Parks’ dissembling on Wash. Sq. mocks the public process

The merits of two lawsuits on the Washington Square Park renovation, currently before State Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman, are apparently strong enough that Goodman has extended a stay barring the project’s start or the city’s entering into contracts for the project. We agree issues in the lawsuits raise serious questions about how straightforward the city’s Parks Department was in its presentation of the renovation plans to the public — and more to the point, whether the department actually misled the public about crucial aspects of this planned $16 million project.

One of the lawsuits charges the project the city put out to bid called for a 33 percent reduction of the square’s central fountain plaza. The city is now countering that Parks plans to reduce the plaza area by only 23 percent — and that this was made clear throughout the public process. No one we know, however, ever recalls hearing of a 23 percent reduction being mentioned either at Community Board 2 Parks Committee meetings or C.B. 2 full board meetings.

Indeed, The Villager attended all the major community board meetings on Washington Square, and we do not remember having heard this figure or even that there was to be a significant reduction in the plaza’s size, as the city’s attorney has claimed in court. The reduction, if anything, was always to be relatively minor.

In fact, an agreement by City Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Christine Quinn with the Parks Department states the plaza’s area is to be reduced no more than 10 percent. Parks has told The Villager that while Gerson and Quinn’s agreement “isn’t a contract,” the department intends to honor it. Everyone seems to have thought this agreement was binding, except Parks. Yet, please explain to us — how does 10 percent equal 23 percent?

Another problematic issue is the fact that not even the Art Commission, when it voted to approve moving the fountain 22 feet east earlier this year, seemed to have been aware beforehand that there would be a 45-foot-tall water plume and eight side water jets added to it. With those plumes and jets, toddlers would no longer be able wade in the fountain, while musicians and buskers wouldn’t be able to use it as a theater-in-the-round. Again, as with the plaza’s size, Parks stated at C.B. 2 meetings that the use of the fountain “wouldn’t change.” This is simply disingenuous.

The fact that Parks didn’t make the updated plans publicly available before the Art Commission hearing in January is also extremely troubling.

Justice Goodman is right to ask, if Parks doesn’t believe the public review process has any value or is in any way binding, then why even go through with it? We’re glad this case is being considered by a judge seemingly with the probity to recognize it for what it is: a case of a city agency arrogantly flouting the will of the community — and disrespecting its own agreements with our local elected officials.