East End Matters...
As 2010 draws to a close, I thought it might be an interesting idea to take a look back at some of the East End Matters columns from this year. Moving into 2011 many of the issues that were written about remain unresolved.
At the beginning of January, the Department of Education held the required hearing to give residents of Rockaway a chance to voice their opinions about the proposed closing of Beach Channel High School. Despite being rated as “proficient” by the DOE, BCHS was still targeted for closure. Students, teachers, alumni and residents testified to keep the school open. The Panel for Educational Policy voted to close the school, but the judicial system overturned the vote on the grounds that the DOE had not followed the procedures outlined by the legislature’s school governance act. One hearing on the new proposal was already held in November and on January 13, 2011 another hearing at the school is scheduled to give the community an opportunity to voice how the closing would affect its students and the surrounding area. In the meantime, in September the DOE opened the new Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability in the BCHS building. The DOE believed the court decision – while stopping it from closing BCHS – did not prevent it from opening a new school. As last year, this closing looks to be a fait accompli. There are already plans that, when the phase out begins next September, another new school – 27Q351 – will join the three schools already in the building. It looks like new chancellor Cathie Black will be rubber-stamping the school closures that were in the pipeline. The departure of Joel Klein does not seem to be a remedy for what ails the school system – too much testing, not enough of plain old learning and a lack of investment in our schools. If the DOE has been able to invest in a new school during this last year, and another one next year, it can reinvest in a school that was shown to work until the city unceremoniously decided to cut funding for it.
Also last January, approximately 50 area residents got together to discuss the viability of a 197-a master plan for the Rockaways. Simply stated, such a master plan is a way for an area to take charge of its future by determining what it believes are its priorities. The idea of such a master plan was met with enthusiasm. The first meeting was put together and hosted by Rockaway Waterfront Alliance’s president Jeanne Dupont. What followed was six months of waiting until RWA once again called a meeting. This time Dupont was joined by the Trust for Public Land and urban planners Jonathan Rose Companies to discuss plans for an open space waterfront vision plan. Since then, several workshops have been held in different areas of Rockaway.
While this reporter has not attended all the workshops, the one I did attend for the east end was similar to what the Department of City Planning had asked of residents from all over the city as it was putting together its Vision 2020 Waterfront Plan this fall. One thing that was definitely missing was the community side. It was clear that RWA, Trust for Public Land and Jonathan Rose were in charge. How does this change from a 197-a plan? From where is the funding for projects coming?
Maybe there will be more answers at the last public meeting on January 12 at Peninsula Hospital Center. The meeting is billed as a presentation of the best community ideas and an opportunity for residents to help “Choose, prioritize, and plan [the] next steps for these projects as we turn our wish list into an action plan.”
Meanwhile, the law requires that the Department of City Planning complete Vision 2020 – New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan – by December 31, 2010. Also the Rockaway Task Force, after several public meetings on the peninsula, should soon send along its recommendations to the mayor.
In all these matters, we’ll soon learn if Rockaway residents are left to continue spinning their wheels or will actually get results in the things that are important to them.