By Joseph Ostapiuk
December 7, 2022
Creating a new local library in New York City can take between seven and eight years. That’s longer than advocates say it should.
Bureaucratic red tape takes up “months and months” of civic projects, said Adam Ganser, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, a nonprofit advocacy group that joined others on the steps of City Hall Tuesday afternoon calling for change.
“What we’re primarily focused on is how all of the city’s entities that deal with the capital process play a significant role in the fact that it’s broken, the fact that it takes much too long to do the work that we need to do and then it costs too much,” Ganser told the Advance/SILive.com.
The “Build Back Faster” campaign, an effort aimed at stretching the city’s dollars, began with the Manhattan rally and a bill centered on pushing the city Parks Department to create a blueprint to reduce the average time it takes to build and repair infrastructure by 25%.
While the legislation, introduced by Queens City Councilman Shekar Krishnan, is focused on the city Parks Department, the wider goal is removing inefficiencies that are present at all city agencies involved in capital project work.
The intent: saving money where money can be saved.
“There’s layers and layers of approvals and duplication of approvals. And a lot of these procurement laws and rules can be traced back to a time when the city was much more mired in corruption,” said Ganser. “And we’ve come a very, very long way since then.”
The city Parks Department said it is open to changes.
“We appreciate the intent of this legislation and are happy to work with the Council to improve public awareness of capital process reform efforts,” said Meghan Lalor, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Broadly reforming current capital processes could save the city more than $800 million over the next five years, according to a report by the Center for an Urban Future. Those savings could wipe out the entire backlog of maintenance across the city’s three library systems or pay 150 full-time parks maintenance workers for the next decade.
State requirements to award contracts to the lowest bidder can delay projects by months and add hundreds of thousands to costs. The change order process alone can add at least $600,000 to each project annually, the report found, underscoring the price that comes with delays.
On top of financial impacts of these capital projects, extensive delays leave New Yorkers without the ability to use recreational spaces that studies showed were used extensively throughout the pandemic.
Shifting away from these burdensome processes “means more money for a city that is constantly talking about not having enough money,” said Ganser.
The first steps that would begin with the city Parks Department taking an inward look will then, explained Ganser, hopefully be followed within weeks with a bill that expands this attempt to multiple agencies that are part of the city’s plagued capital process, including the city’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Department of Design and Construction (DDC).
In addition to the bill focused on improving Parks Department capital project efficiency, Krishnan, chair of the Council’s Committee On Parks and Recreation, previously introduced legislation to make following these capital projects publicly easier by requiring the agency to expand its online tracker with more detailed and frequent updates.
”As the pandemic pushed us indoors, it also revealed the life-saving, restorative value of public spaces,” Krishnan said in a statement. “If we are to meet the challenges of public health, public safety, & climate change in NYC, our parks will be critical.”
The timing of the push is a pointed one.
Advocates signaled confidence in Mayor Eric Adams’ appointment of First Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo to a task force centered on overhauling the capital project process. However, with Grillo departing the administration in just weeks, Ganser expressed the need to keep the focus on continued improvement.
“They have made some serious headway in the last six months,” said Ganser. “We basically want to make sure we’re keeping our foot on the gas with this issue and it doesn’t disappear, it doesn’t go by the wayside when she leaves.”