Lingering damage from Superstorm Sandy, housing, jobs, education, and transportation were among the issues as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Mark Treyger held a town hall at the Coney Island YMCA, 2980 West 29th Street, on Thursday, August 24.
Treyger, the evening’s moderator, and de Blasio were joined by other city officials to answer questions on an array of topics impacting the 47th Council District in a heated question-and-answer session which lasted nearly three hours, following remarks by de Blasio on some of the improvements planned for the area, including the commitment of $2 billion for resiliency measures for Coney Island and surrounding areas.
“I know that one of the crown jewels of this community is the Boardwalk,” he told the packed house. “It is legendary all over the world and for good reason, so there are two things we’re going to do going forward. First, I have asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to determine the best way to create landmark status for the Coney Island Boardwalk because it deserves it and as we figure out how to protect the Boardwalk for the long haul, we have an opportunity to add resiliency measures on top of the $2 billion we are already spending because I don’t want to see another Sandy hurt this community again.”
In addition, he said that New York City is statistically the safest big city in the country, with a five-borough economy providing more jobs than ever before in the city’s history, and its graduation rate is at its highest .
“Well before Sandy, Coney Island and a lot of other communities in southern Brooklyn bore the brunt of a lot of challenges — economic challenges, lack of attention from City Hall and a lot of problems that went on for many years,” de Blasio said. “Sandy amplified that and what I always remind people is that when Sandy hit, it hit in a very devilish manner, hitting communities that have been left behind too many times. We still have a lot to do, but the people in this community are incredibly strong. They have fought through whatever was thrown at them.”
One of the evening’s first questions was whether the area would receive an NYC Ferry.
De Blasio responded that, once the final ferry of the first batch is launched, the city would assess the response. “If the service is strong, and so far it has been very strong,” he said, “then we will start the process of looking at Coney Island in addition to other parts of Staten Island and Queens.”
The illegal home conversion issue plaguing Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights was addressed by attendee Bob Cassara. “Our zoning is being broken,” he said. “You had committed to more inspectors and technology. We need a lot more.”
“It’s a real problem,” responded de Blasio. “We added hundreds of more inspectors so now we have to make sure the inspectors are getting to the problem.”
Deputy Inspector of Enforcement Tim Hogan assured the crowd that teams go out ever Friday night to address the issue.
One attendee asked what government has done to bring jobs to the area. “I want to know when you are going to put more jobs back out here for the community, not for people coming from downtown Brooklyn or Staten Island,” she said.
“Coney Island has tremendous potential to build more jobs, but I hear you loud and clear — you want jobs for every kind of person. We try and connect people to jobs via a couple of different routes,” he answered. These include the Workforce 1 Center where residents of all skill sets can do to look for work.
This year, public transportation has been a hot topic and it was mentioned during the meeting, with respect to the B36, which one attendee noted has impacted seniors in particular.
Treyger first responded to the issue. “We have a number of issues with the MTA in our district, beginning with fact that it takes 45 minutes or more to take the B36 from the west end to get to Stillwell and the trains,” he said, reminding his listeners that the MTA was not controlled by the city.
“We are very frustrated with the buses and subways because we don’t feel [the MTA is] responding to our needs in the city,” de Blasio added. “I said I’m not going to give any more city money to the MTA when they’re not responding to our needs. The state took away a lot of money that was meant for the MTA, $456 million. That being said, we are going to fight for every neighborhood at MTA meetings. We don’t have the power but we have a voice.”
Housing was a constant topic throughout the evening.
One woman claimed that her NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartment has not received vital repairs. “Nobody has come to my house and it’s been two months,” she said. “My walls are still cracked, I was waiting for a paint job that’s still not done, there’s yellow and orange water coming out of our pipes. We can’t walk out in nighttime because there’s no lighting. What about our safety as tenants that live here? You’re worried about bringing more tenants in here but the tenants are suffering.”
The mayor alerted NYCHA General Manager Michael Kelly to investigate each individual situation presented.
“I’ve been a victim of Hurricane Sandy,” added attendee Veronica Palmer, a West 36th Street resident. “I’m still out of my home as part of Build it Back. My issue is to find out what I can do to get back home. ”
After a few attendees shouted similar questions, de Blasio responded with similar passion.
“I understand the frustration,” he said. “It’s real and deep and lots of mistakes were made. But the people sitting here are the people who run the city government and they are the best chances to fix your problem.”
During a lighter moment, Treyger offered de Blasio a box of cannoli from Bensonhurst’s Vilabate Alba, labeling them the best in the city.