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Opinion: Carlina Rivera… A view from the Lower East Side of a District 10 candidate

BY PAT ARNOW | Want to know how District 10 Congressional candidate Carlina Rivera would govern? Check out two ways this city councilmember has affected the Lower East Side, Chinatown and East Village neighborhoods:

1) Environment

East River Park was a much-used 1.2-mile-long waterfront oasis in a densely populated, modest part of Manhattan. Now most of the park is a vast dirt pile, demolished for an ill-advised flood-control project that will put a massive levee along the river.

Carlina Rivera pushed through the plan’s approval in the City Council despite widespread and sustained community opposition. Rivera ignored alternative solutions. Now that the project is underway, she has failed to demand meaningful oversight or accountability from the contractors or the city.

This oak grove with 82-year-old trees was cut down for the East Side Coastal Resiliency project in December 2021. These trees stood on a hill that did not flood during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, according to the writer, who argues that they did not have to be chopped down for the neighborhood to gain flood control. (Photo by Pat Arnow)

There were other plans

City agencies and community residents spent years planning a floodable, resilient park with berms that would be added along the F.D.R. Drive to protect the neighborhood from storm surges and sea level rise due to climate change. Covering the F.D.R. was a popular concept that would add parkland and stem carbon emissions. Many of the 1,000 mature trees, much of the still-new riverfront promenade and the running track, playing fields and picnic areas would have been preserved.

A design rendering of what it would look like to have the park extending over and covering the six-lane F.D.R. Drive that runs between East River Park and housing on the Lower East Side. This covering could cut noise and carbon emissions in a neighborhood with high asthma rates and upper-respiratory ailments from highway fumes and the nearby Con Ed power plant.

In 2018, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city scrapped the plans and unveiled a new staggeringly destructive and double the cost (increased to $1.45 billion) East Side Coastal Resiliency project a.k.a E.S.C.R.

Not one environmental or climate scientist was involved, not one elected representative, not one person from the neighborhood.

Soon, Carlina Rivera committed to the levee.

Objections ignored

Thousands protested this environmental catastrophe. Like many of our neighbors, I jumped into organizing in order to persuade the city to review and revise E.S.C.R.

We learned about the science and technology of coastal resiliency in order to testify knowledgeably at hearings. We pointed out the health consequences of cutting down 1,000 mature trees that cleanse and cool the air. We proposed reviews with experts. We held rallies and delivered thousands of hand-signed petitions.

Rivera and her staff batted away all informed and sincere objections.

We asked to see the Value Engineering Study that was used to justify this massive project. City officials, including Carlina Rivera, denied its existence. It does exist — thank you, Freedom of Information Act and lawsuits. The report presented alternatives!

Did Rivera really believe there was no study? Did she mislead us or was she misled? Either way, she doesn’t look wise.

An East River Park activist confronted City Councilmember and District 10 congressional candidate Carlina Rivera, right, at a July 19 East Village forum on environmental issues. Rivera supporter Michael Schweinsburg of the 504 Democrats political club blocked the protester from getting any closer to the stage.  (The New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund and The Cooper Union).

Member deference

The park is in Carlina Rivera’s district. If she had objected to the plan, it would have had to be revised. “Member deference” is the unwritten rule in the City Council. If the local representative supports a measure, it will pass. If she doesn’t, it almost never does.

In November 2019, with her full endorsement, the City Council voted for the E.S.C.R.

Her district is uglier and less livable than when she came into office four years ago. The 1,800 saplings promised in the new park that will be built on top of the levee years from now will not make up for an entire generation of local residents being deprived of park space that we all need for our physical and mental health.

2) Real estate and developer allies

Losing our park unnecessarily is not the only reason to beware of this candidate.

Look at Carlina Rivera’s non-answer to a District 10 candidate questionnaire: Would she take real estate donations? Her response: “I have committed to vetting individuals and have pledged to not take fossil fuel, defense company or pharmaceutical monies.”

In fact, she has taken large donations from big developers. She promotes real estate interests, no matter how it affects the neighborhood. When she took office, for support of the controversial Tech Hub in Union Square in her district, she asked for promises of limited development elsewhere in the East Village. That didn’t happen, but she voted for the Tech Hub anyway.

Rezoning everywhere

Rivera has supported every citywide rezoning and nearly every out-of-scale development, no matter how much the communities object or how much it will lead to gentrification and displacement. Developers can build ugly high-rises for the rich with a few somewhat-affordable units. And she supports the new high-rise jail that will further erode Chinatown’s already imperiled existence as a marvelously diverse and interesting but fragile neighborhood.

There is a diverse roster of candidates for District 10 that will serve us well. Say no to Carlina Rivera.

Arnow co-founded East River Park ACTION, a grassroots community group dedicated to finding more truly resilient solutions that would provide flood control for the Lower East Side and East Village. When the city started bulldozing the park in December 2021, she stopped that three-year effort. However, the organization continues its work with other activists in the neighborhood and beyond. Rivera’s candidacy galvanized Arnow into speaking out.

Correction: This column initially said that Councilmember Carlina Rivera supported the One Manhattan Square tower, which was developed by Extell, and also that she “supports the addition of three more supertall towers in that area.” However, One Manhattan Square was developed “as of right” — meaning no City Council approval was needed — and all the sites mentioned above are located in the Two Bridges area within Council District 1, which was represtented by Margaret Chin during the time the discussions and lawsuits around these projects were occurring. 

28 Comments

  1. Jeremy Sherber Jeremy Sherber July 29, 2022

    This author’s opinion is a valuable review of the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, but certainly not the only way to understand the impact of this important investment in resiliency, infrastructure and recreation.

    Turning East River Park into a flood plain that would render it unusable for public recreation (and, for good measure, eventually kill all the trees) was not what the community’s lengthy planning process ever endorsed, though that’s what the original floodwall design would have inexplicably produced.

    While there were other ideas, including an intriguing one for covering the FDR Drive, there was never any other plan that would preserve East River Park as a destination for active recreation, which is what multiple surveys showed the community wanted.

    Before the City Council vote in 2019, Councilmember Carlina Rivera met with and listened to everyone in her community, including many critics of the City’s plan. She conducted that outreach with open ears and integrity, and weighed good-faith disagreements about the project’s merits.

    The plan Rivera ended up supporting preserves East River Park’s ball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, track and performance spaces for generations, while also, of course, protecting the vulnerable East Village and Lower East Side homes from flooding due to storm surges and expected sea level rise over the next 100-plus years.

    The short-term consequences are definitely hard to take — temporary loss of park use and waterfront access, not to mention the emotional sight of 1,000 trees being sawed down. But Rivera pushed for upgrades to every small patch of blacktop and playground in the affected neighborhoods — significant investment in community recreation that would not have been part of the plan without her advocacy.

    It’s true that right now half the park is “a vast dirt pile,” but that’s just a momentary snapshot of this ambitious project. When we get our park back in a few years, after the engineering work to protect the neighborhood from flooding is complete, pedestrian bridges will finally be ADA-compliant, making the waterfront fully accessible; family facilities will be upgraded and functional; playing fields will be used again by leagues and neighborhood athletes; and those 1,000 lost trees — plus 800 more — will be replaced.

    • Dal Dal August 2, 2022

      I’m not against people supporting Rivera. I am against ongoing divisional politics. Rivera has demonstrated that she will go with approaches that further her career as a politician.

      We as a society have become so brainwashed into polarity thinking: You can only be for or against something. There aren’t only two solutions to a problem, and shutting out community voices to ram through a plan that serves the usual real estate interests is not what good leadership is about.

      Susan Stetzer repeated the P.R. argument of fighting for NYCHA tenants. Rivera knows that NYCHA tenants’ days are numbered. The buildings have been neglected for decades and are soon becoming beyond repair. We all know what happens next to this prime waterfront real estate. So Rivera incorporates it into her strategy: paving the road for big real estate and keeping a clean shirt in the process.

      As for the trees being replaced, we can certainly try, but the changes in climate do not allow trees to grow as tall as we have seen in the past. One of the biggest mistakes from a climate perspective is to cut down healthy old-growth trees.

      Rivera’s position on climate is about as weak as it gets. She was completely missing in the Governors Island upzoning and development. Constituents called her office to urge her to vote against the devastating plan. Her staff was dismissive and rude and did not provide any information on her position on the topic — a criticism of her office as a whole. She is unapproachable compared to previous councilmembers, and one always has that awful feeling of just being pacified and dismissed.

      In typical strategic Rivera fashion, she didn’t vote on the Governors Island rezoning. The matter was so insignificant that she didn’t even attend the meeting (scheduling conflicts). Governors Island will be in the newly minted Congressional District 10, and, as I was typing this, the hearing against the ill-conceived plan was taking place.

      Again, the community and experts have submitted multiple proposals but the “powers” are utterly unwilling even to listen.

      https://govislandcoalition.org/galleries/before-and-after-gallery/

  2. fact check? fact check? July 29, 2022

    Pretty sure Carlina did not support One Manhattan Sq. It didn’t go before the City Council. It didn’t require a rezoning.

  3. Pat Arnow Pat Arnow July 29, 2022

    Jeremy, I respectfully disagree. Over in Battery Park City, the low-lying ball fields are protected by glass walls that rise up when flooding is expected. There are many other ways as well that are not as drastic as the East Side Coastal Resiliency project to provide protection.

    It’s true that the land eventually would become a flood plain with marshes and wetlands–which would still be a park–the renderings show bridges and salt-water resistant plantings–including trees–as is done elsewhere in New York!

    The covering over the FDR was, it’s correct, only a concept, but it should be included in long-term planning, so that as we do lose playgrounds to sea level rise, we gain parkland–and better air and less noise–with the forward-looking infrastructure of putting parkland over the highway.

    This is not some fantasy realm. This is how to deal with climate change. Other cities all over the world, including San Francisco most recently, are doing it.

    The failure of imagination by the city is staggering. It’s a failure of courage and foresight by Carlina Rivera to endorse the plan as it was presented. She needed to demand a more resilient coastline that would save our environment rather than destroy it the way it is and the way it is hastening climate change.

    OK, even if she didn’t want to change the plan, she could have demanded more oversight, more monitoring, more mitigation–alternate park spaces–and safer passages for bikes. She did get some promises from the city, but they are not being fulfilled.

    You talk about the enhanced playgrounds and park spaces? I’m sorry, but they are mostly pathetic. How about the promised street tree plantings? The city seems to have stalled out.

    Does Carlina Rivera push hard to make all the promises happen, puny as they were? No she does not. Not even a peep about the uncovered dirt piles that throw dust everywhere and the inadequate air monitoring and remediation.

    Finally, it will be a whole generation before the new trees that will be planted someday on the new park on top of a levee will provide shade and the cleansing of the air. It didn’t have to be this way.

  4. susan stetzer susan stetzer July 29, 2022

    Thank you, Jeremy, for presenting the facts and not attacking people. I would just add 2 more facts — the current plan called for the entire park to be under construction and the community was told it was not possible to have half the park available while raising the other half. But Carlina kept fighting and made this happen.

    The other is that while there are those in the community who are against the current plan, there are community groups that support the plan. For some reason, they seem to be forgotten. NYCHA tenant leaders who represent those who suffered from Sandy, the community board, a political organization and nonprofits and many who directly experienced Sandy and spent that week working day and night to help those stuck on the 17th or 20-something floor without food, water, medication.
    I’m speaking as a private citizen — who did work every day during the power loss and after.

  5. savenycjobs savenycjobs July 29, 2022

    Regrettably, you missed the biggest service to her real estate donors. She stopped a vote on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act which would have saved every good business in the district from being forced to close when their leases expired. Stopping this bill has been and will continue to be the biggest political payback for landlords in NYC. Every voter has paid for her betrayal every day, and will continue to pay in the future, with higher rents producing higher prices for the past decade. Her district covered with empty storefronts speaks to her betrayal and colluviation for the real estate lobby. Go to savenycjobs.org for the entire shameful conspiracy of our lawmakers with this destructive lobby. This bill was the oldest legislation in the Council and the only real hope and lifeline to stop the closing of our businesses and Rivera killed it in the new Council.

    • Jan Jan July 29, 2022

      Can you provide specifics about your claim that Rivera stopped a vote on SBJSA? Not only is she a co-sponsor of the bill, she was removed, against her will, from the City Council’s Small Business Committee, so it’s hard to see how she could have stopped a vote.

      • savenycjobs savenycjobs July 30, 2022

        Jan, the bill is called the Jobs Survival Act. Yes she was a co-sponsor of the bill and under Council rules when a prime sponsor leaves the Council then the next-in-line co-sponsor has the first option to become the bill’s prime sponsor. When the prime sponsor Rodriguez was termed out, the next in line to become prime was Carlina Rivera!! What did she decide to do, become the prime sponsor and gain the majority of the new Council to become sponsors and call for a vote and give all her businesses a real lifeline, the right to renew 10-year leases, equal rights to negotiate the new lease terms and arbitration to stop rent-gouging and tenants forced to pay their landlords taxes? No, she let the bill die and immediately signed onto a lobby-created bill that gave her merchants NO RIGHT TO RENEW their leases, and would keep the status quo for the landlords. It would also keep rents going higher every year, causing more businesses to close. As for her removal from the critical committee, not true that she fought it. Was investigated by a reporter at the time and showed from the minutes of the Committee on Rules and Privileges that she did NOT fight her removal. Common sense, her district and entire Village losing businesses every month and she wants to remain to save them, but Speaker Johnson wants her removed so she cannot fight for the merchants. Yes, ridiculous.
        It is what it is, sell-out to big campagin donors

  6. Spencer Heckwolf Spencer Heckwolf July 29, 2022

    NIMBY’s will never stop complaining.

  7. kimnyc2017 kimnyc2017 July 29, 2022

    In my opinion, there was really no good-faith outreach and listening on Carlina’s part. If there was anything good-faith about her support of the ESCR, why in the world would she have resisted an independent review of the plan? Isn’t that what you do with just about anything, let alone a controversial $1.5 billion project? We have hard data showing us — and the NY Times loves to highlight these facts when they reference other cities, but not ours — that trees literally save lives when there is flooding by creating an absorbent natural infrastructure, and the lack of trees conversely accounts for more deaths by creating islands of extreme heat. This is what we will now have, not to mention the increase in pollution and the outcomes that will bring. Having spoken with over a thousand people in the park about the plan, many of them NYCHA residents (I kept track of the numbers), with only a handful of exceptions, everyone was outraged and/or bewildered about why Carlina and the City would do this in the name of “resiliency.” People got it that there was no science behind this. The refrain was the same from most people: “This must be about real estate.” It sure isn’t about sustainability.

  8. LES3025 LES3025 July 29, 2022

    “We learned about the science and technology of coastal resiliency in order to testify knowledgeably at hearings.”

    This kind of gives the game away. All the ESCR opponents act like they are environmental experts, engineering experts, public health experts, etc. But they started from a place of opposing this and then “did their own research” to backfill justifications for that position.

    Separately, it is and always will be gross how these people call themselves “the community.” East River Park Action started as a splinter group from East River Alliance because ERA decided to work within the plan rather than oppose it. ERPA was founded precisely because others accepted the plan. And now they pretend like those people don’t exist. Never mind the NYCHA tenants and other directly affected people who support the plan.

  9. Marcella D Marcella D July 29, 2022

    The loss of close to 1,000 trees, many of them more than 80 years old, is more than an “emotional sight,” but a serious loss of mature canopy with numerous environmental and health benefits that saplings simply do not supply, including the reduction of carbon emissions, pollution, noise and heat, while providing habitat for migratory species and pollinators. Ball fields without mature trees are recreation without true health — either for humans or the planet. Unfortunately, at no point did de Blasio, Rivera, the DDC, NYC Parks or the other city agencies involved with this plan seem to recognize the many benefits that mature trees provide or the negative impacts their complete removal en masse would and will have on our air quality and quality of life living next to a major highway. And yes, their brutal removal and the “emotional sight” of such also had negative mental health repercussions for many who live the area — at a time of COVID, war and climate change. Rivera could have gone and could go a lot further in preserving at least some of the older groves of environmentally important trees that were not in danger of flooding. And by not pretending their loss is not important.

  10. Marty Curls Marty Curls July 29, 2022

    Agree wholeheartedly with Pat Arnow.

    Hoping Rivera receives a total karma.

  11. Arianna Arianna July 29, 2022

    When I understood that the park would be razed in the name of resiliency I realized that this was the tip of the iceberg and an indication of Ms. Rivera’s values (sic): Real estate interests are clearly paramount, and I’m sad to see the city I live disappear before my eyes.

  12. LK LK July 30, 2022

    If ESCR was such a great plan why did the City go to such lengths to hide the rationale for it and who was behind it? Remember the justification for it was the Value Engineering Report? After the first FOIL the response from the DDC was, “The Department of Design and Construction (“DDC”) has processed your above- mentioned FOIL information request. However, DDC’s search of agency records revealed no responsive documents for your request.” After the denial of the existence of the report (paid for with your tax dollars), the report was then found and released, 80% redacted, and after a lawsuit was filed, The Value Engineering Report was released 20% redacted. So much for transparency. This plan has nothing to do with protecting NYCHA. It has to do with protecting Con Ed and building new sewer pipes under the park to take sewage from the East Side of Manhattan to Newtown Creek on the other side of the river.

    • Jan Jan July 30, 2022

      Convenient links to the Value Engineering Report you seem so concerned about can be found on the web sites of CB3 and CB6. If you’d taken a look at it, you would have found that ESCR has a great deal to do with protecting NYCHA. You might also have avoided your embarrassing take on the the “new sewer pipes” you think are part of ESCR. Is that the type of misinformation that ERPAction is giving you? The concept of pumping waste from Manhattan to the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is the existing NYC system of waste management. It has nothing to do with ESCR, although the impact of any new drainage systems on this “sewershed” has to be analyzed, and that is part of ESCR.

      • LK LK July 30, 2022

        The VER was not made available until after the FOIL was submitted, followed by a lawsuit. The fact that it is now on the CB3 and CB6 web sites is thanks to those who pursued it after the DEC claimed it was the basis for the current plan and then denied its existence. Know the history. Have you seen the huge sewer pipes that are now at the construction site? All you have to do is look at the site to know that these huge pipes are part of the plan. How were they going to get them deep underground without decimating the park? Do you not care about transparency from government? Do you think that taxpayers should have to sue government to get a report that they paid for and that theoretically was written for the benefit of the people?

      • LK LK July 31, 2022

        Cb3 and CB6 should be thanking those who submitted the FOIL and paid an attorney to get the Value Engineering Report. which the DEC denied existed after saying it used it as justification for the radically changed project. This after a four-year process that was inclusive and led by environmental experts. The topic is transparency and hiding vital information from the public, not about convenient links to the VER. Have you seen the enormous sewer pipes lying around the construction site? Without digging up the park there was no way to lay those pipes.

        • AT AT July 31, 2022

          This is what I call an informed reply!

        • Jan Jan July 31, 2022

          Why go to all that trouble to get the Value Engineering Report if you’re never going to look at it, which you obviously have not done? I don’t know what pipes you’re looking at because your take on things seems to be so fantastical. But my guess is if they are “enormous,” they are for the dewatering process and no, they wouldn’t go undergound. But yes, of course, any drainage and sewer pipes would go undergeround. What other plan did you have in mind? But it still would not be some hidden agenda to take sewage to the Newtown Creek plant, something that has been done for generations.

  13. April April July 30, 2022

    Pat, there you go again just straight outright lying.
    I’ve never ever seen an op-ed that is just so full of lies. There’s no other way to put it. Cannot respect anyone who just continues to spread misinformation and propaganda.
    Jeremy already covered your lies about ESCR but you just made up stuff about One Manhattan Square.
    First, she never “supported” that building or any of the new proposed towers. Did your cult members tell you to just say it even if it’s absolutely not true?
    Second, all of those towers are not even in her district and never even went before the City Council. The only thing that went before the City Council was a vote to sue NYC and the developers to STOP the towers, which she supported.
    It is extremely important, especially in today’s society, to get accurate information.
    Facts matter.

    • Miriam Miriam July 31, 2022

      Wow! Calling someone a cult member just because that person disagrees with you is such a ludicrous statement. It shows that you have nothing of value to add to the discussion. You also say that this op-ed is full of lies and then mention only one, which the writer always explained. It is a fact that 1,000 healthy trees are being clear-cut, and there is now possibly uncovered toxic dust in the air. There’s no shade or places for local residents to escape the heat. This is Rivera’s fault, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

  14. Pat Pat July 30, 2022

    One Manhattan Square and the additional three towers to be built there are “as of right.” On that I stand corrected.

  15. Dhaniel Dhaniel July 31, 2022

    Taking the bus down Houston Street yesterday, every single intersection with a bench was covered with litter. All of our other parks are a disaster with trash, homeless, crime and drug use. All of the streets are full of garbage. Compare our area to other parts of the city. Why can’t we get the same level of services? If she wants my vote she should try cleaning up what we do have. You all are are stuck fighting the same old arguments while the quality of life is deteriorating everywhere else also. The East Village and LES has really deteriorated. If she can’t mange to keep our city clean, why should I vote for her?

    • JS JS August 15, 2022

      You shouldn’t vote for Rivera, who is a career politician and whose campaign has been heavily supported by the real estate industry. Furthermore, she made campaign promises, which she ignored once she was in office. She doesn’t deserve to represent District 10 in Congress. We had 4 years of prevaricaton during the Trump years — we don’t need a representative who is not honest with her constituents.

      • Hélène Volat Hélène Volat August 18, 2022

        Thank you. Rivera is an opportunist who doesn’t deserve to represent our district. She is a disgrace.

  16. Susan S Susan S August 3, 2022

    Members of the City Council regularly follow the lead of the members whose district would be most affected by proposals for zoning and development.

    When she first ran for the Council, Carlina Rivera said that she supported existing protections for my neighborhood (Union Square and the area to the south of it.) However, instead of stopping these harmful changes, she voted for them. She sold us out.

    And, I believe, that developers and their lobbyists have thanked her by making significant contributions to her campaign.

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