David Stone
The incidence of bicycles on sidewalks increased after the arrival of Citi Bike, but PSD Chief Kevin Browns says his officers are all over it.
The incidence of bicycles on sidewalks increased after the arrival of Citi Bike, but PSD Chief Kevin Browns says his officers are all over it.
© David Stone/Roosevelt Island Daily

RIOC's board of directors met in a virtual meeting on Monday, September 14th. The main focus was on next year's budget, but the group devoted time to deflect resident criticism while vigorously patting itself on the back.

The 2021-22 RIOC Budget

State law requires RIOC to prepare a preliminary budget for Albany review by the end of September, although the fiscal year under consideration does not begin until April 1st. This year, the process is complicated by the unpredictability of the COVID-19 crisis, its effects so far and best guesses about the future.

The most substantial change for this year's budget is a reduction of $27,882,000 in capital projects. That's due to the anticipated completion of several projects and the removal of expenses for the Palace of Versailles Bike Ramp. The bike ramp is delayed by restrictions in grants previously expected from the state.

A reduction in force was also attributed to the capital projects ramping down. Two managers were let go in the spring and will not be replaced. Public information officer Terrence McCauley resigned under pressure in the wake of president/CEO Susan Rosenthal's as yet unexplained firing and cannot be replaced during a hiring freeze. Sources tell us that McCauley was considered too close to Rosenthal and, therefore, subject to purge, although he'd greatly improved community communications.

A Tram dilemma...

"Tramway revenues are projected to remain at same level as the Approved Budget FY 2020‐21," the proposal's prologue says. That is, $6,356,000 in Tram revenue inflates the budget, projecting a complete return to normal for New York City by April.

Even the usually passive board seemed troubled by that rosy projection.

While that number reflects last year's approved budget, in place before the coronavirus crisis, it bears little resemblance to reality. Restrictions on ridership forced by social distancing and greatly reduced commuter needs cut revenues by more than half.

But CFO John O'Reilly's budget anticipates a complete reversal and return to normal. As discussions continued, he explained that his optimism rests on a couple of risky assumptions.

First, his office has been negotiating with the MTA for an increase in revenue sharing from the MetroCard system used by the Tram, city buses and subways. Although his arguments were persuasive that RIOC does not presently get a fair enough share, a better, renewed agreement requires winning an increase from a state agency already in a revenue free fall.

If that's risky, the second condition on which O'Reilly based his numbers is far riskier. It projects a full return of normal activity in the city as a whole and a resulting massive uptick in Tram usage. That would mean workers returning to offices, restaurants and retail shopping while tourists filled airports with fresh arrivals seeking Broadway entertainment and other urban treats. By April.

Nobody expects that for years, if ever.

But the board strangely accepted the rationale of "a vaccine in October," something virtually no one outside the White House believes remotely possible, leading to a miracle of renewal by spring.

That's not going to happen either, but O'Reilly countered board doubts with a stark reality. If Tram ridership and revenues do not increase substantially, RIOC can't absorb $3 million a year in lost revenue, rendering Tram operations no longer viable. 

That is, in clearer terms, the Tram's survival dangles on a thread of hope considered unreasonable by most. And it's a sign of RIOC's rigidity that no other, more rational alternatives appear under consideration.

The board passed the proposed budget with these assumptions. Unanimously, of course.

What Was Missing At The September 2020 Board Meeting: Residents

While COVID-19 precautions require virtual meetings online without residents visibly present, the board's awareness - or lack thereof - wasn't much changed.

Acting president/CEO Shelton Haynes may have needed physical therapy after so relentlessly patting himself and his staff on the back with some board members cheering him on. Watch the video posted on RIOC's website, and try to keep count on how many times he says one thing or another is great and how RIOC's getting "great feedback" on everything it does. From whom?

It was like Happy Valley, the mythical city, invented by Monty Python, where anyone who isn't happy is sentenced "to hang by your neck until you cheer up."

Maybe RIOC should consider its own theme song, an urban variation of Home on the Range where "seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day."

All that's missing is "the deer and he antelope" at play.

But seriously, folks...

The only evidence of any awareness of resident concerns, during the sunshine and flowers board meeting, occurred prior to its official start. 

In the "Public Session," Gretchen Robinson, chief counsel, read three messages submitted by a pair of residents.

The first two, complaining about filthy conditions in the Tram Plaza on the 2nd Avenue side, were simply dismissed without comment or recognition, but the third, from Judith Berdy, stirred reaction.

While public comments are supposed to be spontaneous remarks calling for the board's attention - good luck with that - Haynes and PSD Chief Kevin Brown came armed with a rebuttal.

Berdy complained about the ongoing absence of RIOC personnel, specifically PSD and Chief Brown, and called for their return. She mentioned observing bicycles on sidewalks, a common occurrence, and not seeing any uniformed officers during a two-hour stay at Nisi, the restaurant directly across from PSD headquarters, on a Sunday evening.

Although Chief Brown offered a robust defense, in a nutshell, he insisted that it never happened. He "respected Ms Berdy," he said, but...

This is pretty much how all complaints are handled, whether they be of PSD officers idling while bikes threaten pedestrian safety along Main Street and both promenades or consistent management failures in dealing with toxic wastes in Southpoint Park and the ongoing contaminated water crisis. 

RIOC simply doesn't get it, and when they do, they chuck it aside.

But since Chief Brown deflected Berdy's criticism as untrue, we decided to offer video footage, provided by Roosevelt Landings resident Radu Oprea, shot Sunday evening at 11:30. 

In an all too familiar incident starting directly in front of PSD's Main Street headquarters, a man on an off-road ATV roars through an illegal U-turn before racing south, going the wrong way on a one-way street.

 

At no time does he encounter the least interference or even recognition from PSD. Public Safety's as invisible to him as it was to Judith Berdy, earlier.

...And one last word.

Although the newest board members, Jeffrey Escobar, David Kappel and Conway Ekpo, barely participated in the meeting, apart from mandatory "Yes" votes, Kappel brought up the Tram's nightly shutdown. Although that's always taken place, coupled now with a first ever subway shutdown, it's more critical.

But, and it's a big one, Kappel was not concerned about its effect on residents.

No, he said it would have an effect on "real estate values."

Which pretty much tells you where his head is and why Governor Cuomo appointed him. 

His thoughts were not amended by any other board member, but one, Michael Shinozaki, congratulated Haynes because his wife approved the Lighthouse Park comfort stations.

...where never is heard a discouraging word...