Volume 19 Issue 37 | January 26 - February 1, 2007

Letters to the editor

Integrity & inanity

To The Editor:
I read the article, “Is Calligraphy Art? The N.Y.P.D. says no” (Jan. 12 –18), with a mixture of admiration for artist Xu Zi, and dismay at the inanity of Operations Order #39. Not only is calligraphy (beautiful writing) a distinguished art form, in the Far East it was the mother of painting and was cultivated by all cultured people, including monks, royalty, sages and professional artists.

The monks who illuminated the magnificent manuscripts from the Middle Ages were also trained as calligraphers, and beautiful writing was highly regarded as an art in Persia, India, Turkey and all of the Muslim world.

In modern times, calligraphy has been included in the printer’s art, largely due to the efforts of Edward Johnston — and it is the subject of an excellent book, “Calligraphy’s Flowering,” written by Professor Paul Standard of Cooper Union and New York University. Whoever authored Operations Order #39 might benefit from reading it.

Artist Xu Zi is to be congratulated for her integrity.
Shelly Estrin

9/11 fallout

To The Editor:
Re “Council and community members blast E.P.A. cleanup plan” (news article, Jan. 19 – 25):
Thank you for the energy to write clearly on issues of Lower Manhattan health.  Our home was two blocks to the east of the towers.  My wife was seven months pregnant at the time.  I could not evacuate her for two days because of her condition and we in fact, came back too soon.  We felt she needed her own home, albeit a challenged one. 

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the air was safe, and although I knew better viscerally, I wanted to believe and we came back (under escort). The E.P.A. sent me a letter in 2003 confirming asbestos above acceptable levels.  It’s relevant because it was long after the event but was from 9/11.  Two skylights broke from the impact that day, the elevator shaft was filled, and a large boarded window blew open in the sub-basement.  Our super, on the second floor, was knocked over inside his little apartment and the window broke and filled his apartment with contaminants.

The housing court was useless, as was the city Dept. of Environmental Protection.  The building was eventually scrubbed, but by then I had cleaned the lobby and used fire hoses to clean our room and terrace. The event burned me out eventually, and my wife too.  Our son attends M.A.T. now, and the baby is 5 and in kindergarten at P.S. 234.  I’m finishing a contract job in Salt Lake City.

Our family is still psychiatrically very challenged. My marriage was magnificent before 9/11 and of course is now stressed, perhaps beyond repair (assisted by an incompetent Brooklyn matrimonial court, the judge’s first trauma case and his first contested case).  We are working to recreate our lives still. 

Your work on behalf of the residents, and the details of the recovery (environmental and psychiatric) are critical. 
Scott Myers
Salt Lake City

To The Editor:
Having served on the Environmental Protection Agency’s WTC Expert Technical Review Panel, I am disappointed that E.P.A. Regional Administrator Steinberg, as you paraphrase, cites data from the E.P.A.’s 2002-2003 “test or clean” program as the agency’s “primary evidence that the risk of dust exposure in Lower Manhattan is low or non-existent.” Data from that program have little scientific utility and cannot be used to support (or refute) Mr. Steinberg’s assertion.

These data are derived from a very small sampling effort – no samples were collected in 82% of eligible residences or in any of the 1,500 commercial and institutional buildings in Lower Manhattan, some of which are well-documented to be heavily contaminated. Most samples were collected after cleanup. The extent of contamination in most residences prior to cleanup was not determined and can never be known. The resulting data tell us very little about current or prior exposure or risk.

In addition, Mr. Steinberg’s reference to “a low (one percent) rate of excess toxins” is misleading. A one percent post-cleanup exceedence rate would not be “low” – it would be unacceptable and should trigger re-cleaning until a zero percent exceedence rate, the only acceptable rate for post-cleanup clearance testing, is achieved.

This is not an academic debate. The E.P.A. is using flawed science to produce flawed public health policy. For these and other reasons, the expert panel strongly rejected a cleanup plan virtually identical to the one E.P.A. is now trying to sell to Lower Manhattan residents. Rather than revise the plan, E.P.A. disbanded the panel.

The Downtown community has yet to receive credible information on exposure and risk. The E.P.A. should withdraw its flawed program and replace it with a science-based effort to assess remaining health risk, if any, and to provide effective cleanup, where warranted.
David M. Newman
Industrial hygienist, New York Committee for Occupa­tional Safety & Health

To The Editor:
David Stanke’s lively satire about preserving the toxic Deutsche Bank was daring and timely (Talking Point, Jan. 5 – 11, “What if … they actually wanted to save Deutsche”), coinciding, as it did, with David Dunlap’s “The Building That Wouldn’t Go Away” in the Jan. 4 New York Times. Close observers of the Deutsche Bank must have wondered why the Times did not say “Won’t Go Away,” especially as Dunlap surmises, correctly, that for the building to disappear within a year it will have to be removed at roughly one floor per week, an unlikely schedule given the Deutsche Bank’s resistance to demolition.

As the R. J. Lee Group’s report demonstrated, the building is a mountain of contamination, containing over 100,000 times the acceptable level of asbestos, a startling revelation, especially in light of the fact that asbestos doesn’t have an acceptable level, and in light of the fact, admitted by the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of the inspector general, that the E.P.A. lied (and has continued to lie) about the safety of the air in Lower Manhattan and how the neighborhood should be cleaned. The Deutsche Bank is symbolic of the fact that Downtown has yet to be properly cleaned at all.

The persistence of this blight in the life of Lower Manhattan could be blamed on al Qaeda for only so long. If this is the result of jihad, then the Cheney-Bush administration, in conjunction with the Giuliani, Bloomberg and Pataki administrations, has been a complacent collaborator and should be held accountable for the illness and death that will ensue. The Deutsche Bank is a national disgrace and, as David Stanke implies, it is a monument to the attacks that has to be reckoned with. In his home on Liberty St., Mr. Stanke has lived, quite literally, in the shadow of that building, but the Deutsche Bank has cast a longer shadow on the history of Sept. 11. That shadow will remain long after the building is gone.
Peter Josyph
Wheatley Heights, N.Y.

Peter Josyph directed the documentary, “Liberty Street: Alive at Ground Zero,” and wrote the book, “Liberty Street: Encounters at Ground Zero,” both of which featured David Stanke.

Trumping black history

To The Editor:
Re “Trump’s tales from the crypt” (news article, Jan. 19 - 25):

Wow! The story about the bones found while digging Trump’s condo/hotel foundation on Spring St. is truly amazing. The facts present a fascinating contrast in cultures and in status when you consider the different players — living and not — who are at the center of the story: devoted abolitionist clergy and the world’s flashiest developer dude meeting each other through a window in time. Great premise, even though my jaded New York City mind thinks I already know how it’s going to end: A financier making a toast to “history” on the 42nd floor of the building on opening day.
Lawrence White

Tower of support

To The Editor:
If Eliot Spitzer really wants things to change for Lower Manhattan, he should start by undoing the mess that George Pataki made (editorial, Jan. 5 – 11, “Priorities for our new governor”).  Since he claimed to be the people’s lawyer during the election, some are not sure if that will uphold as he is now the governor.  One thing that really needs his reform is the process over at the W. T. C. site.  The Freedom Tower was never picked by the people to begin with — it was only done by Pataki himself, who overrode his own Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for his personal choice.  Spitzer should know better — the public wants the Twin Towers rebuilt and the hearings and polls are proof about that.  I voted for him, as did many other pro-towers supporters who live in the state of New York, on the belief that he will rebuild the towers.  Also, Spitzer never actually liked the Freedom Tower to begin with and called it a white elephant.  Rebuilding the Twin Towers will make him a big hero, and it will clean up the mess that Pataki made there for the last five years.
Tal Barzilai
Pleasantville, N.Y.

Southbridge views

To The Editor:
In his letter (Jan. 19 - 25), Michael Altman reiterates the erroneous belief of those who oppose the reconstitution of Southbridge Towers as a shared equity cooperative that only by remaining under Mitchell-Lama can Southbridge remain affordable. While risk is a component of any financial transaction, those who are uncomfortable with accepting any degree of uncertainty will be permitted under a reconstitution plan to opt not to participate. Those who opt out will be guaranteed that their future maintenance increases will be no greater than those offered to residents of rent-stabilized apartments, thus providing them with greater maintenance certainty than they would have by remaining in Mitchell-Lama. The additional loans that Mr. Altman trumpets will only increase the proportion of Southbridge’s budget that will be needed for debt service, currently 11 percent, effectively strangling Southbridge’s ability to operate.

Moreover, Mr. Altman significantly underestimates the power of equity to improve people’s lives. Taxes and fees are costs associated with conducting business in a market economy. The tradeoff is that the equity that Southbridge residents will acquire at no cost will enable them to secure their retirement, relocate, provide for home health care, or leave an inheritance to their children.

A current book, “Our Iceberg is Melting,” offers a relevant comparison to the present Southbridge situation. It describes how the leaders of a colony of penguins will not accept the reality that their iceberg is melting and that to survive they must accept the risks associated with relocating. The iceberg that has supported Mitchell-Lama for the past 50 years is on life support and I suggest that Mr. Altman and his adherents seriously consider the more financially sound alternative of reconstitution before we all drown clinging to their fantasy that Mitchell-Lama will provide Southbridge with a stable and secure financial future.
Wallace Dimson
Vice president of the board, Southbridge Towers

To The Editor:
At Southbridge Towers there are two committees representing two points of view on the privatization of the co-op. These are Southbridge Rights, which by its very name is supposed to represent all the people of the co-op. The other is the SBT Cooperators for Mitchell-Lama. Southbridge Rights does not represent all the residents, but is merely a committee of people which has convinced a large amount of co-operators about the advantages of going private. Their vested interest is obtaining the “market value” of the apartments while spinning the disadvantages.

On the other hand, the SBT Cooperators for Mitchell-Lama has no vested interest. They are not looking for a sudden windfall, but are concerned about the major financial problems that must occur if privatized. This alone should separate the straight from the crooked. These problems are being spun into non-existence by Southbridge Rights. The anti-privatization people would love to have the increased equity that privatization would produce, but they see the flip side of what will happen.

Southbridge Rights would have you believe that the flip tax would be “manna from heaven,” and be our savior.

Some residents of S.B.T. have friends and relatives at the East River Co-op and Seward Park Co-op. From information obtained from them, and from the Co-op Village bulletin board, I find that these co-ops, eight years after privatization, are millions in the red. East River’s deficit is over $750,000 each year for the past three years. Maintenance has been raised twice in the past two years, parking fees have doubled. Seward Park has raised their flip taxes on all sales. S.B.R.’s argument would be that they were a city Mitchell-Lama and we are a state Mitchell-Lama. What’s the difference? Private is private.
Stephen Seifer

To The Editor:
I refuse to debate the philosophy of Mitchell-Lama since like religion and politics, that is a matter of one’s belief, to which all are entitled. When you talk about privatization, you are discussing something else and that is attaining freedom, which we do not have under Mitchell-Lama.

The freedom to stay or sell, freedom to take an equity loan for investment or any other purpose, freedom to take a home equity line of credit on the value of your apartment, which in my case would probably allow me to live here rent-free for at least 50 years, freedom to renovate bath and kitchens desperately in need, freedom from oversight/control by government agencies, freedom to sublet apartments under supervision/for a fee making legal what is seriously done secretively now, freedom to return the value of the Southbridge Towers property to the co-op through a flip tax where the seller and S.B.T. will both gain on any sale, freedom to leave my owned apartment to my designated  family member......

What we are talking about in going private is the attainment of the American dream — which is owning your own home. At this moment we are cooperators with leases and do not own one nail or cabinet.
Seymour Schleimer

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