Beach and Pool Hearing Opening Statement



April 22, 2015



Good Afternoon, my name is Mark Levine, and I am the Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Parks & Recreation. Today, the Parks Committee will consider Int. No. 629, a bill that I have introduced, which would extend the City’s beach and pool season from its usual end on Labor Day through the end of September.  I want to acknowledge the role of Public Advocate Tish James in calling the city’s attention to this issue and her important role in supporting and co-sponsoring this legislation.

New York City’s beaches and outdoor pools have always served as powerfully democratizing institutions.  For millions of New Yorkers who can’t afford to vacation in the Hamptons or take a cruise in the Caribbean, these resources offer fabulous summer recreation opportunities right here in the the five boroughs--accessible for the price of a MetroCard, free to enter, open to matter how rich or poor.

From Coney Island to Orchard Beach to Cedar Grove, our 14 miles of beaches are some of the best on the East Coast.  And from Highbridge to Fort Totten to Commodore Barry, our outdoor swimming pools--53 in all--offer the chance for wonderful summer activities right in the heart of our neighborhoods.

A visit to one of our pools and beaches is a family-friendly activity which promotes exercise for New Yorkers of all ages.  Young people in particular benefit from having a place for healthy activity during the summer months when they otherwise might be drawn to less safe pursuits.

And New Yorkers are turning out in droves.  An average of 1.4 million people visit our pools each year.  And last year a staggering 18 million visited our beaches, a number which is steadily climbing--up 22% last year alone.  

None of this recreation would be possible without an army of Parks Department staff who keep our pools and beaches safe, secure, and running smoothly.   Our 1,500 life guards play a particularly critical role.  These highly trained men and women mean the difference between life and death in the water.  That is a tremendous responsibility, and our lifeguards have a remarkable track record of keeping millions of beach- and pool-goers safe year after year.

But as of now, this critical work ends on Labor Day, when our city’s beach and pool season officially ends.  This end date may have made sense in the past, but for a variety of reasons I believe it is now anachronistic.  It’s time for an update.

The tragic reality of global warming means that, like it or not, over time September is becoming ever warmed.  Last year the first week of September was one of the hottest of the year.

Depending on the year, our public schools do not necessarily open the day after Labor Day.  Last year the first day of school was Thursday, September 4th, meaning that on Tuesday and Wednesday of that week New Yorkers had to endure scorching hot weather with no school in session and no way to cool off safely at our pools and beaches.

Ask any urban planner or demographer or transportation expert and they will tell you that our city is undergoing a dramatic shift in work schedules, with more and more New Yorkers breaking out of the traditional routine of being in the office from Monday to Friday.  These mostly younger workers often want to go to the beach--to relax or work remotely--well after Labor Day, even on weekdays, as long as the weather is nice.

For all these reasons it should surprise no one that New Yorkers are indeed going to the beach after the official close of the season--despite the lack of lifeguards--putting themselves at serious risk when they go in the water.

We can avoid this risk, and reap many benefits, by extending the beach and pool season into September.  This would be an economic boost to the hundreds of businesses in places like Coney Island that rely on beach goers.  Some of this economic activity would directly lead to additional revenue for the City, since many of the beach-serving businesses are parks concessions. And most importantly, extending the beach and pool season would give millions of New Yorkers a chance for healthy, safe outdoor recreation on days which, because of global warming, are more likely than ever to be hot.

There are considerable logistical challenges to extending the pool and beach session, especially as pertains to staffing.  Lifeguards are seasonal workers and many are college students who leave the city after Labor Day to return to school.  But a significant number of lifeguards attend college locally, or are close enough that they can come back to the city on weekends, and I believe that with sufficient time to plan the Parks Department can secure adequate staffing.  

The legislation we are considering today, Intro. 629, would extend the length of the beach and pool season through the end of September each year.  In recognition of potential staffing challenges, the bill as currently configured would require that these facilities be open on a daily basis only up until the day before the opening of our public schools.  They would thereafter remain open only on weekends through the end of the month.  The Parks Department would of course retain discretion to close beaches and pools due to an emergency or severe weather.  This discretion might be expanded to include the ability to close in the case of particularly cool temperatures.  

In short I believe Intro. 629 offers a sensible plan for expanding opportunities for New Yorkers of all backgrounds to enjoy our city’s magnificent beaches and pools, and I look forward to hearing comments on this bill by the Administration and the members of the public who have come to testify today.

Thank You.

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