2004-06-25 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

By Howard Schwach

From the Editor's Desk

If Rockaway residents were to sing the classic song from Porgy and Bess, "Summertime," the first line would not be "Summertime, and the living is easy." Rather, the first line in Rockaway would have to be "Summertime, and the tickets are flying."

The Wave has been inundated with calls from every section of Rockaway that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the Park Enforcement Police (PEP) have teamed up for a wave of tickets that put Captain Talamo's draconian enforcement the last two years look like a walk in the park.

Nearly every person who has called us has ended the conversation with some form of "this is getting really stupid, and perhaps it's time to leave the city."

They are right.

It is getting really stupid.

The prime example of that is the plight of Geofry Wohl, who has lived for 33 years on Beach 137 Street and has used the beach in front of his home every one of those years with no problems.

On Wednesday, June 9, a very hot day, Wohl found his beach closed because there were no lifeguards available to patrol the beach. He walked to the water and waded into the water up to his knees.

A PEP officer on a four-wheel dune-buggy pulled up and ordered him out of the water.

He complied, but questioned a rule that would not even allow him to be on the sand on a closed beach.

On June 16, however, another hot day, Wohl again found he beach closed. He did not want a problem with the PEP, but decided that he could reasonably sit on the sand nearby the seawall.

After all, as he told The Wave, "I always believed that the beaches belong to the public and can be used any time by the people who live nearby."

After a short time, however, PEP Sergeant Joseph pulled up in his dune-buggy and asked Wohl for his identification. Wohl complied.

"You should not be on my beach," Wohl recalls the sergeant saying.

The Sergeant then took out his ticket book and wrote four tickets to Wohl, each one good for $20 or more.

The first was for Disorderly Behavior.

The Parks Department Green Book, its administrative rules, lists disorderly behavior as "attempting to enter any facility, area or building sealed, locked or otherwise restricted from public access. If you are on a beach that is closed, you may not even walk across the beach without risking a ticket under that administrative rule.

The second ticket was for violating the sign that indicates that, when beaches are closed, nobody is to be on the beach for any reason.

The Green Book says, "no person shall fail to comply with or obey any instruction, direction, regulation, warning or prohibition, written or printed, displayed or appearing on any park sign..."

That about covers it.

The third ticket was for "endangering the safety of others."

When Wohl asked how he, alone on the beach, could possibly be endangering others, the sergeant reportedly told him, "If I didn't have to be here giving you a ticket, I could be protecting swimmers who really need it."

Talk about stupid!

The fourth ticket was for failure to comply with a enforcement officer's direction. Wohl can't figure out what that is all about because the only direction that he was given was to produce his identification and he did that right away.

The PEP Sergeant, apparently afraid of a confrontation with Wohl, called the NYPD for backup. Wohl says that more than a dozen cops came walking onto the beach and surrounded him. He was embarrassed that his friends would think that he had committed a crime.

According to the Parks Department, which refused to comment on the story, he did commit a crime - he was on a closed beach. Throw away key!

For the past two years, City Councilman Joe Addabbo, who sits on the council's Parks Committee, has promised that the tickets and the draconian enforcement of unnecessary and stupid beach and boardwalk rules would end.

In May, when four residents got tickets for having beer and an open fire on the beach, Addabbo said, "We are not going to be able to change the laws [about drinking], but we can work to make the enforcement of those laws more reasonable."

Addabbo added, "I don't expect that this summer is going to be a problem for beachgoers."

Boy, is he wrong!

Addabbo says the laws must stay but the enforcement has to change.

That makes no sense. First of all, many of those "laws" are no more than administrative rules that can be changed by the same body that made them - in this case, the Parks Department.

Secondly, it makes no sense to have rules that you don't plan to enforce across the board. Make no mistake, the rules are there because the people who live nearby the beach want them there and they are enforced selectively in the west end of Rockaway because that is the way the residents want them enforced.

Which is why Addabbo will not push to make the rules more reasonable. To do so would anger those he perceives as his core constituency in Rockaway - the civic associations on the west end.

The rules are enforced selectively. The beach rules for Rockaway in the Green Book are not enforced in the same manner on any other beach or park in New York City.

When I asked Parks officials why the rules are enforced so harshly in Rockaway and not so harshly in Coney Island, I was told that nobody lives nearby the beach in Coney Island, so nobody complains.

I want Addabbo to stand up in the City Council and propose relaxed rules for Rockaway. Even if his rules are not accepted, his proposal would make me a happier camper. There is no chance of that happening, however.

Even the surfing issue, that was supposedly settled with the changing of the State's Sanitary Law, is still in contention.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer says the state has kept its part by changing the law exactly as the city wanted it to do. She says that the ball is now in New York City's court, and it is the city's job to now designate the surfing beaches that the state law allows.

Addabbo says that the city is not ready to do that because there are still problems with the wording in the law that the state changed. I have to believe that the city will never be satisfied with the state's rules. It's the liability, stupid. So, we go through a third summer with a wave of tickets, fishermen being restricted, surfers being whistled from the water.

What about Addabbo's promise of a normal summer.

Call him at 718-318-6411 and ask. See what he tells you.

It will probably be smoke and mirrors.

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