Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Community Board 12 Parks & Cultural Affairs Committee Meeting

--was held last night in a room significantly smaller than your average office supply closet. I am not exaggerating. The larger meeting space at cb12 headquarters (which would have been barely adequate) was taken up by the Economic Development Commmittee meeting that started before our meeting, and continued after it. So we got stuck in "Room A", directly behind that larger space, which I will bet you anything was originally designed as a storage closet.

The parks presentation was not the only item on the agenda. People just kept arriving. The air conditioning was cranked up to the max, but before long, the room felt overly warm from all the human body heat being generated. There was not a square foot of unoccupied floor space. It wasn't quite as bad as rush hour in midtown, but it was getting there.

And then the parks people showed up. And said they had to set up for a Powerpoint presentation. To which Liz Ritter, chair of the committee, responded "Can I kill myself now?"

I'm sure you're all wondering how things went for us. Fortunately, I have video of the meeting, which I've uploaded to YouTube. You can view it here.

That young woman with the squeaky voice never did find her Aunt Minnie. And Margaret Dumont may never fully recover from the shock. But seriously, folks.

The dog run, as best as we can tell, is dead for the forseeable future. There is no reason to think Offleash Hours will be ended or altered in Fort Washington Park. That's the good news. It's not the only news.

What we were told was that although plans for a dog run down by the river had been drafted as part of the overall Master Plan, the Parks Department would not have gone ahead and built the run unless a dedicated group of local dog owners had expressed a willingness to partner with them to run and maintain it. No such group ever materialized. Quite the contrary--almost 20 dog owners crammed themselves into this tiny room to say they wanted no additional dog run in Fort Washington Park (since the Rocky Run technically is in that park, albeit separated from the main section by a major highway and Amtrak).

The woman who was pushing for the run did come to the meeting--but didn't show up until after we'd taken our nonbinding and unanimous hand vote against it. She had nothing to say about it, and probably already knew it was being shelved. Not one person at the meeting openly advocated in favor of the dog run. It was, you would have to say, a nonstarter.

None of this changes my basic conviction that if Jennifer Hoppa hadn't received so many emails and phone calls over the last two weeks--she told Caroline Sickinger she'd heard from around 200 people, though that may have been slightly hyberbolic-- the run would have stayed on the drawing board, waiting only for a small group of local dog owners, who could have presented themselves as our representatives, and gotten it approved.

The run's primary (and perhaps only) champion is reportedly a very skilled political infighter, with a lot of experience at cb12, and a huge headstart on us--the only thing she was lacking here was a constituency. What we achieved was to demonstrate that there was a very strong and passionate constituency--for Offleash Hours. And now that we've organized, we have the option of using our newly-found clout in the future, to advocate not only for retaining our offleash privileges, but expanding on them. And we may well need to call on that.

But at the present time, it's no longer necessary to besiege Ms. Hoppa with further calls, letters, and emails. She's gotten the message, loud and clear. And as a group, we should thank her for her responsiveness and accessibility. In some cases, a dog run might have been just what was wanting. Not in this case. Not even close.

I want to thank each and every person who showed up last night. We did ourselves proud. And I'll list you the best way I know how--via your dogs, who are, after all, the ones who got you there. So bravo to Spike, Maximus & Brownie; to Fergus, Jack, Bo, Smarties and Duke; to Francine, Xocha, and Aries; to Molly and Kyla and Jerry's Max--not to mention Yolanda's and my Max. You should all be very proud of your people.

But none more than Cheyenne, whose entire family turned up for the meeting--even though Cheyenne herself is rarely seen down in Fort Washington Park. That kind of community spirit is never easy to find, and all I can say is that it's small wonder Cheyenne always looks so indomitably happy, with a family like that.

And to any dogs whose people I failed to properly thank--please feel free to bite me the very next time we meet.

We won't be hearing much more about the Master Plan for improving Riverside and Fort Washington Parks for the rest of the summer. However, the day is quickly arriving when we will arrive in the park, and find that substantial areas of it are temporarily closed to us, due to the very significant changes that are now in the works. The dog run wasn't even the tip of that iceberg. And we're still heading towards it at full steam.

More on that after I've attended tonight's cb9 meeting, 6:30pm, at 18 Old Broadway.

Which you are still all encouraged to attend. If you want to. They are, in fact, planning to lay down artificial turf in at least one nearby area of Riverside Park. And they sure as hell do mean to do some paving in Paradise. That Joni Mitchell song I quoted in the May 26th article is more relevant to the situation than ever. Though in fairness, they are actually replacing one parking lot with grass. It's not all bad. We hope.

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