Protest Fizzles as RIOC Announces Accord with WFF

Cats Win, Westview in Peril: RIOC's June Board Meeting

Updated 21 weeks ago David Stone
WFF, Community Tames the RIOC Lion
WFF, Community Tames the RIOC Lion

A RIOC Board Meeting featuring the rarity of being chaired by David Kraut, senior Board Member, when Chair Alex Valella did not show up, saw a near capacity audience in the Cultural Center shrink when it was announced that a settlement with Wildlife Freedom Foundation would let water flow again at the Southpoint Cat Sanctuary. Not on the agenda, Westview did not fare as well.

“WFF has agreed to use the water supply in a way as to not adversely impact the RIOC irrigation system,” RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal said, announcing "an agreement with the non-profit Wildlife Freedom Foundation (WFF) to reactivate water access at the Island’s Southpoint Park cat sanctuary."

Rosenthal's announcement came just a half-hour before the scheduled Board Meeting. Many of those attending and planning to protest heard it first from Rosenthal at the top of the agenda during time set aside for public comments.

Instead of an appeal, WFF President Rossana Ceruzzi thanked RIOC for compromising on the dispute and the Island community for its strong support that lead to 3,300+ signatures on a petition favoring the Sanctuary. She also thanked unnamed elected officials for helping persuade RIOC. It's known that both State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney signed the petition.

In a face-saving press release, RIOC took full credit for resolving the issues without explaining why it took more than a month to correct a mistake now obvious to everyone while imperiling the sanctuary as summer temperatures took hold. Ceruzzi and her attorney got a simple nod for attending a meeting.

Cats sleep happier on Roosevelt Island
Cats sleep happier on Roosevelt Island

What went unsaid was that, for all intents and purposes, RIOC lied about contaminating the Southpoint water supply in an attempt to intimidate the small nonprofit. Vice President of Capital Project Stephen Noone conceded at the meeting that the State "used the wrong term," but that admission was absent from the press release.

It was proven again that "Being RIOC means never having to say you're sorry" -nor to admit a mistake - although Board Member Michael Shinozaki personally apologized to Ceruzzi from his position at the table.

One prominent resident shook his head, lamenting the State's wasting its goodwill on such a misguided endeavor.

"There are so many ways we have to irritate residents for legitimate reasons, construction and things like that. Why do it over something like this?"

Bottom line: The Cat Sanctuary will have water readily available again, without conditions, and if there's any justice in the world, RIOC will have learned a lesson. Don't bet on it.

The news was not so hot for Westview tenants.

The stalled affordable exit from Mitchell-Lama, approved by tenants and Westview's sponsor more than a year and a half ago, was not on the agenda, an ominous sign.

Instead, acknowledging public concerns, Rosenthal brought the matter up during her President's Report, following a cheerful announcement about 4th of July arrangements, citing attention to security and traffic concerns as well as a line up of family friendly activities and multiple food trucks in Southpoint.

Everyone involved - RIOC, NYS Homes and Community Renewal, the Westview Task Force and Sponsor - were working diligently to get a deal done before a critical date of July 15th. Although Rosenthal was enthusiastic, her statement differed little from others in the past year in which she promised that an affordable exit would get done and that they were "negotiating like crazy."

No mention was made of a deal reached and agreed on by all parties in March from which RIOC later withdrew, creating the current crisis nor were the multiple stumbling blocks revealed. This impasse is in its second month as prospects for an agreement dwindled down to its last three weeks.

Because this was the final scheduled Board Meeting before the July 15th deadline for approving something close to the plan voted on by tenants, Rosenthal told unsurprised Board Members that she might interrupt their summers by calling them into an emergency session to vote, if any agreement was reached.

Also on the agenda were a host of spending issues requiring approval, most significantly the establishment of the RIOC Youth Center Department and approval of "the Bike Ramp and East Side Bike Lane Project."

Accompanying the transfer of the Roosevelt Island Youth Center from private nonprofit to public management is a whopping budget increase of more than 400%, from $200,000 annually to around $900,000, and that's only for starters. The State will up its employee headcount by 10. Other details remain sketchy.

The much needed Bike Ramp will increase safety as well as access by giving cyclists a helix-shadowing ramp that allows them to enter and exit the Island without competing for space with cars. The Ramp will lead into a new bike lane along the East Promenade that will connect with an existing late at Cornell Tech.

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