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Upper East Side Park Littered with Trash, Locals Complain

 Neighbors of John Jay Park say the plaza is filled with litter
Plaza at John Jay Park Needs a Serious Clean Up Residents Say
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YORKVILLE — An Upper East Side park needs to clean up its act, angry neighbors are saying.

Neighbors of John Jay Park in Yorkville claim a public plaza at the front of the space is often filled with litter and that they see evidence of illegal activities happening in the space.

“It’s a nice place to sit. It’s peaceful and the sculptures are pretty, but you can’t enjoy it because of the trash,” said John Steinberg, a resident who has advocated for improvements to the park and also volunteers to clean up litter there.

Steinberg said he has lodged several complaints about the conditions at Cherokee Plaza through 311 and with the Parks Department, but so far he has received little in the way of a response.

“It was better this summer," he explained, adding he often finds empty liquor bottles in the plaza. "There was a woman who was a seasonal worker and she really cleaned up, but it quickly reverted."

A Parks Department spokesman said the agency cleans the area on a daily basis and communicates with the police when illegal activities are reported.

But a recent report from the nonprofit New Yorkers for Parks noted that only a quarter of the maintenance inspections at John Jay were deemed “acceptable” based on Parks Department data, wth litter being the main concern.

In addition, the park failed to meet the Parks Department's acceptable cleanliness levels during five of the past eight inspections, according to the parks website.

A recent visit to Cherokee Plaza revealed overflowing trashcans, empty bottles of beer and piles of old newspapers, as well as more unusual items such as an abandoned pair of boots and a yoga mat.

Still, several residents used the park last week in spite of the frigid temperatures. Myra, who did not wish to give her last name, said she walks her dog at John Jay several times a week. She noted that while the park is generally well maintained, the plaza is not.

“There’s a lot of trash there all the time," Myra said. "I don’t take my dog over there for fear that he’ll pick something up or try to eat it."

She said she also avoids the plaza because she has seen people smoking marijuana there. 

Ana Yozzo, who brings her three children to the park on a regular basis, said she has not noticed problems in the plaza. But her 11-year-old daughter, who plays on the handball courts over-looking the space, said she has seen unseemly activities taking place there.

“I’ve seen people drinking there before,” Yozzo's daughter said. “We see some not exactly friendly-looking people over here.”

John Jay, which sits between 76th and 78th Streets near the FDR Drive, is one of only a handful of parks in an area where public space is difficult to come by.

According to the New Yorkers for Parks report, in the council district that houses the plaza there is only a quarter-acre of public space per 1,000 residents. The standard across the city is 2-and-a-half acres per 1,000 people, the report said.

Steinberg said that is all the more reason to keep it clean.

“The way I see it is that there is only one park beside Central Park in the 70s on the whole East Side, and you’re telling me that New York City can’t keep it clean?" he said. "That’s ridiculous.”