By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
WestView News receives letters from readers who ask how they can get through to city agencies to try to correct problems.
One example is from Abel Montez who wrote, “As I explained, what is outrageous is that now the NYC Parks Department is claiming jurisdiction over that area where the fruit vendor is located. They can’t have it both ways. They should not be telling residents that they cannot fix a damaged park bench because they have no jurisdiction over it. At the same time, they cannot state they have jurisdiction when they are attempting to oust the fruit vendor from the same area… The other photos I included are from the area of West 11th Street. Please see the email below that I sent to Mr. Johnson in 2016; I spoke to one of his staffers several times and even sent his office photos. Nothing happened. Before reaching Mr. Johnson’s office, I had contacted everyone I could think of including the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Health (during the Zika Virus scare), the Sanitation Department and the 311 service. No one contacted me and nothing happened. The puddle remains on that corner year-round unless it is frozen over during the winter months. Thank you so much for your time.”
Without excusing neglect on anyone’s part, every large bureaucracy will have some bad days. Nevertheless, it seems that Mr. Montez has done all the right things, in a civil and patient manner, to get a response to his observations and concerns. What is a citizen to do after all that?
Assembly member Deborah Glick (firstname.lastname@example.org) has given us the following list of steps you can take to ensure that a problem is registered and addressed.
• Call 311 or use the 311 website or app to register a complaint (you can do it anonymously).
• Inform the community board of a violation or problem and they can help you determine which specific actions to take.
• Call or contact your local elected official’s office, either on the state or city levels, to follow up on the 311 call or the 311 website or app complaint.
• If you feel a law has been broken, contact your local NYPD precinct (use their non-emergency number).The 311 phone number and the 311 website or app for registering complaints has been a tremendous improvement over the numerous phone numbers in various city departments that one would have had to search to make a complaint previously. You don’t have to know which department is responsible for the problem as the 311 operator (yes, a real person!) will help you with that. You may need to follow up, so record your reference number. Prior to 1989, New York City bureaucracy was in a mess under the 100-year-old Board of Estimate form of governance. A charter commission and grassroots effort then proposed and passed a charter amendment that mirrored the structure of most city governments around the country, allowing the mayor and city council to have more influence. This new charter also created the community boards—local representative bodies able to act in an advisory capacity, though wielding no official authority to make or enforce laws. There are 59 community boards throughout the city. Each one consists of up to 50 unsalaried volunteer board members appointed for two-year terms by the borough presidents from among active, involved people who reside, work, or have some other significant interest in their communities. Community Board 2 (CB2) has committees working on various community issues such as housing and affordability; tenant harassment; senior services; opioids and addiction; access to hospitals and quality of emergency care; public safety; homelessness; access to food vendors and markets. The community boards have been a tremendous benefit to quality of life and improved services. The nyc.gov website provides detailed information about the services provided by the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit (CAU) and the community boards. As this writer checked on the specific issues raised by Mr. Montez, all the items were confirmed. The puddle at the Bleecker Street and West 11th Street curb cut is indeed a deep and non-draining hazard; with no storm drain in the vicinity, it looks like it will take a major street and sidewalk reconstruction to eliminate the hazard. The bench slat at the top of the backrest is still missing, though someone was sitting there at Seventh Avenue with disregard for the condition. The fruit vendor on the Seventh Avenue sidewalk is still there but is concerned because a General Street Vendor License has suddenly become required. He should not be fined but should be grandfathered in according to his original City Health Department License (the cart has been there for 27 years and the current owner has been there for the past 11 years). Show your support for Harry and his small business; sign the online petition at the www.thepetition site (search for “Save the Fruit Cart” to sign it). There are numerous ways to exert your voice. Don’t be discouraged. Stay involved.
Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP, is an architectural consultant in private practice, serves on Community Board 2 in Manhattan, is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee.