By Matthew Katz, RIRA President
MatthewKatz @ verizon.net
Groundhog Day guru Punxsutawney Phil has determined that
spring is almost upon us, and I, for one, am grateful. I often tell those poor, benighted denizens
of other climes that their first visit to Roosevelt Island should take place in
the spring, our best season. One
promenade around the Island when our cherry trees are in bloom is usually
sufficient to prompt many return visits.
I confess, I’m seeing cherry blossoms in my dreams nowadays.
My goodness, this is a first. Last issue, I wrote my irst retraction. Today, I’m writing my first retraction of a
retraction. In the February 12 issue, I
apologized for sustaining a story about the departure of the DHCR Commissioner
and chair of the RIOC Board of Directors, Brian Lawlor. I had been told it wasn’t so. Days later, we learned that it may be true
after all. Clearly, this transition was
in the works for some time, but the State released the information
piecemeal. Those early, earnest
protestations that Commissioner Lawlor had not been replaced were true;
however, it seems that he was halfway out the door.
We’ve now been told that Brooklyn Assembly member Darryl C.
Towns will take Lawlor’s place as RIOC Chair. What we don’t know is when. Given
his lack of housing experience, he has a steep learning curve to conquer. I’m
sure the long-serving administrators at DHCR will assist in that endeavor. However, in terms of Roosevelt Island
information and lore, it will be incumbent upon RIOC President Leslie Torres, a
neophyte herself, along with the resident Directors of the RIOC Board, who
represent hundreds of years of Island experience, to instruct Commissioner
Towns as to who we are, what we do, and why we are extraordinary.
As I write this, some RIOC bulletins list Mr. Lawlor as
Chairman of the Board and some ,
Mr. Town s . The truth is somewhere up
in the air, and either of these gentlemen may ultimately chair this Board. I’m
not writing any more retractions, so let’s wait and see.
RIOC cancelled its February 23 Board meeting and is possibly
awaiting Towns’s departure from the State Assembly and coronation as
Commissioner of NYC Homes and
Community Renewal (DHCR’s umbrella organization now) to invest him as RIOC
Board chair. The next Board meeting
isn’t scheduled until April 6, eleven weeks after the January meeting, and I
hope that an interim Board meeting will be convened to address RIOC business,
including the following:
Public Purpose Funds
By the time you read these words, the RIRA Public Purpose
Fund Committee will have interviewed the directors of all eight Island
organizations vying for a share of the $100,000 in grant money offered by RIOC
each year. In addition, we will have
spent many hours going over the applications, discussing the results of the
interviews, and debating how best to allocate the available funds among the
groups, all of them well-established Island institutions. The rub is that the
total amount requested is over $164,000.
This will leave two final tasks for chair Bill Long and the committee to
accomplish; we must convince the RIRA Common Council to accept our
recommendations at Wednesday’s convocation, and then we must present our
decisions, approved by RIRA, to the RIOC Board of Directors for their
endorsement. Keep in mind that these
eight associations can’t complete their planning for this year’s programs, much
less begin providing those services, until their grants are approved and the
checks cut. And therefore, I hope that RIOC will call for a Board meeting
Operations Advisory Committee
There has been one valuable meeting convened, and that was
the RIOC Ops Committee, under its chair, Jon Kalkin. Many nuts-and-bolts issues come under the
aegis of this group, which is why RIRA sends representatives to monitor its
activities. The February 17 meeting was
especially interesting, as it covered ongoing and planned projects for
The group, which included five resident Directors (one by
phone link), debated the efficacy of LED versus fluorescent lighting in Motorgate,
plumping for the former. It seems likely
that Motorgate will soon provide electric-car charging stations, with
electricity possibly supplied at low cost by the Verdant Power RITE (Roosevelt
Island Tidal Energy) project that extracts power from our East River estuary
through underwater turbines.
There was some discussion of information technology projects
in progress, including the provision of wi-fi in Southpoint Park, a
continuation of the FiOS service that currently winds down the spine of Roosevelt
Island. (Only Westview-Island House
management has failed to provide FiOS for its tenants.) This would both serve those for whom laptops
and hand-held devices are virtual prostheses, and provide additional emergency
backup for this isolated location at the south end of the Island. In addition, the Streetline project, which
will monitor parking spaces along the West Channel opposite Southtown, will
soon be serviced by solar-powered and wireless parking meters that will accept
both coins and bills. RIOC Director
Michael Shinozaki is a Microsoft executive with enormous expertise in these
matters, and is likely to save RIOC major bucks as these questions are
I asked about the controversy over senior discounts at the
Motorgate parking facility. There is a disconnect with Central Parking, which
claims that the discount was meant solely for residents of Roosevelt Landings
and 2-4 River Road, regardless of age. I
asked if this was arbitrary or based on income criteria that really don’t
apply. Many questions remain,
including whether a senior discount would apply only to rooftop parking or for
anywhere in the facility. We were told
that the discussion would be continued between RIOC and Central Parking, and
only after they determined the original contractual details.
RIOC is considering ferry service for this Island community,
and will conduct a survey to assess resident interest. This is a good idea and the timing couldn’t
be better, as the City, through its Department of Planning’s Comprehensive
Waterfront Plan, ponders the potential for City-wide service. I hope to have a copy of the plan, including
the Island references I asked for, very soon.
When I was chair of the RIRA Planning Committee, I
participated in discussions for the renovation of Good Shepherd Plaza. RIOC
intends to start work with the advent of good weather. We, your RIRA reps, have given our
two-cents-worth on issues of bench and lighting placement, as well as drainage
and the type of tile to be used. However, I urged the committee to bring their
plans to the community before work begins, to take advantage of your years of
experience as to how this open space has been used and could be used.
We discussed, albeit briefly, the status of the new Red Bus
schedule. RIOC Operations VP Fernando
Martinez stated that RIOC is still amassing the data on how well the buses are
meshing with Tram schedules and the wait-times at bus stops. RIRA hopes to assist in this endeavor by
asking you, the riders, to give us information on your experiences. At press time, we’ve been at it for about two
weeks, and we require more data if we are to make a significant contribution.
Please contact Vice President Fernandez with complaints that need immediate
attention, but also send your comments, both pro and con, to RIRA Planning
Frank Farance at 800-327-2623 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The meeting also addressed a pervasive problem: How are community members heard at RIOC? Who
answers Board e-mails? You may recall
that we set up a system some weeks ago whereby RIOC Community Liaison Erica
Wilder would set aside two hours on Wednesday afternoons to meet residents with
issues. Erica is on maternity leave
until May (congratulations on your new baby, Erica!), and Director Margie Smith
led a discussion of how residents could best bring problems to Board members,
and from them to the RIOC employees who would implement solutions. Margie felt
that, at least temporarily, an autoresponse system would let folks know that
their messages were received. She noted,
and I agree, that some central system for community input, that would track a
problem from receipt to resolution, is required.
We’ve seen a concerted effort at RIOC to be more responsive
to the community. Certainly, having our
neighbors as seven of the nine Board members has made a difference. However,
this ongoing question will be solved incrementally, by an infusion of
technology and, especially, good will.
Republished by arrangement with
the writer and The Main Street WIRE. Past RIRA
Columns and an archive of 15 years of The Main
Street WIRE are available on Website NYC10044 at http://nyc10044.com.