Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Is the NYC Parks Department Racist?

One would certainly think so given the fact that small, insular, wealthy communities (full disclosure - I live in one of them) get lifeguards - lots of them while the poorer east end Rockaway communities get zilch.

More evidence that Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has compared himself to Martin Luther King as a civil rights activist, supports closet racist policies that have lead to more segregated schools, the disappearing black teacher, and entire beach communities of people of color who do not have lifeguards and are threatened with summonses and arrest by Parks Dept. police if they should venture to put a toe in the water.

Message from NYC Parks Dept. head Adrienne Benepe:
Hey people of color: OK to sit on a crowded beach, but don't go in the water.

Here is an excerpt from a letter to Parks Dept. head Adrienne Benepe by Jeanne Dupont, who leads the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance:

population in these areas are polar opposites; Neponsit has a population of .02% minorities, where Far Rockaway has a 98% minority population. This cannot continue, as this is racial discrimination and could put the Parks Department in serious danger of legal action if it were investigated further.

Here's Jeanne's entire letter:

Please register your complaint that Far Rockaway needs its lifeguards every day, not just on the weekends. Visit 106 Headquarters for Lifeguards at Beach 106th Street on the boardwalk, call (718) 318-4000 extension 0, or call 311.
From Beach 75th Street on up, there are lifeguards every 100 yards. The outright neglect of our neighborhood is abominable, so please make yourself heard.
You may also want to write to Adrian Benepe, the NYC Parks Commissioner. Attached (and below) is a letter that Jeanne DuPont of Rockaway Waterfront Alliance sent today.
Thank you.

July 8, 2008

Mr. Adrian Benepe


NYC Department of Parks & Recreation

The Arsenal

16 West 61st Street

New York, NY 10023

Dear Commissioner Benepe,

As you know, Rockaway Waterfront Alliance has been working to encourage the public to use their waterfront through programs and activities that are so desperately needed in the Rockaway community. But it is difficult to watch as much of our work is undone by PEP patrol officers who chase the public off their beaches in search of an ‘open’ beach with lifeguards.

Last year in our local paper, you ‘Pledged a Commitment’ to the Rockaway community. But since that time little has changed and we still have no “Learn to Swim” or local “Lifeguard Training” programs anywhere in the Rockaways and the lifeguard recruiting process does not seem to be getting the numbers of lifeguards required to keep our beaches safe.

As it stands now, certain beaches are extremely well staffed for the privileged few, while other beaches in Rockaway are extremely underserved; putting the public at risk and overextending the lifeguards themselves.

For the past two weekends the beachfront at Beach 25th Street in the Rockaways has had well over 500 people each day, and no lifeguard at all during the week. This beach is adjacent to one of the largest populations of people on the peninsula, exceeding 25,000 residents and yet there is only 1 lifeguard stand for miles of public waterfront all the way to Beach 74th Street.

This seems extremely unjust given the fact that areas on the far western end of the Peninsula like Neponsit, have more than 21 lifeguards; 7 stands, 100 yards apart for less than 2,000 residents in an area with no public boardwalk, parking by permit only, and no access to public transit. This would seem to be a “private beach” paid for with public resources that are required to serve seven miles of public waterfront.

There is a drastic contrast in services provided between City Council District 31 and 32; two districts that lie adjacent to one another along the same waterfront. City Council District 31 presently has only 4 lifeguard stands from Beach 9th Street to Beach 54th Street, while City Council District 32 has over 72 lifeguard stands from Beach 74th Street to Beach 149th Street, every 100 yards apart.

It is also important to note that the population in these areas are polar opposites; Neponsit has a population of .02% minorities, where Far Rockaway has a 98% minority population. This cannot continue, as this is racial discrimination and could put the Parks Department in serious danger of legal action if it were investigated further.

To address the present shortage on the Eastern end, I would ask that the Parks Department in the very least, have lifeguards all week long at the 1 stand at Beach 25th Street and consider designating more stands along the beaches from Beach 25th Street to Beach 38th Street, to ensure the publics safety and emergency back up for the lifeguards that are stationed there.

Additionally, NYC legislation should to be revised, as it is in all other US coastal states to have a “swim at you own risk” policy. By doing this the city would reduce their risk of lawsuits and could use the funds, presently used for PEP officers to hire certified lifeguards, so we can have more ‘open’ swimmable beaches and less harassment to the public who deserve the right to use their waterfront.

I would be interested in speaking with you further about these issues. If you would like to meet to discuss how some of these things might be resolved, I can be reached 917 975-5623.

Thank you for your time.


Jeanne DuPont


Rockaway Waterfront Alliance


Councilman Joseph Addabbo

Steve Cooper, Frank Ave Civic of Edgemere

Richard George, Beachside Bungalow Preservation Assoc.

Phil Karmel/ Bryan Cave LLC

Congressman Gregory Meeks

Les Paultre. Rockaway Beachside Neighborhood Assoc.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Stephanie Samoy

Councilman James Sanders

State Senator Malcolm Smith

Barbara Smith, Deerfield Civic Assoc.

Assemblywoman Michele Titus


  1. Far Rockaway never used to be like this. In the days of bungalows, occupied by all whites, there were plenty of lifeguards on duty every day. My husband had his summer "palace" on Beach 26th St. He and his friends have wonderful beach memories. It is a shame that the people living their today are not being treated the same.

  2. Norm,

    Clearly this is a situation where some of us might consider taking action. The letter is terrific. This
    can easily blow up in Bloomy's and the Park Department's faces.

    I would be more than willing to help you and others organize an action to raise awareness regarding the situation.

    I'm quite pissed off now and must try to get some sleep so that I can teach tomorrow.



  3. The same can be seen at Highland Park, as it's not maintained like other nearby parks such as Forest Park, Juniper Valley Park, Cunningham Park being much better maintained...

  4. The lifeguard shortage in Far Rockaway is the result of the corrupt practices of the city's lifeguard program managers and the silence of our elected and appointed officials. The lifeguard managers - Richard Sher and Peter Stein, just to name two - are also self-appointed officers of the NYC lifeguard supervisors union (AFSCME Local 508). These same men have been making all of the lifeguard service level decisions as managers, while shutting down collective bargaining, for FOUR DECADES!!! This arrangement seems to suit everyone just fine.

    Attempts to get local politicians - Audrey Pheffer, Joe Addabbo, James Sanders, Greg Meeks - to look into this mismanagement travesty and to take any action have been futile. They are not going to ruffle AFSCME's feathers, as Mark Green did when he issued a report in 1994 condemning these same men for mismanagement and collusion. (They all know what happened to Mark Green.)

    Likewise the current mayor and Parks commissioner, just as all who preceded them, are silent about the disastrous NYC lifeguard program, while they wait for yet another summer - and citizen wrath - to fade away.

    With all due respect, this blog will only help the motivated few to formulate a plan. How about the following?

    The mayor, or his representatives, should attend a town hall meeting in Far Rockaway to discuss the lack of lifeguards and the conflict of interest as practiced by Parks Department managers who double as union bosses.

    The mayor should be asked to take administrative action to reclassify the top "city-wide" lifeguard positions as "managerial" pursuant to NYC Collective Bargaining law.

    Once that is accomplished, it is the end of the ancien regime.


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