District 51
South Shore of Staten Island

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District 51 - Andrew Lanza
3944 Richmond Avenue, Staten Island 10312
City Hall: (212) 788-7363
District: (718) 984-5151
Fax: (718) 984-5737

Committee Assignments:
Education, member
Land Use, member
Sanitation & Solid Waste Management, member
Standards & Ethics, member
Transportation, member
Planning, Dispositions & Concessions, member of Land Use Subcommittee

Controlling Waste and Development

By Andrew Lanza

I was raised on Staten Island and believe it is a great place to grow up. I have two young daughters, and we plan to put down our roots here. But several things threaten the future of our community.

One is over-development, which is perhaps better described as unplanned development. We have to be more farsighted in how we use our land.

Take the 130-acre Charleston site, one of the largest city-owned tracts in New York. It is a jewel -- wooded, with horse paths running through it. The city has been talking about disposing of this land since 1978. In December, the city planning department certified about 70 acres of it for retail development -- contradicting the will of the community board, residents and local elected officials, including myself and U.S. Representative Vito Fossella. I will try to rally the votes in City Council to kill the project.

Before we use the Charleston site for stores, we should put it to public use. The infrastructure of Staten Island has lagged behind development. We have overcrowded schools, we do not have enough parkland, and we do not have a single recreational ball field on the South Shore.

It would be foolish for us to sell this land without making accommodations for schools. If we do that, five years from now when we finally get the money to build a school, we could be forced to go to the private sector and buy the land back at five or ten times more than we received for it. That is an irresponsible way to manage the taxpayer's money.

Every weekend, 5,000 or 6,000 soccer families drive over the bridge to New Jersey because we don't have soccer fields here. Let us keep those folks where they live.

Bloomberg administration officials have come out here to look at Charleston. They say, "You're right. This is a jewel and we have to be careful about it how we dispose of it." We hope the Economic Development Corporation and the mayor's office will take a more comprehensive approach to the Charleston site and to development in general.

Too much development pressures our infrastructure. When you have over-development, you get overcrowded schools and congested streets. You don't have sufficient places for kids.

This represents the single largest threat to the quality of life in South Shore. Protecting and preserving land owned by the city is one way to address the problem. It kills two birds with one stone. We save treasures for public use. And if you put a library in Charleston, you can't put in townhouses.

Existing zoning regulations in Staten Island allow for the development. Development should reflect the community's needs, values and desires, so the community could have a say in zoning. An application to down-zone - to zone for less intensive development -- was submitted to the city planning department in March 1997 and has been stalled there for five years.

City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden has met with me a number of times. She understands why down-zoning is so important to Staten Island. The mayor also appreciates this and understands that over-development is really a family values issue. I am optimistic that we are going to win approval for the zoning change.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani certainly was a friend to Staten Island in many respects. But city planning did not help us on the Charleston site or on zoning. Now, things are different.

Another issue key to our future is education. I went to PS 32 30 years ago. Recently, when I went there to be principal for a day, I saw kids doing very, very well -- in spite of the problems from the Board of Education.

However, when I talk to teachers, principals and parents, no one tells me that we are doing all that we can for our kids. The educators say they don't have the tools to do the job, that the system is broken. If that's the case we ought to have the courage to make a change.

One of the best things you can do for education is reduce class size. The City Council has proposed raising taxes to do that, but that idea does not make sense.

Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki understand that raising taxes right now would be a mistake. We do not have a $5 billion deficit because two buildings came down or because we lost so many of our neighbors and loved ones. We have a $5 billion deficit because we lost 130,000 jobs. So, the worst thing we could do at this time is raise taxes and create a more difficult climate for businesses and families.

The plan is also irresponsible in that the City Council does not control those taxes; the State Legislature does and, in my opinion, is not going to raise them, nor should they.

Instead of asking Albany to raise taxes, we should ask it to disband the School Construction Authority. The money is there to build schools. The School Construction Authority and the Board of Education have just mismanaged and wasted it.

In the last three years, we added five classrooms each to three different schools. Every time, the price tag was $5 million. The Independent Budget Office said that a similar project in San Diego or Connecticut would have cost one-tenth the price.

The deputy schools chancellor told the City Council it was unfair to compare New York to those places. And I said, "Well that's fine. Let's compare it against common sense." On Staten Island, you can buy waterfront property and build a palace that has pools, saunas and six classrooms and auditorium for $5 million. So, something is wrong when we spend $5 million to build five classrooms.

If the private sector had built those classrooms for $250,000, we would have had $4.75 million left over that could have gone toward building more classrooms.

We should also disband the Board of Education so we can get the money into the classrooms, to principals and teachers who are doing an incredible job in spite of the bureaucracy.

Staten Island seems to always sustain larger cuts than any other district in the city. Last year when money was cut from our community school district, we lost art and reading programs. Schools Chancellor Harold Levy said these cuts were essential because he could not find another single penny to cut in the central board. Six months later they found another $50 million or so to cut at the central board. That would have more than paid for the cuts to classes in Staten Island. The school administration pits parents against politicians so the bureaucrats can get a free ride. Their concern is not the kids.

Levy decided to cut IS 43 on Staten Island from the current five-year plan for new city schools. He said, "It's a political decision." I called for his resignation that day, and I've called for it ever since.

During their time in office, former mayors Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudolph Giuliani, as well as Mayor Bloomberg, all asked for control of the school system. When these people from different walks of life and with different ideologies all want the same thing, it can't be politics. It must be because there's a problem.

Eva Moskowitz, chair of the Council Education Committee, is doing an outstanding job of trying to reform the system. A resolution calling for a change in governance is going to come to the floor of the City Council. I would hope that we can convince our colleagues that this needs to happen.

I think we are going to get reform this year. The writing is on the wall, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has blocked it in the past, can no longer resist change. To his credit, he is involved in negotiations to see that reform happens.

People say, "What good does a change in governance do? What are the new policies?"

This change is not about new policies; it is about management of the system and accountability. Right now all we do is yell at each other about the problems plaguing our schools. Next year, if the mayor has gotten control and the problems persist and parents and teachers are still frustrated, we will have somebody to hold accountable. If the mayor is given the responsibility to oversee the welfare of our children and our education system and does not do the job, we get rid of him. That is accountability.

About the most important thing we do as a government is educate our children. Focusing on education is an appropriate use of the mayor's intellect, time and efforts. The buck will stop at his desk.

Posted May 6, 2002

Community Boards for District 51
Community Board No. 3
655-218 Rossville Ave., Staten Island, NY 10309
(718) 356-7900
Mr. John Antoniello, Chair
Ms. Marie Bodnar, District Manager

Community Plans for District 51 (PDF format)
197-c [groundwork] (Staten Island Community Board 3)

Ethnic Makeup and Political Registration

Ethnic Makeup

Political Registration

Public Schools

Elementary Schools

Middle Schools

High Schools

To find out what school district you live in, call the Board of Education at 718-935-2000 or link to Public School Reports

Police Precincts

Although many precincts cover areas solely within one City Council district, there are many which overlap with other districts. In most cases the overlap of precincts among districts is no more than a few blocks. Wherever there is overlap, we have made sure to alert you.

City Parks
Click thumbnail for larger image of parks in this district

Learn more about the condition of the city parks in your district at the New Yorkers for Parks (PDF file).

Community Gardens

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Find out more about community gardens from
the Council on the Environment of New York City

Historic Districts and Landmarks
Learn more about the historic districts and landmarks in this area.

The Waterfront

map listing suggestions for use and improvement of the waterfront in this district from the Metropolitan Waterfront
Alliance. (pdf format only)