Bronx community leaders and residents got a chance to speak to Mayor Bill de Blasio during a Town Hall at Villa Barone Manor on Wednesday, August 10.
The mayor touched on issues such as homelessness, Councilman James Vacca’s ‘road diet’ plan and the Rodman’s Neck police shooting range.
Lisa Soren, executive director of the Westchester Square Business Improvement District, asked Mayor de Blasio to address the influx of mentally ill homeless people into the shopping area
She wondered if there was a way to make sure patients coming from state mental health facilities were not left on the street.
She also accused the city of having a “hands off” approach when it comes to addressing homelessness in the Bronx.
De Blasio took issue with Soren’s “hands off” comments and said the NYPD and the mayor’s office are working on the Bronx’ homeless issue.
The mayor pointed specifically to the NYPD’s commitment to removing encampments in the Bronx.
Bronx Commander Larry W. Nikunen said as recently as April the NYPD removed an encampment in Pelham Bay Park.
He said 45th Precinct captain Danielle Raia led her officers as they they addressed a homeless encampment, offered them residence and substance abuse help, then dislodged them.
Nikunen said this is the process for every encampment the NYPD encounters.
In addition, once they clear an encampment, officers return to the location to make sure there are no stragglers.
If people return, the NYPD will repeat the process.
Monique Johnson, president of the Throggs Neck Houses Residents Association, expressed concern about formally homeless families living in NYC Housing Authority apartments.
She said some of these families behave like they are still on the street.
Johnson said this causes problems for residents in adjoining apartments.
De Blasio said many homeless New Yorkers are stable people who just fell on hard times.
He said sometimes it is difficult for them to adjust to life outside a shelter.
In addition, the mayor said if anyone “knows a homeless family … that can’t hack it” then they should reach out to the NYC Human Resources Association.
De Blasio also talked about Councilman Vacca’s ‘road diet’ plan which appeared to be the most contentious part of the meeting.
The plan calls for the removal of a lane in each direction on East Tremont Avenue – from Waterbury Avenue to Bruckner Boulevard.
The idea is to slow down motorists on the main roadway that has claimed the lives of two pedestrians in hit and run accidents over the last three years.
John Cerini, member of the Throggs Neck Merchants Association and a vocal critic of Vacca’s plan, challenged de Blasio.
Cerini said the public voted for both Vacca and de Blasio and they were not listening to their constituents on the issue.
Cerini’s message has been the plan will create more traffic jams and force motorists to detour onto nearby residential streets.
The ‘road diet’ plan is apart of the mayor’s ‘Vision Zero’ initiative to decrease motorists/cyclist/pedestrian fatalities in the city.
De Blasio told Cerini that Vision Zero has “saved many dozens of lives” and helped to “avoid crashes that cause undue harm.”
He also stood by the lane reduction plan, saying elected officials are called to use their judgement and have “a sacred obligation” to save lives.
Vacca reminded residents the road adjustments will be “done in paint” so they can be undone if necessary.
Discussion was a little less contentious when the mayor responded to City Island Civic Association president Barbara Dolensek’s request for help with the ongoing noise at Rodman’s Neck.
Communities around Eastchester Bay have complained for years about the noise coming from the NYPD shooting range.
De Blasio promised that a new 10-year capital budget – expected to be released in January 2017 – will include funds for an upgrade to the police training facility which will include soundproofing.
The mayor also addressed the construction of the westbound side of Pelham Parkway.
Tony Vitaliano, chair of Community Board 11, asked that while the city is working on the reconstruction of the parkway they consider keeping open a small access roadway.
The city engineers suggested returning the road to parkland, but Vitaliano said he would like the access road retained and named Mother Theresa Lane.
In addition, Vitaliano asked that a Civil War-era tree, which is scheduled for removal, be left alone.
“I love the Mother Theresa idea,” said de Blasio.
He also said he is a proponent of saving trees, however he added if his staff determines they cannot save the tree then he would have to listen to them.
Andrea Siegel, president of the Pelham Parkway Association, asked for an update on the city’s progress in creating a better outdoor experience around the Pelham Parkway Mall.
The project includes walking and bicycle paths, lawn restoration and seating areas, however Siegel, who lives in Pelham Parkway South, said the construction is at a standstill.
De Blasio instructed Iris Rodriguez, Bronx commissioner for the NYC Parks, to personally go down to the site and report back her findings.
The meeting left some residents dissatisfied.
Andrew Chirico, vice president of the Waterbury-LaSalle Community Association, felt “members of the Waterbury LaSalle community were deliberately passed over by Mr. Vacca during the question and answer session because he knew we would give him the toughest arguments about the traffic on East Tremont Avenue.”
In addition, he took issue with the fact the expansion of P.S. 14 was not discussed.
The organization is opposed to the size of the project.
Vacca said after the meeting that he called on approximately 90 percent of the people present during the three-hour session.
In addition, he said he never saw Chirico raise his hand.
Vacca also pointed out that Cerini, who was against his traffic plan, was one of the first speakers called upon.
Vacca said overall he felt the residents took advantage of the opportunity to bring their concerns before the mayor and he thought the meeting was a success.
Photo spread of the Town Hall meeting can bee seen on page 36.