GL Analysis: Patty Lancaster is Gone, Now What?
On Monday, Mayor Bloomberg said ""I don’t think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Department of Buildings’ performance." The statement was disingenuous at best and self-servingly cynical at worst. The construction boom and DOB's laissez faire attitude have happened under Mr. Bloomberg's watch and the placement of the agency under former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's purview for most of his administration symbolized the back seat that regulating building took to encouraging development. The city's worst kept secret for much of the last six years has been the fact that DOB was expected not to interfere in major ways with development. If this meant looking the other way while safety, work hour and other regulations were violated with impunity, well, that was a small price for one of the biggest building booms in New York history.
All that having been said, Ms. Lancaster had made positive changes in an agency that suffered bureaucratic dry rot at the hands of the Giuliani Administration. The much-abused system of self-certification of plans was not invented by Ms. Lancaster, nor was a culture of corruption or a horrific lack of resources that continues. It is impossible to talk about DOB's performance while not addressing the budgetary issues that have hobbled it. Even when DOB does try to do its job, it is outgunned and overwhelmed at every turn. If the FDNY was as dysfunctional as DOB and if the Mayor had turned a blind eye to it for nearly two full terms, most citizens would be screaming for his head on a platter. Yet, it is one of the most vital city agencies in terms of protecting public safety and quality of life.
We have said many times, both before and after the crane collapse, that the Department of Buildings is in need of a top-to-bottom overhaul. (Check out our post-crane collapse post on 12 Ways to Fix DOB for a few rough thoughts.) It is starved for resources. There is still blatant corruption. Its lack of responsiveness to citizen complaints in a timely way makes it relatively Kafkaesque to watch. As critical as we have been of Ms. Lancaster--as we believe that the person in charge should take responsibility if an inspector looks the other way while a developer ruins someone's home--we feel that it is too simple and too easy to believe that things will now get better. There is a chance they will get much worse. Unless, of course, in the aftermath of the construction bloodbath taking place in 2008, the Mayor becomes truly committed to deep institutional reform at DOB.
It's important to keep more cranes from taking out city blocks, but it's just as important to keep entire Brooklyn neighborhoods from turning into free-for-all construction battle zones. Top to bottom reform is the only solution for the Department of Buildings.
Labels: Construction Issues