Dear Boardwalk Friends: Greetings! Below you’ll find a long overdue update of this website. While many of us were dedicating long hours and significant energies to the fight to preserve the Coney Island Boardwalk over the past six years by collecting signatures on both paper and online petitions, engaging in letter writing and phone campaigns, meeting with local politicians, attending and speaking at community meetings, testifying at various City agency hearings, and taking part in rallies to preserve the Boardwalk – and a huge thanks to all who have contributed in any of these or many other ways in support of the Boardwalk – we have been inadvertently negligent with respect to keeping this site current for the last four of these years. We aim herein to rectify that. Below is a timeline accounting of what has taken place throughout these past years, where things stand at the moment, and what we hope for the future.
October 2011– A large group of approximately 95 of us, filled the room of the New York City Public Design Commission to overflowing to testify at their hearing with respect to the Parks Department’s seeking the Commission’s approval of their plan for the Boardwalk. (You can read the letter and see the materials we submitted to the Commission by clicking on the relevant links at the top of our homepage).The Design Commission is a little-known, but vitally important body that has to give its stamp of approval to any public project before it can proceed. There are 10 Commissioners that serve on this Commission, all of whom are appointed by the Mayor and serve at his pleasure. The positions occupied by these Commissioners, while unpaid, are nonetheless prestigious, holding as they do great power in the life of our city. One would think therefore, that their objectivity and immunity from outside pressures would be beyond reproach.
Each one of us that chose to speak was allotted three minutes to testify before the commission. We spoke first and foremost about the obviousness of how changing from wood to concrete obliterates the meaning and the character of the Coney Island Boardwalk. We outlined and vividly demonstrated-through the use of photos and actual chunks of concrete from the already converted concrete section of the Boardwalk– the inherent problems in using concrete as a Boardwalk substitute material in a saltwater environment. Similarly, we showed the problems that had occurred with the use of a fake plastic wood substitute that had been used in a small section on the pier.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Commissioners voted to withhold their approval of the Parks Department’s plan, pending answers to the issues that we had raised and possible further studies. The Commission would schedule another hearing in the near future at which Parks would be given the opportunity to answer the concerns that we had brought to light.
Two meeting dates that the Commission scheduled were subsequently canceled by them without explanation. This seemed both strange and worrying to us. Our concerns were confirmed as well-founded, when we learned that the Mayor’s office and the City administration were heavily lobbying the Commission to grant its approval for this project to go forward. Unfortunately, even though these are unpaid positions, many of these Commissioners have businesses or other interests that receive work from the city. We were informed as well, that these Commissioners value the prestigiousness of their positions and don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize their maintaining it. As stated earlier, the Commissioners serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. Thus, it’s not difficult to conclude that influence can be exerted on them to do what City Hall wishes them to. For an interesting accounting of what was taking place at this juncture check out this article that was published at the time: https://amusingthezillion.com/2012/03/09/the-10-people-who-will-decide-the-fate-of-coney-island-boardwalk/ .
March 12, 2012– As at the first meeting, we had a large group show up to testify. This time, those of us wishing to testify were cut down to two minutes each. Although we had been told privately by a source at the Commission, that the Commissioners were going to capitulate to the intense pressure being put on them by City Hall, we preferred to remain hopeful that we could prevail upon their better instincts with respect to their fellow New Yorkers in whose interests they have volunteered their expertise to serve, rather than succumb to their individual self-interests. Alas, this was not to be the case, and our hopes for fairness were met with a charade of an objective hearing, and the icy realization as the hearing proceeded that the fix really was in, and that the outcome had been predetermined. Pathetically, at the conclusion of the hearing, the Commission voted to approve the Parks Department’s plan for the Boardwalk to be redone in a mixture of concrete and fake plastic wood. (This was a compromise plan that we had wrung out of the Parks Department after many raucous Community Board and other meetings, at which their original all concrete Boardwalk plan had been soundly rejected). For a fuller accounting of all this please click on the “Hearing Update (3/12/12)” link at the top of our home page. Also, check out the following article: https://amusingthezillion.com/2012/03/22/the-coney-island-brighton-beach-concretewalk-blues/ .
May 2012– Through the efforts of Boardwalk stalwart Rob Cohen, himself an attorney, working with the group New York Lawyers in the Public Interest (NYLPI) he was able to help us secure pro bono legal representation from the firm of Goodwin Proctor LLP, in New York City.
Using some of the research that we had put together, in combination with their own with respect to State law, Goodwin Procter prepared, and in July submitted to the court a lawsuit demanding that an environmental review be done in advance of any new materials being used for the boardwalk. In September, we received word that a court hearing date of October 25, 2012 was set.
October 25, 2012– Once again a large number of us turned out to watch our three well prepared attorneys present our case to the court. Some of us had to wait out in the hallway, as there were no more seats inside. To say that our courtroom experience in jurisprudence left something to be desired would be severely diminishing the nightmarish quality of what we and our attorneys were forced to endure. When they were called forward to present their case, before they could utter a word, the Judge, Martin Solomon, began shouting, “Do you think you know more about the Boardwalk then I do?” As our attorneys tried to deferentially respond, he was not listening, but rather continued to rant on, self importantly declaring that, “I know more about the Boardwalk than probably anybody here.” He loudly continued on with sarcastic remarks regarding some of the arguments our attorneys had outlined in papers that had been submitted to him prior to the hearing. As if this was not enough of a betrayal of judicial temperance, he finally said that he would give our attorneys five minutes of the Court’s time to present their case. Up to that point he had not allowed them to speak at all. As he sarcastically put it in his final betrayal of his bias, he told them to hurry up so that he could get back to the important work he had to attend to. Even with the few minutes allotted them, our attorneys tried their best but were met with constant interruptions and more badgering by the judge. It was obvious that this was going to be a losing proposition.
And so it was. A few weeks later we received his official decision which unsurprisingly declared that the Parks Department could go ahead with their plan for the Boardwalk without doing additional environmental studies.
November 2013 – Our attorneys submitted an appeal of the initial Court’s ruling to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York State.
Two new local City Councilmen were elected – Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch -both of whom have been, and remain staunch supporters of maintaining a true wooden Coney Island Boardwalk. Both have backed up their words with actions, including meetings with the Parks Department, garnering support in the City Council, submitting an application to the City Landmarks Preservation Commission to have the Boardwalk be granted landmark status, and planning and attending rallies.
This has been an inspiring change from the two Councilmen that preceded them, Dominic Recchia and Mike Nelson. Nelson did nothing, not even giving lip service to the effort to save the Boardwalk, while Recchia actively worked against having the Boardwalk retain its character by colluding with the Parks Department and testifying in favor of their plan for concrete at a Design Commission hearing.
January 2014 – Councilmen Deutsch and Treyger assume office and hold planning meetings aimed at stopping the Parks Department’s Boardwalk plan.
July 2014 – We received word that the six judge panel of the Appellate Division had scheduled our attorneys to argue our appeal before them on September 26, 2014.
September 26, 2014 – In contrast with the debacle of our first courtroom experience, today’s hearing was characterized by the highest degree of seriousness, civility, and intelligence that one could imagine. Various of the six judges on this appellate panel asked pointed questions of the attorneys for both sides. By the nature of their questions, one could tell that they had carefully read the papers that had been submitted to them and they had an excellent understanding of the relevant issues. Our law firm had determined that just one of our attorneys, Ms. Anne Gruner, who had worked on our case from the very beginning, would argue our case to the Court. She did a masterful job of explicating our case, as well as demonstrating a full command of previous relevant case law as she cogently responded to the judges questions.
We left the court quite hopeful that day that we might prevail on our appeal. We all were in agreement however, that no matter the outcome, we had finally been given a full and fair hearing.
October 1, 2014 – Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz releases a letter that he sent to Mayor DeBlasio demanding that the $10 million in capital funding that he and fellow Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny had secured for Boardwalk repairs, only be used to repair the Boardwalk using wood, and that it not be used to fund materials that would change its fundamental character.
Not contained in the letter was Cymbrowitz’ commitment, declared at a meeting, that if the Parks Department insisted on going forward with its plan and not using wood, at the end of the calendar year he would ask the State not to renew the funds that had been committed to this but had not yet used, as it was legally necessary that the funds be recommitted each new year for this project, and that they instead remain with the State treasury.
November 2014 – The decision, with respect to our appeal, was handed down by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York State. Although we had prevailed on a number of points, the bar is set quite high on an appeal of a previous judge’s ruling in order to win, and we had failed to prevail on enough to meet that high bar. Thus, we were denied our appeal to overturn the ruling of the first judge. In spite of sustained vociferous public opposition, what this decision effectively meant was that the Parks Department was now free of any legal obstacles standing in their way to proceed with their plan if they chose to do so.
The Parks Department begins preparatory work to convert the section of Boardwalk from Coney Island Avenue to Brighton 15th St. using a combination of concrete and plastic boards. Removal of the wooden boards from this section is begun.
A group of us are invited to a meeting with Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver and his team. The meeting is held at the Brighton Y and includes Councilmembers Deutsch and Treyger, State Senator Diane Savino, Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, as well as a few community stakeholders.
For more than a year Councilman Treyger had been trying to arrange a meeting with the Commissioner’s office, but to no avail. Now, in an appalling display of disrespectful contempt, with work already going on right outside of where we are meeting to dismantle the very section of the Boardwalk we are here to discuss, we are told that we are being given the opportunity to express the community’s views to Commissioner Silver. When our input can no longer make any appreciable difference, we are invited to have a discussion!
The meeting proceeds with representatives of the Parks Department outlining why they have chosen the materials and the plan that they have, and our outlining why what they have chosen is so odious, and why they should not proceed with it.
After this display, a member of our group asks Assemblyman Cymbrowitz if he’s going to honor his pledge to not recommit the funds for this project, which would effectively halt it in its tracks, given that the Parks Department is going forward with their plan using concrete and plastic. He squirms in his seat for a bit, trying to talk around giving a direct answer. Finally, he allows as to how he’s been convinced that it’s best to let this plan go forward and that he is allowing the funding to continue. I then read out loud his own statement, and remind him of his commitment to the community, which he has just admitted he has reversed himself on and thus will not fulfill. He turns red and visibly shakes as I read his own statement, but does not verbally respond.
What we came to know was that Mr. Cymbrowitz had made a deal with the Parks Department. His constituents at the luxurious Oceana complex, from whom he receives substantial support, were upset that a bathroom was being placed on the Boardwalk in their site line and they wanted it moved. The Parks Department had already spent substantial funds and had begun work on the foundation for this bathroom. So the deal went like this – the Parks Department would move the bathroom, and in return, irrespective of his past letter and public declaration, Cymbrowitz would allow the funding to go forward, thus selling out the larger community that he represents, and allowing the Parks Department
to impose its will with regard to the Boardwalk. Once again, dishonorable self-interest rather than public good rules the day.
December 2, 2014 – Councilmen Treyger and Deutsch file an application with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to have the Boardwalk be declared a landmark. This would afford it certain important, though limited, protections that it does not currently enjoy.
December 17, 2014 – The Councilmen receive a letter of rejection of their application for landmark status for the Boardwalk from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The letter contains a shocking display of errors and inconsistent logic with respect to the Commission’s own criteria for the granting of landmark status. Please read Coney historian and Coney Island History Project founder and director, Charles Denson’s brilliantly informed response eviscerating the Commission’s reasoning: http://www.coneyislandhistory.org/blog/all/201501 .
January 18, 2015 – Rally to Save the Boardwalk is held. On one of the worst weather days of the winter, despite cold temperatures and a windswept rain, more than 100 people showed up to demand that the Parks Department not proceed with their plan. Joining with us to lend their support were a wide array of public officials, including Councilmembers Treyger and Deutsch, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. A good summary of the event is contained in this article: http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2015/1/21/protesters-demand-city-preserve-coney-island%E2%80%99s-boardwalk .
You can see video of the rally and speeches on youtube. Below are links for the entire rally split into two parts. Part 1 is 17:34 long and part 2 is 28:52 in length.
March 2015 – With the able assistance of eminent Coney Island historian Charles Denson, Councilmen Treyger and Deutsch resubmit their application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for reconsideration of Boardwalk landmark designation, rebutting errors of fact as well as inconsistent assertions contained in their letter of denial of the initial application. If you haven’t already read it from the section dated December 17, 2014, I’m reposting the link for Denson’s incisive response here: http://www.coneyislandhistory.org/blog/all/201501 .
A good article that sums up what was taking place at this time is available here:http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/2015/03/landmarks-preservation-commission-may-reconsider-bid-make-coney-island-boardwalk-scenic-landmark/ .
June 10, 2015 – We learn with bewilderment, that the the Parks Department and the City have shipped Boardwalk wood off to Milan. They claim that this wood was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Anyone living in one of the Boardwalk communities knows that the Boardwalk was unscathed by the Hurricane. For an interesting take on this bizarre set of events, you can read the following article:
November 2, 2015 – Forest Conservation and Urban Design Conference encourages the use of sustainably harvested wood. This two day conference concluded with the important recommendation to ” promote policies and practices in responsibly sourced wood for city projects and infrastructure.” They importantly declared, “The use of sustainably harvested woods from well-managed, certified forest systems, (including community managed forests ) can significantly contribute to global forest and wildlife conservation and maintain the aesthetic and architectural qualities that only wood can provide.” One of the conclusions of the conference, is that it is in fact more environmentally appropriate to use responsibly sourced and sustainable wood, then it is to use either concrete or plastic. You can read this brief, but important article about this here: https://newsroom.wcs.org/News-Releases/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/8305/Thought-Leaders-on-Forest-Conservation-and-Urban-Design-Make-Pledge-to-Promote-Sustainably-Harvested-Wood-in-Cities.aspx
It’s interesting to note that the Wildlife Conservation Society currently has land being managed in the rainforest in South America to grow sustainably sourced wood dedicated for a variety of their projects.
February 2016 – Councilmen Treyger and Deutsch introduce a resolution in the New York City Council urging the Landmarks Preservation Commission to grant the Coney Island Boardwalk the scenic landmark status that it is so eminently deserves. Here are two articles discussing this:
May 4, 2016 – A group of approximately 60 of us showed up to testify before the New York City Council Land Use Committee in favor of the Council resolution introduced by Members Treyger and Deutsch, which urges the Landmarks Preservation Commission to grant the Boardwalk an official scenic landmark designation. Many testifying cited not only the scenic relevance of the Boardwalk, but both it’s historic and cultural importance as well. Indeed, it was noted that objectively applying the criteria set up by the Commission itself, the Boardwalk could easily qualify in all three areas for landmark designation!
Something that took place outside of the hearing room after the hearing had concluded, is of particular interest. A young representative of the Landmarks Preservation Commission who had witnessed the hearing and heard the testimony of the people that showed up, was engaged in a conversation with one member of our group. When he asked her why, in the face of tremendous public support,
the unanimous support of the New York City Council, and the fact that the Boardwalk meets the criteria for landmarking, the Landmarks Commission would oppose granting it landmark status, her response was at once both telling and dispiriting. She declared that, no, it was not that the Commission members were opposed to granting landmark status for the Boardwalk. Rather, she said, it was the fact that the Commission was being heavily lobbied and pressured by the Parks Department asking that they not grant the landmark designation. It’s doubtful that this youthful representative sent by the Commission to monitor the hearing, realized what she was innocently, but honestly telling us: that one City agency was pressuring another to declare their particular desired outcome, in this case to not grant landmark status, to an application that ought to be judged on its merits based on applicable criteria, free of any outside influences or pressures. We now had confirmatory evidence of our darkest suspicions that this might be taking place. Once again, it was backroom politics impeding the Boardwalk’s receiving it’s just due!
Here is an article written the day before the hearing: http://www.brooklyndaily.com/stories/2016/19/web-boardwalk-landmark-hearing-2016-05-06-bk.html?comm=1#feedback
July 12, 2016 – The New York City Council votes its unanimous approval in support of landmark designation for the Coney Island Boardwalk.
The following is a part of a message received from Councilman Treyger’s office:
December 1, 2016 – So where do things stand at this moment? As the result of our organizing and fighting together, we got the Parks Department to back off of their original plan of an all concrete replacement walkway, and instead cut the concrete down to a ten foot wide path supposedly for use by emergency vehicles, with the remaining seventy foot width of the boardwalk being replaced with plastic lumber boards. Although this is much better than all concrete, it is still far from desirable, as the recent replacement of the section from Coney Island Avenue to Brighton 15th St., which we have been fighting with them over for some years now, proves. The concrete is incredibly hot in the summer to the point of scalding one’s feet, and the plastic boards were put down right on the top of concrete supports, thus allowing for no give or flexibility, as the rest of the boardwalk has, and so effectively feeling as if you are on concrete. This is especially troubling for the hundreds of runners that use the Boardwalk every day.