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OPINION: Carlina, listen to us on East River Park

A rendering of how a major storm surge would impact the running track in East River Park at E. Sixth St. under the city's previous coastal-resiliency plan.
A rendering of how a major storm surge would allegedly impact the running track in East River Park at E. Sixth St. under the city’s previous coastal-resiliency plan.

BY PAT ARNOW | East River Park ACTION has been urging people to call City Councilmember Carlina Rivera to voice opposition to the plan to close and demolish East River Park.

A few who did have reported that Rivera’s office staff is trying to talk them out of their position on this destructive flood-control plan. It sounds like the councilmember has made up her mind to support the plan and has instructed staffers to convince callers to change their minds —rather than being open to changing her mind when presented with passionate, well-informed positions from your constituents.

One person who opposes the plan said that a Rivera staffer “spent 15 minutes trying to convince me of how great the plan is, how much community input was taken and kind of brushing me off because I haven’t been in all the community board meetings to appreciate the scope and breath of that consultation with the community.”

It is inaccurate to imply that the community supports this plan. The caller might not have been at meetings, but I sure have, and if Rivera was listening, she heard a resounding No.

A rendering of how the E. Sixth St. running track would allegedly withstand a storm surge under the city’s revised coastal-resiliency plan, which would raise all of East River Park by burying it under 10 feet of new soil.

At the Community Board 3 meeting in June, for instance, 70 people testified, and 67 were against the flood-control plan in whole or in part — in large part!

The testimony at that meeting was passionate, heartfelt and cogent. It touched on everything, from losing recreation for our kids, who might then get into mischief, to losing biodiversity, shade, a place to exercise, a route for biking and walking, a shady picnic area, and a place to cleanse the air and soothe the soul.

From our canvassing in the park and around the neighborhood, we’ve learned that most residents don’t know about the plan to demolish the park, and when they hear details, they are horrified. Their community leaders, who support the plan, don’t bother to meet with them. What “community” is Rivera listening to?

The person who called the councilmember’s office went on, regarding her call with the staffer: “She told me several times that there were ‘factions in the neighborhood spreading misinformation.’” If there’s any inaccurate information coming from the faction called East River Park ACTION, please let us know. We will be happy to correct it.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera outside her East Village district office on E. Third St. (Photo by Lincoln Anderson)

However, is it misinformation to say that the park will be closed for years? That the park will be completely demolished? That the city has not promised one inch of phased construction? That even if it did, phased construction would still destroy the entire park? That the alternate parks and recreation spaces that the city has offered are paltry, sad and cruel: Take away the skateboard area of Tompkins Square Park! Take away the hockey field in Two Bridges! Hey, bikers, just go over to First and Second Aves., which are already crowded. Timelines? “We’re working on them,” we are told. Realistic timelines? Absolutely not!

(At least we’re now hearing the Tompkins skateboarding area might possibly be saved.)

Another caller who talked to a different Rivera staffer said, “She basically spent an hour trying to make Alternative 4 [what the city calls the ‘Preferred Plan’] palatable to me. I kept telling her how destroying the park and raising it up 10 feet would offer no additional flood protection than a barrier wall along the F.D.R. She just would not listen to any of my talking points and kept trying to find a concession that ‘would make me happier about the project.’”

Councilmember Rivera, please tell us that you will not support anything until after an expert external review has evaluated the plan, including timelines and environmental issues — as you and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have demanded in the past. Please tell us that you know that the city is not reliable about construction timelines — or providing alternate park spaces and greenways. Please tell us that you won’t support a plan that hasn’t publicly given you a single meaningful concession almost a year after the city announced the plan, even though you yourself have repeatedly demanded accommodations.

East River Park ACTION supports working out a plan that will preserve much of the park while also offering flood protection. Carlina, if you will keep an open mind, we’d like to persuade you that it can be done, and you can be a hero of the New Green Deal rather than the politician who will oversee a vast mud pit for years.

Please listen to your constituents.

Arnow is a member, East River Park ACTION (http://eastriverparkaction.org)

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