used Mr. Zych’s building as the address for her Hope For The Future Ministry to get a health permit issued to serve warm food. Mr. Zych wrote a letter to Mayor Bloomberg. The mayor’s office told us that Diane is not the mayor’s problem, it’s the Police Department’s problem. The police have said it’s the mayor’s problem. Meanwhile, Mr. Zych and his business have moved out of Manhattan.

Eventually someone is going to get hurt. I just hope it isn’t me for writing this letter. I would ask anyone who thinks I’m a bad person for opposing Diane, to welcome her to your block. She has long worn out her welcome on mine.

Don Yorty

What a hellish experience

To The Editor:
Re “Graffiti is latest fray in sidewalk food fight” (news article, Oct. 12):

It’s very nice that Dunne can build someone’s self-esteem and get them off the street. Would she do this for a gay person or a Muslim, whom she rants against to those lined up to get food? And if her rants are O.K., why isn’t the graffiti on the sidewalk O.K.? And why must hungry people be subjected to a one-sided view — or any view at all — in order to eat?

Dunne bites the hand that feeds her when she calls the La Plaza gardeners spawns of Satan. If the garden had been developed, she wouldn’t be allowed to have her soup kitchen where it is.

I am a longtime gardener at La Plaza Cultural Armando Perez, and in the past have been threatened by her goons when I asked that our gates not be blocked by her activities. The trouble with fundamentalists is their self-righteousness that blinds them to other viewpoints.

Jonathan Keller

Dunne’s ‘goon’ menaced us

To The Editor:
Re “Graffiti is latest fray in sidewalk food fight” (news article, Oct. 12):

I have lived on Avenue C and Ninth Street for over 10 years, run my business there, head a community garden across the street and am a member of the board of directors of Trinity Lutheran Church’s Service and Food for the Homeless a block away. I have had many unpleasant encounters with Pastor Diane Dunne’s Hope for Future Ministry, but want to detail just one.

One autumn evening my partner Eric and I were walking home down Ninth Street. We were confronted by a chaotic group of teens wielding brooms. Although we didn’t feel threatened necessarily, Eric recognized them from Dunne’s ministry. When he told her they seemed out of control, Dunne dismissed him by aiming the hose she had attached to the open hydrant at his feet. Frustrated, Eric mumbled a profanity under his breath. Hearing this, one of her helpers chased Eric and me into the street brandishing a heavy chain and cussing homophobic threats. The rest of the congregation followed suit. When we dialed 911, Dunne shrugged it off, saying, “Go ahead, I’ll just tell them you assaulted me.” And she did.

Less than a block away, the cops came quickly. After speaking to Dunne, they told us there was nothing they could do and refused to file a report, telling us to walk in the street the days the ministry meets on our block.

Unfortunately my story is not unique, so Vanessa Romo’s “Graffiti is latest fray in E. 9th St. food fight,” deeply bothered me. It seemed one-sided that she spoke only to Dunne, her ministry, the people they give free food to and just the person they are nakedly and wrongly accusing of writing the unfortunate profanities on the sidewalk. If she had talked to me, or my neighbors, she would have quickly found that there is no organized effort to remove Dunne’s ministry that we know about, no functioning block association and, as I’ve illustrated, the police are completely ambivalent to the group’s machinations.

As a board member of a soup kitchen a few hundred feet from where Dunne’s meets, I have seen that you can give people food without making them wait in the cold, listen to pious preaching and, certainly, without harassing the other residents of the community. Most of us on the block, including the police and even the mayor’s office, have come to an uneasy and unspoken acceptance of Hope For the Future Ministry — in spite of the continuing problems. So instead of criticizing and blaming the people she routinely puts out, maybe Dunne should just count her blessings.

Ross Martin

Two groups, but not equal

To The Editor:
Re “A.G. looking into conflicts complaint at Westbeth” (news article, Oct. 19):

The article by Al Amateau about Westbeth in the Oct. 19 issue seems to have put forth the questions being raised by tenants and members of the Westbeth Artists Residents Council in a fair and balanced manner; but I do quibble with your equating the Westbeth Artists Committee with the tenant-elected Westbeth Artists Residents Council as though they were two equal and balanced bodies of opinion.

The council, as you rightly point out, has represented the tenants since the founding of Westbeth in 1970. At our last election, George Cominskie, standing unopposed for re-election as president of the council, received 218 votes, a record. I have never seen a posting for a meeting of the members of the Westbeth Artists Committee nor a listing of their membership other than the three people you name in your article.

Nor have I ever heard anyone state that they wish TUC management returned to the building. As a member of the Westbeth Artists Residents Council for 10 years and having served under four presidents, including longtime council president Barbara Prete, now a member of the Westbeth board of directors, I have attended all of the monthly council meetings and that suggestion has never been raised by any council member.

I might also mention that it was not Ben Green and the board that “rolled back” recent rent increases, as claimed by the Westbeth Artists Committee. The Department of Housing and Urban Development granted the increases to the board some three years ago to cover the expense of the Local Law 11 facade restoration and other needed structural work. Once that objective was reached, the temporary increases were automatically removed by HUD and it is up to the board to decide whether or not Westbeth can meet its financial obligations with the current rental income. The board was continuing to collect the higher rents. It was the residents council that brought the matter to the attention of HUD, who then ordered the board to roll back the rents.

Jack Dowling
Dowling is chairperson, Visual Arts Committee, Westbeth Artists Residents Council

All not well at Westbeth

To The Editor:
Re “A.G. looking into conflicts complaint at Westbeth” by Albert Amateau (Oct. 19) is a comprehensive overview of Westbeth’s history and its recent problems. However, there are some things we wish to clarify. The Westbeth Artists Residents Council did not “authorize a letter of complaint to the New York State attorney general’s office…” nor was the “complaint drafted on behalf” of W.A.R.C. The complaint was sponsored independently by a group of residents, some of whom were council members. (W.A.R.C. President George Cominskie was not one of the original sponsors.) Another thing that we wish to clarify is that W.A.R.C., the only duly elected body in Westbeth, has been in existence since 1978 and has yearly elections requiring over 50 percent building participation.

To believe that such an endeavor is to get back at the board for firing TUC management is ludicrous. The present management firm, Argo, has had the good sense to engage a decent onsite manager. It also hired away from TUC two well-liked employees.

Finally, we are writing to share with you our own reasons for contributing to the legal fund set up to finance the appeal to the New York State attorney general that requests a complete examination of the actions of the Westbeth board of directors.

Our attorney, Dan Kurtz, who is an authority on nonprofits, told us at the June 14 meeting that transparency, accountability and diversity are the three most important principles that should be guiding the actions of all boards — especially those that are nonprofits. The Westbeth board of directors has chosen not to abide by these principles.

The Westbeth board of directors terminated the board membership of three tenant members on the board primarily because they disagreed with some actions taken by the board and its president. One of those terminated was George Cominskie. This broke a more than 20-year tradition whereby the council president automatically sat on the board and was thus the primary conduit for communication between the two bodies. Raising questions and disagreeing when necessary is the responsibility of any board member who is accountable. The three tenant representatives were replaced by two nonelected tenants who had written letters lauding Ben Green and the present board. Mr. Green seems to prefer the company of sycophants. (So much for diversity of ideas.)

The board adopted a confidentiality rule that effectively silenced all its members. (So much for transparency.)

Legal and consultant fees incurred by the board were almost three-quarters of a million dollars in 2004. Residential rents finance these costs to a tune of about two months’ rent for each Westbeth resident. (So much for accountability.)

While the board has raised the rents of studio and darkroom spaces of Westbeth artists — thus eroding Westbeth’s original mission to provide affordable living and working space for artists — it has evidently neglected some other obvious rental opportunities. A valuable commercial space has been vacant for two years. Other commercial spaces are still not paying market-rate rent. And one apartment is still vacant, even though last June HUD told the board that the apartment should revert to a rental. (So much for accountability.)

Our rents were rolled back to what they were before a rent increase in 2003 for repairs (on elevators and balconies) because the board failed to submit a rent increase application to HUD. To date it still has not done so. Why? While we both love the fact that our rent has gone down, can this be good for the stability of building finances? We had a decline in commercial rent income in 2004 and our electricity and fuel bills are sure to increase by over 50 percent because of increased energy costs. Could this lead to financial troubles that could eventually place us into foreclosure? (So much for accountability.)

Several times the board through its spokespersons has told us that it was busy fundraising. Have there been any results? If so why are we not told? (So much for transparency.)

These concerns need to be aired and answered. Unfortunately, answers have not been forthcoming from this nontransparent, nonaccountable, nondiverse board. Asking the attorney general to look into what is happening at Westbeth is not outlandish. Nor is it inconceivable that what the board is doing is completely on the up-and-up. To paraphrase F.D.R., why be afraid of an investigation if there is nothing to fear?
Mae Gamble and Joya Staack
Gamble is a current member and former president of the Westbeth Artists Residents Council and was a Westbeth board of directors member from 1983 to 1990; Staack is a former W.A.R.C. president and was one of the first two representatives on Westbeth’s board of directors from 1978 to 1980.

A very troubling scene

To The Editor:
In response to the photo (scene, by Milo Hess, Oct. 5) of two dogs tied to a post waiting for their human:

While the image may appear to be cute, leaving your dog tied to a post can be very dangerous. Up to 2 million animals are stolen every year. They are sold to research labs, breeders for puppy mills, as meat for humans, as well as exotic animals, fur, dissection, for sale in pet stores, guard dogs, bait for dog fights and sacrifice. So I beg everyone: never leave your dog tied to anything. Please leave your buddy at home if you think your outdoor trip will involve your having to part from your companion canine even for five minutes.
Victoria Booth

Kids were in pool, too

To The Editor:
Re “Splash Dance: Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool becomes a stage” (arts article, Sept. 21):

Scott Harrah’s glowing review of Noémie Lafrance’s complex production “Agora” mentioned almost all of the gifted performers, with one omission: the Young Dance Collective, which consists of 10- and 11-year-olds, five of whom are recent graduates of P.S. 3 and the others from P.S. 41 and P.S. 116. These talented kids were proud to be part of this literally groundbreaking performance.

Susan Kramer

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