Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Mayor Ann Thane speaks during a Common Council meeting Wednesday night. The council voted to override her veto of a law banning the playing of basketball on city streets.
By CASEY CROUCHER
The Amsterdam Common Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to override Mayor Ann Thane's veto of an ordinance banning basketball hoops citywide.
"I'm just very disappointed with the action this council has taken," Thane said. "There are already laws on the books for the issues this ordinance was intended to address. You're targeting basketball, but the real issue you have is people not moving out of the way of cars, evidently. Targeting basketball, and not anything else in the streets, is ridiculous."
The council voted 4-1 July 1 prohibiting basketball hoops or any type of basketball game on city streets. They said the reason was safety concerns -- they didn't want any children getting hurt.
According to the ordinance, "Playing basketball on or near city streets present(s) a traffic hazard and the city desires to prohibit the use, construction, maintenance of basketball equipment whether movable or immovable on city streets and sidewalks and to prohibit the positioning of basketball equipment in such a way that play will occur on city streets or sidewalks."
Any basketball equipment found on city streets or sidewalks will be removed by city workers, the ordinance says. Any removed equipment can be recovered by the owner within two weeks after paying $50. If the equipment isn't recovered after that time, it will become the property of the city, the ordinance says. Violations of this ordinance can be punishable by a fine of up to $250.
After a community uproar over the ban, Thane filed a veto against the ordinance July 16.
The council called Wednesday's meeting to override that veto.
"There's an uncomfortable bias to this resolution because this targets neighborhoods where there's nowhere else to really play, specifically in impoverished areas," she said. "Situations where there are multi-family units and no driveways, these are the people who will be affected the most, and it's biased."
Thane said there have been no accidents or injuries reported involving children playing in the streets.
Second Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman, who has been against the ordinance from the beginning and voted against the override, argued that if the council wanted to ban basketball from city streets out of safety concerns, then they should ban every other sport, too.
"I just think if we do this we'll have to do it for everything, end of discussion," she said. "We're going to have to ban football, hopscotch, everything played in the streets will have to be banned."
Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero said children should have parks to play in.
"Why don't we give these kids a place to play?" Leggiero said. "I don't mean the streets, I mean these fields and these dilapidated basketball courts that aren't acceptable; let's concentrate on fixing those parks up and give these kids a place to go."
Thane said it's her wish for the council to allocate the necessary resources to upgrade the parks. She said there have been requests made "for years."
Leggiero said he blames the Recreation Department, "because basketball is recreation."
He said the rec department should be the one to follow up on the children playing in the streets and not having a place to go, but Thane said the department has asked the council for money to make the improvements for the parks.
"We've got issues upon issues," 4th Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler said. "We need more basketball hoops in the city, we need more playgrounds in the city and it needs to be addressed. This is a safety issue; there were times when people couldn't move through the streets because the kids are blocking the streets. It's become a safety issue and it's come to the point where we don't know if we'll drive over toes."
First Ward Alderman Edward Russo said he's been working with Recreation Department director Robert Spagnola about getting funds for a capital project to improve the parks.
"We are trying to work on some of the parks," Russo said, "and I don't believe that these hoops should be in the roads. A long time ago when I was growing up it was OK because there wasn't the traffic we have today. I'm all for the kids; I love seeing the kids be able to have basketball hoops, but in a crowded area it's not safe."
A full room of concerned residents went to Wednesday's meeting to speak; however, there was no public comment allowed during the meeting.
After the meeting, many residents stayed to voice their opinions and concerns to each other and to council members.
Resident Amy Hale said the ordinance appalls her.
"Most of the people on the council are over the age of 60 without young children," Hale said. "Their issue, and I understand it completely, has to do with people not getting out of the way of cars in the street, but it has nothing to do with basketball. It ruins it for kids that are outside of the house, playing in the streets, but doing it safely."
Ten-year-old Garrett McHeard said it's unfair for the kids who depend on their hoop and the street for entertainment.
"Kids on the South Side can't play basketball now, and it's not their fault they don't have hoops over there or in other parts of the city," he said. "It's not their fault the city council voted down basketball on the streets because they're worried about safety when someone shouldn't be driving that fast down these streets anyway."
Garrett's mother, Colleen McHeard, a physical education teacher at William B. Tecler Arts in Education Magnet School, said the ordinance hurts children's chances for exercise.
"Studies push for 60 minutes a day of physical activity for children," she said, "especially during the summer months when they're not in school and we're not there to give them that activity. But there's hoops. The kids who will really hurt from this are the kids who don't have a driveway and don't have a place to put their basketball hoop."
Resident Justin Lajeunesse said the ordinance will actually make conditions less safe for children.
"I think it's ridiculous because I don't think they thought about anything else other than people's complaints," Lajeunesse said. "Honestly, if they were concerned about the safety of the kids they would not pass this until they come up with a way to resolve getting the parks fixed, putting hoops in areas where they're needed, getting the sidewalks fixed for kids who ride their bikes to and from these parks; where's the safety there? These kids now have to cross streets to go to the parks and you're going to tell me a kid is safer traveling down a highway to get to a park than they are playing basketball in their street?"
Resident Frank DiCaprio said basketball courts in city parks will now be overcrowded from this ordinance, "so there will be mayhem and trouble from that."
Fabrizia Rodriguez, Director of Community Development Initiative, said she wanted to suggest that the council add more "Slow, Children at Play" signs in the neighborhoods where basketball in the streets is common.
Matt Moller, chief financial officer of the Wishful Thinking Foundation, said he plans to organize volunteers to help improve the parks and repave courts so kids can "at least bring their mobile hoops down to the park."
Friends Devon Valentin, 15, and Brian Taberas, 17, said the council's decision is "terrible."
"There are like 13 hoops where I live, and we all play basketball in my neighborhood," Valentin said. "I'm always practicing always trying to get better than my brother. Now what am I going to do? They've taken it away. All I want to do is play basketball."
The friends both said they live far from any of the parks with hoops and even if they went, "the older players would take up all the playing time."
"Basketball keeps us out of trouble, now I don't know what to do," Taberas said.