Report-back from C.B.2 Meeting on Status of Washington Square Park: NYU & the Missing PEP Officers, Rest Rooms Opening Soon (Part III in Series)

Apologies for the delay! I will post Part III & IV of my report-back from last month’s Community Board 2 Parks Committee Meeting and status of items related to Washington Square Park today (Update: Part IV coming tomorrowSunday.). Here is Part III:

The Park’s Bathrooms – New Building Hours

Once the bathrooms finally open in the new building (set for sometime this month), part of final Phase III, the hours will be as follows:

Winter: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Summer: 8 a.m. – 7:30/8 p.m.

Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) Officers at the park

For a good number of years, New York University had a not-so-publicly-known agreement with the Parks Department to fund the PEP (Park Enforcement Patrol) Officers at Washington Square Park. The Park Enforcement Patrol work for the Parks Department, you will notice them by their green uniforms. They can issue tickets – they are not NYPD. At some point, the PEP at the Park mysteriously disappeared and there were none – for a long time.

(You can read more at A Walk in the Park Blog for articles on the issues around Park Enforcement Patrol officers at NYC parks and the disparities in the number of PEP officers at the more affluent parks – read: High Line, Central Park – and parks in outer boroughs and poor neighborhoods.)

Some think this disappearance of the PEP was a “back door privatization” push — so the city agency could state, “There is no money for PEP at Washington Square.” (where NYU went is anyone’s guess) and they would then point to a private conservancy as the only answer and … voilà! they had one lined up.

At Community Board 2’s Parks Committee meeting in May, also a “public” hearing (and the only opportunity for the public to discuss the addition of Conservancy at the park in any real manner prior to the C.B.’s rush to vote), Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro was a bit unclear as to what exactly happened to the PEP workers previously employed at the park and that agreement with NYU. One person who was there recalled that Castro stated that he just stopped asking NYU about it (which would support the above “back door privatization” scenario). I don’t remember this part of his spiel. Whether NYU should have to pay for this is a whole other question. The Parks Department budget should be adequately funded.

The number of PEP officers throughout the city had been cut over the Bloomberg years, but, after an audit by firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Parks Department under current Commissioner Veronica White agreed to nearly double the number of park officers. (As someone commented at that linked article, “So the Mayor pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to the priciest consulting firm to find out what all park advocates already know” and have pushed for for years.)

Anyway, the new Park Enforcement Patrol officers designated to Washington Square Park started September 9th.

Park Administrator Sarah Neilson told the Community Board that the PEP workers work one shift per day and the hours are typically 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are three PEP officers now designated to Washington Square Park, the park as their ‘turf.’ They typically work in pairs so usually there will be two at the park, at times three. CB2 Parks Committee member Honi Klein asked if those hours could be changed, saying that “the morning is less urgent than the evening” and that it would make sense to have the PEP officers working later at night. Parks District Manager Ralph Musolino responded that in the morning there are issues such as homeless people and dogs off-leash that are addressed then and this ends up being an important time. Sarah Neilson said in the spring of next year, there will be a second shift added in the evening. Neilson also outlined the warnings given by PEP officers in the past month.

Numbers of warnings given by PEP officers to park users from September 9th to October 2nd (thereabouts):

Smoking: 40-50

Bikes: 25-35

Skateboarding: 12-20

Dogs off leash: a few a day

*   *   *

Part IV coming later today!

(A few more links to be added in to this piece.)

Previously at WSP Blog:

Part I: Repair of Washington Square Park’s Long Neglected, Broken Down Sidewalks Delayed Again; Work Now Set to Begin Summer 2014 — 6 1/2 Years After Redesign Construction Began October 14, 2013

Part II: Washington Square Park Phase III Construction To Have Staggered Opening — “Mounds” (or What Used to be the Mounds) Set to Open By Halloween October 16, 2013