BY GEOFFREY CROFT
In a recent op-ed (“A new alliance for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park,” March 10) Councilmember Julissa Ferreras argues for the need to create a new nonprofit alliance dedicated for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (FMCP).
The alliance would collect money from the USTA and other businesses using the park and spend it exclusively on the park. Agreeing to a deal that puts money into a park fund in exchange for a yes vote, along with a few other “concessions” is a misguided policy that would allow the USTA to expand and set the stage for more businesses to try and take more public parkland.
That is exactly what is not needed for the park.
It is the city’s legal responsibility to properly fund our public parks, not that of private businesses.
Make no mistake this is NOT like the Central Park Conservancy or the Prospect Park Alliance model as she has attempted to claim. There is a huge difference between receiving philanthropic contributions from civic-minded people seeking nothing in return and establishing a fund explicitly created for extracting money from businesses exploiting the park.
She said she is doing this to ”to help protect this irreplaceable park.” The park does not need this type of “protection.”
A detailed plan on how this alliance model could work has already been drawn up. It was devised with the help of a Parks Department partner group New Yorkers for Parks, in concert with the councilmember, working behind closed doors.
Despite repeated requests Ferreras has refused to voluntarily provide a copy of this plan. For the first time in 15 years I’ve had to resort to FOILing a councilmember. This is not a good sign.
These deals only weaken communities and make it easier for the next encroachment. They also allow the very people whose job it is to properly fund and protect our public spaces off the hook.
The councilmember was correct, though, when she said the park has not received the attention and resources it deserves.
Whose fault is that? Does anyone think our elected officials are doing their jobs when FMCP has only 14 employees for a 1,200-acre park? That’s disgraceful.
Each year our elected officials allocate a fraction of the funds desperately needed to properly maintain, operate, secure, and program our 29,000 acres of public parks.
This year is no different. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s current $70.1 billion proposed budget allocates just $ 283.2 million or o.4 % in tax levy funds for parks.
Over the last 40 years no other city agency has lost a greater percentage of its workforce than the Parks Department. This happens year after because the public does NOT demand accountability.
The city continues to try and abdicate its responsibilities by entering in these public/private agreements that officials are not only allowing but actively encouraging. They are increasingly resorting to these pay-to-play funding schemes. This welfare mentality has to stop.
These deals hand over enormous power and decision making authority to these groups with little transparency and accountability on what is supposed to be public land.
We need our elected officials instead to allocate proper resources for our parks; it’s what the public pays taxes for.
Until communities begin to stand together and demand accountability from officials and “so called” park advocacy groups, the public can expect more of the same – our parks being sold out.
Geoffrey Croft is the founder and president of NYC Park Advocates, a non-profit watchdog group dedicated to improving public parks. He is also a founding member of Save Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a coalition of community-based civic and environmental groups opposed to the commercial encroachment of FMCP.