Volume 76, Number 10 | July 26 - August 1, 2006

Scoopy's Notebook

Never say die: As The Villager was getting set to go to press on Tuesday night, Jonathan Greenberg called about 9 p.m. to tell us that State Supreme Court Judge Emily Jane Goodman had ruled in favor of the lawsuit on which he is one of the plaintiffs, Greenberg vs. Benepe and Bloomberg and New York City.

“We won!” Greenberg said. “I just got the call from our lawyer, Arlene Boop, 10 minutes ago. The Podolsky suit was dismissed.”

Attorney Ronald Podolsky had filed another lawsuit, in addition to Greenberg’s, but Greenberg said, “They felt our suit was sufficient.”

In the key part of her 19-page decision, Goodman said that the redesign plans for the fountain and fountain plaza “were not adequately revealed to Community Board 2 or the Landmarks Preservation Commission, precluding the exercise of their roles in the oversight process as intended by the City Charter and the New York City Code. As a result, both the Landmarks Commission and Art Commission were denied the informed views of the community board in reaching their decision, and the Art Commission was additionally deprived of the views of the Landmarks Commission.” Goodman also stressed that the community and governmental entities that reviewed the plans needed to have all the details to determine the project’s impact on the fountain and plaza as “a gathering place for cultural and political activity.”

Now, the $16 million, two-year, two-phase project is enjoined from proceeding and must be sent back to Community Board 2, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Art Commission for another round of review. In short, it’s a whole new ball game.

Greenberg said the Parks Department has been exposed for its duplicity in not leveling with the public in terms of the plans it was showing the community compared to the final ones that were put out to bid for contractors.

“The plans were changed,” he said. “They didn’t say that people wouldn’t be able to play music in the fountain without a permit. They said that it cost no more to fix the fountain than to move it. That they were doing this for handicapped access. The whole plaza was to be significantly reduced — by 23 percent. The process was a bait and switch.”

The other plaintiffs on the suit are author Luther Harris, who “wrote the book on Washington Square,” as he likes to say; Fusun Ateser of Disabled in Action, who uses a wheelchair; and Rebecca Pearlman, a New York University sophomore.

Greenberg says he’s psyched that C.B. 2 has a group of new members who have indicated they would give a harder look at the renovation plan if they get a chance.

“Now, it’s a different community board that’s been warned to ask tough questions,” he said. And, speaking of tough, he had some tough words for Councilmember Alan Gerson.

“Now, it’s time for Alan Gerson to actually step aside and let the legal process take over,” Greenberg said, “a process he has not allowed to happen.” Greenberg said he was thankful “the judiciary” wing of government had finally stepped in to right the wrongs of the executive and legislative branches.

“It’s the judiciary branch that’s going to make the Parks Department tell the truth,” he said.

We couldn’t reach anyone through the Parks press office, where a night operator wasn’t of much assistance, so we called Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe at home.

“I’ve heard about it, but we haven’t had a chance to look at the decision,” Benepe said. “It’s premature to say anything. I’m sure we’ll have something to say. We have to read the decision — and figure out what to do.”

Warner Johnston, chief Parks spokesperson, subsequently chewed us out for calling chez le commissioner.

Gerson didn’t return our call on deadline, but on Monday he had said that while he had recently approved money for the renovation in the current city budget, his approval was “conditional,” and that Parks would have to show him some “documents” in a week or two, or he would pull his conditional approval.

Greenberg called back a little later to add one more thing.

“And you know,” he said, “there is a movement underway — to rename the fountain Jane Jacobs Fountain. It’s being proposed by Keen Berger and Marilyn Dorato.”

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