Manhattan Beach residents berated a representative for the Mayor on Wednesday night, as they distributed a petition and contemplated civil disobedience to tackle the city’s neglect of their traffic safety issues.
It was an emotional evening at the Manhattan Beach Community Group meeting, with the mother and neighbors of the child recently killed by a bus on Oriental Boulevard in attendance.
Irina Liberman, the mother who was also injured in the October 7 accident, had eyes brimming with tears as she and neighbors told NYPD representatives that the streets need more than Oriental Boulevard’s blinking yellow light, especially near the park entrance on Falmouth Street. She said ice cream trucks regularly line up at that area, and children dart away from parents in between the trucks, and into the street where drivers can’t see until it’s too late.
“There’s no indication,” she said. “I speak for all mothers. This is a tragedy and there’s no indication but a yellow light and people are speeding. A blinking light. That’s it. Always speeding.”
Anger at the Mayor’s Man
More than 80 people turned out to the meeting, with a large showing of parents from P.S. 195 and friends of the Liberman’s. Most of the meeting’s regular business was put aside to express condolences and discuss better ways to prod the city into action. President Ira Zalcman led the group in a moment of silence for the deceased.
But grieving and reflection quickly turned into anger and frustration, especially once Mayor Bloomberg’s Community Liaison Charles Glover took the podium. Glover took on the role of defending the city’s decision-making in the community, telling the group they need to do more.
“To say that the city has not been responsive to the requests [for traffic safety measures]is a little bit unfair,” Glover said. “I feel like when things happen in the community the first time I hear about these things is inviting me to these meetings.”
At one point, a fed-up attendee erupted into a rage over Glover’s demands for respect from the grieving community, which was pelting Glover with questions and accusations.
“The children need to be able to walk in Manhattan Beach,” he shouted. “If he doesn’t know the message, he should leave … If he doesn’t understand it, he wasn’t listening. The children need to walk in Manhattan Beach, do you understand that? We don’t need to apologize that we offended you. That’s your job!”
The mayor’s man halted the meeting and threatened to leave if such interruptions continued, which brought on more ire from the crowd.
“Don’t be so sensitive!” one resident shouted. “There’s a dead child here. There’s a dead child here we’re talking about.”
“I’m sorry you’re getting a little beat up,” Zalcman told Glover. “But I think it’s a very appropriate response to yell and scream and carry on tonight, because what else can you do in response to this horrible accident? … But with all due respect … In three years, I’ve probably written hundreds of letters … The DOT and Parks and some other parts of city government are not responsive to the needs of the community … My impression is they don’t want to do anything.”
Glover was responding to statements earlier in the night in which speakers and audience members blasted city agencies for denying requests from the community, and for pursuing a top-down strategy that doesn’t fit all neighborhoods.
“For some reason there’s an engineer that doesn’t know this neighborhood, and doesn’t know the surrounding area, who comes up with plans that says this will work – and when we tell them we have nursing homes, we have schools, we have a high school, we have a college, and we have all the people trying to cross… and it goes in one ear and out the other,” stated one resident. “Something has to change.”
In prepared remarks, MBCG’s Traffic Committee chair demanded direct action from the mayor.
“Currently, the DOT’s answer to our pleas for safety in our community is to do yet another study. They have studied us to death,” she said. “MBCG will not accept lame excuses or inaction anymore. We demand that city agencies protect us and keep us safe, because that is their job for the public. When things go perfectly for the city, the mayor gets the credit. However, when things go out of control or city agencies neglect their duties the blame must fall on the shoulders of the mayor. The mayor must do something to stop the carnage in Manhattan Beach. Period.”
Others agreed, saying only the mayor’s word could spur the agencies into action. Glover, though, said the city does not work that way.
“You just told me that you want us to go around the rules. That’s not something we do in this city,” he said. “If there’s a problem with communication, which it sounds like there is, I’m going to help you solve it. But continuing to berate me with these concerns without giving me a chance to act on it is not going to get us anywhere.”
Safety a Uniting Issue in Manhattan Beach
While the meeting may have resulted in a growing rift between the Manhattan Beach Community Group and the mayor’s office, it appears to have opened the door to unity between the group and its local rival, the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association.
During his remarks, P.S. 195’s Principal Forman took an unprecedented dive into the neighborhood’s politics, demanding that the groups work together to send the city a message and stop another tragedy. The victim of the bus accident, Evan Svirsky, was a student at the school and his mother met with Forman after the accident to enlist his help in protecting other children.
“I’d like to call upon all the groups in Manhattan Beach – the MBCG and MBNA – to get together on this one issue and have a summit. Call in the commissioners. Call in the elected officials,” he said. “The death of a child cannot go unnoticed because God forbid – God forbid! – we have another death of a child. Then it’s on our heads. Because tonight, the agony and the grief of their parents should not go unnoticed, and Evan’s life should not go unnoticed and be in vain.”
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MBCG President Zalcman indicated he agreed it was time to put the recent flare up in tensions to an end.
“We have a chance to do some wonderful, wonderful things. We have a chance to stand together and stop a horrible tragedy like this from happening again,” he said. “So [MBNA President Alan Ditchek] said a lot of things about me … but he didn’t say one thing … that he would’ve been very correct. He should’ve said, ‘Ira Zalcman, on your watch, three people died. Three people were killed’ … That happened on my watch. If I would’ve known that, I never would’ve been president no matter what. And you know what? This also happened on Alan’s watch as president. We’re all guilty.”
“The door is open,” he added. “The time is to unite this neighborhood, before someone else gets killed.”
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One More Step Before Civil Disobedience
Members of the group are now circulating a petition – which will soon be available on Sheepshead Bites – demanding that the city take notice and install sane traffic measures on the strip. The petition is directed at Mayor Bloomberg, and demanding him to “Stop the killing in Manhattan Beach.” It requests the elimination of the zebra stripes, bike lanes, center median planters and additional traffic controls. It also lists the names of four people who have been killed since 2004, two of which occurred this year.
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But some residents said the petition did not go far enough, and that civil disobedience was needed. One parent of a student at P.S. 195 asked after the meeting if blocking off the street for a day would spur action. Others contemplated a march in the area or at City Hall.
Baron indicated those options were staying on the table and would be considered if the petition fails to muster the required attention from the Mayor’s office.
“For now, we’ll do it the lawful way,” she said. “We’ve turned over every stone that we can turn over. We’ve done everything that we could … nothing has been done … I think the last thing you do is civil disobedience. The petition is the next to the last.”