The answer to many common New York City grievances, according to representatives from 17 different city agencies, is probably to call 311. But at Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal's third annual town hall Monday night, many residents who came forward with complaints ranging from HVAC noise to crossing guards to the M104 bus were exasperated by the continued suggestion that they use the non-emergency government hotline, which can take weeks to attend to a problem.
“More often than not, absolutely nothing ever comes of it,” a resident concerned about construction said. Many attendees agreed, and were unsatisfied by the response from a representative of the Department of Buildings, who said, “311 is not perfect, but it works.”
The representative also encouraged residents to reach out to Rosenthal's office. “That's what has to happen,” he said.
The town hall attracted about 100 attendees to the Brandeis High School Complex, and they clearly had a lot on their minds. The meeting lasted three hours, including a slightly late start, and every minute was filled with talk about various local issues.
During the first hour, panelists answered pre-submitted questions on subjects such as empty Citi Bike stands, sidewalk cafes and gas shutoffs. One question addressed a seemingly unusual issue for this time of year: mosquitoes. “We've had mosquitoes every single month of the winter for the last six winters,” one resident said during the open mic session. “It is disruptive. ... Our street was just recently dug up and still is in complete disarray.”
Earlier, a representative from the Department of Health had assured locals that the mosquitoes were not the type to carry the Zika virus, though that did not diminish residents' frustration. The Health Department representative speculated that it was a sewer issue, and said the department was looking at options.
The winners of the council's Sixth District participatory budgeting competition were also announced, with a technology upgrade at LaGuardia High School getting the most votes. Picnic tables for Riverside Park, a CERT emergency response vehicle, a new library space at P.S. 191 and a recreation area for teens at Riverside Park will also receive funding.
At the start of the 90 minutes reserved for open mic time, more than 30 residents lined up. Not all got to speak, with the last half-dozen residents turned away due to a strict 9 p.m. time limit on the school auditorium.
Though Rosenthal may have hoped that addressing the controversial expansion of the American Museum of Natural History during the pre-submitted question section would suffice, several opponents of the expansion used the open mic time to raise their voices about it. “I'm very excited for this opportunity … to open up [the museum] to researchers, school children, to be able to access this information better,” she had said earlier.
But the open mic segment brought heated exchanges about the planned project, with both boos and cheers ringing out in the auditorium. Rosenthal, defending herself against angry activists, many of whom were speaking out of turn, fired back with similar passion. In response to one expansion opponent, she said many of the original opponents have now come around to the plan.
Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer were also briefly on hand.
“This kind of discussion is what we need more of,” Brewer said, “I thank the council member and her office. We will keep fighting together.”