De Blasio gets heat for keeping city beaches closed

Rockaway beach
Rockaway beach
Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography
Rockaway Beach in May 2019.

De Blasio gets heat for keeping city beaches closed

Are beaches the next battleground between New York City and the state?
May 16, 2020

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement on Friday that New York – along with New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware – would reopen its beaches in time for Memorial Day weekend was music to the ears of some who have been pushing for a restricted reopening as summer approaches. 

But just before Cuomo announced the multi-state reopening, detailing how beaches would open at 50% capacity with restrictions on group activities, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sent the opposite message, saying that city beaches aren’t ready to reopen. “On the beaches we’re just not ready,” de Blasio said at a Friday briefing. “It’s painful because we’d all love to be able to go to the beach with the hot weather, but it’s not safe yet.”

In practice, what that means is that while state-run beaches will be equipped with lifeguards and open for swimming by next weekend, city-run beaches including Coney Island and Rockaway Beach would not be. 

Yet another example of a policy split between City Hall and Albany, the discord on whether or not New York’s beaches are ready to reopen has prompted criticism from city and state lawmakers who say that if local beaches in the five boroughs aren’t open, New Yorkers will travel to the nearest open beach, causing the potential for overcrowding at a time when that’s the very thing to avoid. “I'm not ready to give up on NYC beaches this summer,” New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted Friday. “NYers will flock to them no matter what and would end up overcrowding other NY, NJ, and CT beaches if we try to keep them closed.”

State Sen. Diane Savino, who represents Staten Island, added that the city needs a plan to reopen its beaches, suggesting that people would swim there anyways but would risk drowning without lifeguards installed. “We need LIFEGUARDS, without them, we are begging for unnecessary tragedy,” Savino tweeted on Saturday.

Adrian Benepe, the former city parks commissioner, told The New York Times that closing beaches or even deploying patrols to keep people out won’t deter all New Yorkers from slipping in to catch some cool relief as temperatures rise.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who represents parts of Long Island and who was one of the state lawmakers originally pushing for a beach reopening plan, said that opening state-run beaches but not New York City beaches would hurt Long Island in particular.

“Really glad beaches can be open next weekend BUT if NYC beaches are closed, it will create a chaotic and untenable situation on Long Island,” Kaminsky tweeted on Friday. “For the good and health of all New Yorkers, the City MUST open their beaches for Memorial Day weekend.”

Though opening by next weekend looks unlikely, a spokesperson for City Hall told the Times that city officials are currently reviewing Cuomo's plan for reopening beaches and putting plans in place to open the city’s beaches at some point this summer if it is safe.

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.