Chair Lago, Vice Chair Knuckles, and esteemed Commissioners, I am here today to implore you to vote no on today’s ULURP or to remove the Bronx site for further consideration.
To be clear, Rikers Island is an abomination that must be shutdown. It is an archaic, outdated, harsh environment that puts both officers and detainees at risk every day.
Mott Haven and the residents of Diego Beekman have fought for decades to overcome the crime, drugs, despair and abandonment that plagued their neighborhood. They rolled up their sleeves to turn it back into the livable community it is today. I am adamantly opposed to the burden the proposed borough-based jail for my borough will place on one of the country’s poorest urban communities.
Unfortunately, this site ignores both their hard work and the Lippman Commission’s proposal to place borough-based jails near courthouses. Instead of reaching out to the community, the administration has decided to impose a monolithic, oppressive structure adjacent to a community of reclaimed apartments, homes and schools, in the name of political expediency. It places undue traffic and environmental hazards on a community already choked by the highest asthma rates in the country.
Many question whether there is a need for such a large facility, as the number of detainees drop due to ongoing reform. The administration still has not explained why it needs a facility that would allot over 1,000 square feet per detainee, particularly when modern jails are being built elsewhere at a third of the size. They also have no actual program or design for this facility. How can we be asked to approve a jail in our community when the administration itself admits it doesn’t know what it will really look like?
If this were the only alternative, it would be a bitter pill to swallow, but there is a better site that heeds the Lippman Commission’s recommendation, located right next to the Bronx Hall of Justice. Regrettably, the administration did not adequately study combining available land behind the Hall of Justice and fully replacing the underutilized and outmoded Family Court building next door, as I proposed in the Citywide Statement of Needs for Fiscal Years 2020-21. This is why I am invoking my power to call for a “super majority vote” as explicitly detailed in the City Charter Section 197-c pertaining to ULURP procedure for siting a city facility.
In addition, the precedent exists to defer the Bronx site for further analysis, while the closing of Rikers Island can proceed. You have the power to alter this ULURP. For example, in the upcoming Special Natural Area District ULURP, City Planning split one application into multiple applications to address community concerns. We implore this Commission to give the same consideration to community concerns around this proposed Bronx site.
We have another eight years before Rikers Island is estimated to be closed. We can afford to take another year to do this right for The Bronx, a place that already takes more than its fair share by hosting Rikers Island, Horizons Juvenile Detention Center and the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Facility.
Please stand with me in doing what is right. Stand with me to respect the wishes of Mott Haven residents and help us properly evaluate my proposed site as set forth in the Fiscal Year 2020-21 Citywide Statement of Needs.
Ruben Diaz Jr.
Bronx Borough President