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The RIRA Column - February 26, 2011

posted Mar 6, 2011, 2:33 PM by Unknown user

By Matthew Katz, RIRA President

e-mail: 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.


Retraction Revisited


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 before April.


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 Roosevelt Island.


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 resolved.


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 Committee chair


Frank Farance at 800-327-2623 or to transportationfeedback@riraonline.com.


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.