New Year, Fresh Start

Changes: RIOC's January 2020 Board Meeting

David Stone
In January, 2018, Board Chair Alex Valella fled a rancorous meeting that focused on the Roosevelt Island Youth Program's survival. Most of his term was far more peaceful
In January, 2018, Board Chair Alex Valella fled a rancorous meeting that focused on the Roosevelt Island Youth Program's survival. Most of his term was far more peaceful
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Changes have Roosevelt Island's gears turning as the New Year saw RIOC's first 2020 Board Meeting, one with welcome, if mild surprises, and a disappointing loss. But mostly, it was all about community engagement.

Get the bigger picture, updated daily: Roosevelt Island News

A lightly attended meeting that ended with Alex Valella's announcement that he'd no longer chair the sessions started with a more interactive than usual public comments session:

Public Comment: The Q102

Taking the community lead in protesting the MTA's plans for ending Q102 bus service for Roosevelt Island, historian and community activist Judith Berdy asked RIOC's Board to get involved. A public listening session is on the calendar for February 4th - that's Tuesday - and Berdy wants RIOC to muscle up with the community.

If tentative plans become firm, Q78 buses, now dubbed QT78 with the T standing for "temporary," will replace Q102s. Q78s would radically curtail service by ending all stops north of the Roosevelt Island Bridge and south of the subway.

Typically, the Board listens quietly to public comments, taking time to absorb rather that react immediately. But this was different. Board members were actively engaged and added to a strong positive consensus.

President Susan Rosenthal said that RIOC's staff is already working with Senator José Serrano's office and is also in direct contact with the MTA. But the emphasis, all agreed, must be on the general public stepping up vocally.

To that end, Gretchen Reynolds, the Board's chief legal counsel, agreed to draft a resolution backing the community's efforts to preserve current levels of bus service. If one can be made available, Rosenthal said a RIOC bus may carry locals to the Tuesday meeting.

An Otherwise Light Agenda

Only two actions required Board approval, and both got it.

  • In another sign of improving community involvement, assistant vice president Jonna Carmona-Graf asked for increased funding for a completely rebuilt comfort station in Lighthouse Park. That, she confirmed, is an immediate result of community input during the redesign phase for the park. Originally, only improvements were planned, but Roosevelt Islanders want the old facility banished forever. RIOC agreed and approved the money.
  • The Board unanimously agreed to contract with a consultant to advise them on better internal audit controls. It envisions departments working with improved cooperation and uniform standards that can easily be reported to the Board, which is ultimately responsible.

A President's Report

With more than enough to report, Rosenthal chose to focus on major uncompleted projects that are targeted for a finish line in 2020. Among them...

  • Blackwell House, closed now for two decades and under renovation for the last three, is on the cusp of a final necessary approval for operations from the City Department of Buildings, Rosenthal said. A hoped for September opening failed when the City held it up, pending improvements.
  • The Youth Center, now run by RIOC and ready to open, stalled because its neighbors, the new library under construction and Roosevelt Landings, had floods that leaked through. Remedial work on that's nearly done, and local kids should have an active, fully functioning center soon.
  • Lighthouse Park: Along with the comfort station action, Rosenthal reported that community sentiment from January's public workshop demanded "more green space, more barbecues and more parkland." The project involves expanding to replace Coler Hospital's now unused parking lot on the east side. Graveled land and the faint reminders of torn down buildings will be grassy meadows and picnic areas.
  • Sportspark: In what feels like an unending prelude, an RFP for the facility's long awaited Phase One upgrade is expected to be released in February. Optimism is cautioned.
  • In another longterm project, Rosenthal said that work on the new Tram Elevator has resumed. Hopes are that it will be in operation by the end of this year. So far, years of delays have been caused by everything from a vendor's bankruptcy on the eve of starting work to unexpected ground conditions discovered when the current contractor began to dig.

Alex Valella Stepping Down

On a sad note as the meeting rolled up toward an executive session, Alex Valella, who served as chair, surrogate for Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas, for several years, announced his pending retirement from government service. This was his last meeting.

Valella has actively contributed insight and guidance earned throughout his career, and the Board frequently praised his help. He also presided over the stormy and reprehensible to many public process that led to the destruction of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program after four decades. That resulted in a government takeover of a once community run operation.

Note: There will be no February Board meeting. Next up is March.

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