Gov. Hochul, this is why NY must take over code enforcement in Spring Valley

Editorial by Steven White in The Journal News

“A fatal fire occurred in Spring Valley on March 4, but the sequence of events that took the precious lives of five family members began much earlier. Residents of Spring Valley, volunteer firefighters and activists — including me — have been sounding an alarm about dangerous conditions for years.

The state of New York has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of its residents. The state delegates this responsibility to local government. Land use boards and building departments are particularly important for fire safety and quality of life.

On the other hand, developers, speculators and landlords have a financial incentive to cut corners and maximize profits. Now, one can only imagine what would happen if these profiteers were to gain control of the very entities assigned to regulate them. Well, you don’t actually need to use your imagination because that’s exactly what has happened in Spring Valley. 

As reported by lohud and The Journal News, “The Spring Valley Board of Trustees has allowed Jeremias and other property owners to subdivide their properties to build additional profit-making housing units.”

I have attended many meetings of land use boards in which local residents unanimously disapprove of these zoning changes. We have witnessed the land use boards not only ignore the residents but override the recommendations of the Rockland County planning board.

Steven White speaks during a rally at the East Ramapo school district offices in Spring Valley May 25, 2021. Photo: Peter Carr/The Journal News

In 2016, Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski said: “The systemic and pervasive lack of code enforcement in Ramapo and Spring Valley is a clear and present danger to the safety and well-being of our citizens. For over two years, I have been documenting this lawlessness and calling on the state to intervene. For an inspector to sign off on a school with dead bolted doors, exposed wiring and extension cords across a bathroom floor, shows that we cannot trust these local officials. The evidence is clear and the time for action is now. The state must intervene to protect the health and safety of our residents, children and first responders.”

Earlier:Father and son lost; mother and baby sister saved: Spring Valley fire victims ID’d

Spring Valley fatal fire:Inspectors find hundreds of code violations from landlord

According to lohud and The Journal News, after the fatal fire on March 4, inspectors discovered more than 250 violations in 10 other buildings owned by the same landlord. These are the same conditions residents, firefighters and activists have been complaining about for years, not just from this single property owner or these 10 buildings, but throughout the village. Our complaints fell on deaf ears until the fatal fire two years ago, which took the life of our brave volunteer firefighter Jared Lloyd and a resident he was trying to save.  It is a shame that it took two deaths for the state of New York to act on its responsibilities.

Even then, the action of the state was insufficient. They assigned responsibility to Rockland County, which had never done this work before and was reluctant to be charged for the new responsibility. The new county department did not take action commensurate with the scope and urgency of the crisis in Spring Valley. The result is five more dead.

Meanwhile, nothing at all has been done about the land use boards or the similar situation in the neighboring town of Ramapo. The state government has failed its task to protect its residents. Despite all of the warnings, and especially those from our brave volunteer firefighters, the response has only been blame shifting, finger pointing and passing the buck. I call on all residents of Spring Valley and everyone who cares about the senseless loss of life happening here to contact Gov. Kathy Hochul directly and demand that the state immediately take over all code enforcement and land use boards in both Spring Valley and Ramapo.

We have also set up an on-line petition available at

Our hope is that Hochul will act before another tragedy strikes.”

The writer, Steven White, is an activist who lives in Spring Valley

The editorial appeared in Sunday’s Journal News April 9, 2023