Volume 76, Number 11 | August 2 - 8, 2006

Editorial

City errs again by appealing Wash. Sq. ruling

Immediately following the July 25 ruling by State Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman enjoining the Washington Square Park renovation, the city and Parks Department said they would wait and decide their course of action. This week, the city said it would appeal the ruling. This comes as disappointing news, on several levels.

In her ruling, Goodman stated that the City Charter and New York City Code require Community Board 2 to have an oversight role in the approval process of the park’s renovation. Yet, she said, by withholding important details from the board regarding the size of the renovated fountain plaza and the use of water jets in the renovated fountain, Parks violated this process. What’s more, not providing the board with all the facts, Goodman further stated, set off a chain reaction of city agencies in turn not having sufficient information to properly evaluate the plan and its impacts — such as regarding the ability of musicians and buskers to perform in the fountain. Since C.B. 2 wasn’t told all the information, it affected what the Landmarks Preservation Commission knew — or didn’t know — about the project, which in turn affected the Art Commission’s understanding. In short, the whole process was tainted.

Not surprisingly, when Parks subsequently put the project out for bid, the plans didn’t match what the community board was shown. It was like a bad game of telephone — the end result far off from the initial presentation.

Parks now has the option of simply re-presenting its plans for the fountain plaza and fountain to C.B. 2, Landmarks and the Art Commission. Doing so — and promptly, in the fall preferably — would restore confidence that the public process is being followed, as opposed to the public being tricked. This time around, we would like to see accurate plans — reflecting the work that Parks intends to put out to bid — presented at the public hearings.

Yet, the Bloomberg administration has chosen the other path, to challenge Goodman’s ruling. In doing so, the city is, in effect, saying that the public process doesn’t count for anything, in short: “Who cares if the local community board didn’t know everything? We know what’s best.”

That attitude — more than a few would term it arrogance — has been the cause of much of the opposition to this project from the start, and it’s discouraging to see that it continues even after Goodman’s strong and principled ruling upholding the legal requirement for public input.

A recent editorial in one of the daily tabloids blasted Goodman and the renovation’s critics as “Village Idiots” for opposing a plan that had been approved by the community board, Landmarks and Art Commission. Yet, it’s not idiotic, but intelligent to revisit this previously bungled process. It’s good for democracy and for our government to do this the right way — by this time including the public in the legally required public process.

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