Not For Sale

Not For Sale
Protest at the Brooklyn Museum real estate jamboree

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bedford Armory? KILL THE DEAL

According to a spokesperson, EDC has solicited public comments concerning the Bedford Armory development thru March 17 in order to make the project "even better." That is a very low bar, because what is proposed is throughly objectionable.

I have attended pretty much every public meeting regarding the Armory. In the beginning, we were told that since the land is city-owned, the profitability equation was different, making it possible to have all affordable housing built on the site. As opposed to the luxury housing that has displaced 10,000 people from the neighborhood to date (including 1,600 families evicted from the Ebbets Field Houses in the last year).

That was Lie #1. Now the proposed ratio of so-called affordable units to market rate is the same as any other luxury construction in the city. This is unacceptable. By what logic are we mortgaging what we already own??

Residents have repeatedly been asked what they want to see happen with the Armory. None of us ever asked for luxury development or any studio apartments. Neither is of use to the residents of this community.

We asked for a recreation center and office space for local non-profit organizations. In fact, we would rather no housing be built at all than to be further displaced by what is proposed.

2. The recreation space depicted in the BFC drawings tells the truth about who the Armory is being developed to serve. Why is the extreme height of the drill hall not being divided into two or more storeys in order to maximize the space available to local organizations and educational institutions?

I'll tell you why. It's so that the elite living in the luxury development can practice their Downward Dog under an 80' ceiling, with the sun streaming in, the moon passing overhead. It's the kind of wasted space that tells a person s/he's special. It reveals that no thought whatever has been given to the needs of the community. We have a college so short of housing that classes continue to be held in trailers and some students – 80% of whom are single parents – are reportedly living in their cars. Yet the developer can envision nothing more useful for this space than a yoga mat under the stars. It's offensive to the core. It's institutionalized racism.

And are we really to believe that the wealthy residents of this luxury housing are going to share the pool with kids from the neighborhood? Will there be separate hours for Armory residents and the rest of us? Will the water be changed between uses? Asking for friends.

Why is no one able to say definitively that use of the recreational facilities will be free to neighborhood residents? The word "discounts" is bandied about. Once again, affordability is the issue. The brand new Lakeside Skating Rink in Prospect Park was re-priced specifically to keep our kids from congregating there. Our suspicions are well-founded.

Who plays soccer in New York City? Not black kids in Crown Heights. Yet a full third of the facility is to be dedicated to soccer.

3. Then there's the matter of the Lease. Two million dollars a year! Sounds like a lot of money? But THE AMOUNT NEVER GOES UP over the 99-year term. Wow! Who doesn't wish that they were paying the same rent on their place as was paid 99 years ago?

4. Then there's the recent entry into the picture of the ex-con Clarence Norman, Jr. and his generically named Local Development Corporation of Crown Heights. We're told that BFC has given Norman $500,000 in "seed money" to establish a fund to develop affordable housing elsewhere in the neighborhood. Other money "may" be donated to the fund in the future. May!

What does $500k buy in this market? Perhaps 5-6 apartments could be renovated for this sum, assuming the building was extant. sound, and free of charge to the developer. It's a scandal that a convicted fraudster should even be invited to share in the bounty the Armory portends​ or that anything meaningful could be built for such a sum​.

I could go on. KILL THE DEAL.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Give 'em some FLAC!

A new activist group was formed the other night, FLAC, Flower Lovers Against Cornell (Realty), the lead developer seeking a spot up-zoning along Franklin Avenue, roughly between Tivoli Towers and Ebbets Field. They argue that tall towers are contextual for this reason.

In so doing, the developers are conveniently omitting that the area was specifically down-zoned in 1991 in order to protect the Botanic Gardens from unsightly, light-stealing towers, intrusive in terms of both sight lines and shadows. This was 30 years after the citywide rezoning of 1961.

The ULURP Committee voted to tell the developers that they may only build as-of-right, 7 stories, but of course, the decision ultimately rests in the hands of Councilperson Laurie Cumbo, a person who demonstrates only as much knowledge of the community's opposition as her intentions allow. She had the nerve to ask a Council spokesperson to present his "Land Use 101" powerpoint to those in attendance at her public meeting on the issue at Medgar Evers. Really? You think you need to explain what the letters F-A-R stand for to this community?

The super-confident Ms. Cumbo doesn't even prepare notes for her presentations (I attended the meeting about the future/fate of the Armory too). She prefers to wing it, and is prone to ask herself aloud, "What's the best way to say this?" or "What's the best word for that?" The Armory meeting drew an audience unanimously opposed to the plan the Councilperson presented. It turns out that in contemporary New York it doesn't matter whether the land costs $1 or 50 million dollars; the ratio of "affordable" to market remains the same and no matter what there will be tens of thousands of applications for every so-called affordable apartment. Growing exasperated with the very vocal opposition, Cumbo blurted, "Maybe you all would like it if we just had a recreation facility," only to find that everyone would in fact be very happy with "just" a recreation facility.

Let me dwell on the design of the recreation facility. The drill hall ceiling is probably 100 feet or so at it's highest point. Available recreation space could be doubled by making the drill hall a 2-story space, an idea I guarantee never occurred to the architects. This is because the architects' clients are the market-rate folks, the fancy people, or "whitey," in my lexicon. And if there's one thing fancy people really dig it's huge vaulted ceilings under which to perfect their Plank pose. I guarantee never a thought was given to the benefits to the existing community presented by a doubling of recreation space. My shouted question was, "Who's gonna drain the pool after Community Swim?"

Then there's the matter of the lease. The question was asked, "How much will the developer have to pay for the land every year. What's the rent?" Two million dollars! Gee! And the rent never goes up over the 99 years? Wow! How much does anyone wish they were paying the same rent on their pad as was paid 99 years ago? Everybody?

Cumbo pointed out that she's never voted for any up-zoning in the community, only to be reminded that she voted for MIH in defiance of the community-supported CB9 recommendation, a unicorn moment if ever there was one. She said she hasn't supported MIH in her district but thought it was an important tool to be used elsewhere. The City Council approved MIH in defiance of the recommendations of over 90% of community boards citywide, so Cumbo is hardly alone in failing to represent her constituents in this matter.

Councilperson Cumbo is up for re-election. Give her some FLAC!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

March!

I traveled to DC in an unexpectedly pink bus filled with overwhelmingly white New York artists, many, perhaps all, of whom were aware of the overwhelmingly whiteness of our group and the challenge to feminism that that color line represents. After I got back, I saw this photo in The New York Times of my friend and fearless leader, anti-gentrification activist Alicia Boyd, founder of MTOPP, the Movement to Protect The People, in Crown Heights. Alicia is a former kindergarten teacher and a 1000% force of nature who intends to continue to see "people who look like me" when she steps out her door. I want to continue to see people who look like her when I step out my door a few blocks away, too.

Alicia was photographed at a protest in front of the Whitney Museum on Inauguration Day where the gathered unfurled a banner that declared, “Resistance against fascism is the best art.” Alicia is not an artist, but I expect at least some artists heard about the dust-up she and other gentrification activists created and sustained against the Brooklyn Museum last summer, a chain of events set in motion by the museum's hosting the city's annual real estate developers jamboree, an event scheduled long before Anne Pasternak took office weeks before, in fairness.

The image at the top of this blog shows the response from MTOPP, EqualityForFlatbush and other groups on the day of the event. Pasternak shortly afterward offered an olive branch also covered in the Times (click on link), which was to have MTOPP etc., participate in their ongoing Agitprop! exhibition.

But it proved thorny for the museum to allow an active activist group to use their wall space (I was stunned to see a section of the MTOPP display dedicated to a statement I'd made at a meeting months before) as opposed to displaying the artifacts of past protests. So when the museum tried to re-write the terms of the agreement they'd reached with Alicia and the other organizers – regarding public forums to discuss and otherwise agitate about the displacement of longtime area residents by luxury rentals and condos – things got riled up again, and up and down they went.

A short time later, she and I and dozens of others participated in a BDS occupation of the Museum's "This Place" exhibition, funded by organizations and individuals who fund the Israeli settlements, featuring many famous photographers including Stephen Shore. We placed stickers with the ancient name of each photographed location beside the photos while someone spoke briefly of the history of the site. It was really a wonder. The Museum was freaked; mission accomplished. The main drivers were the We Will Not Be Silent folks and Andrew Ross at NYU. Incredible day.

So while we artists, statistically all white women, rode to DC together, this black woman, not an artist, was holding artists and museums to task. Some kinda wonderful. I haven't seen her since this all went down, so no details, just the photo and a para. But food for intersectional thought, I'm sure you agree.

It seems to me, thinking about the composition of the DC marchers and marchers everywhere, that we have an opportunity to build a movement that for the first time in this nation's history includes a possible actual majority of white people in solidarity with all historically marginalized Americans. I have long held the conviction that the only people who can lead this "white man's country" out of the mess it's in and hold us to the high standards of our founding documents are those who have been most brutalized. Nina Turner said recently that we may not have all come here on the same ship, but we're in the same boat now. I think she missed an opportunity to acknowledge that white people came here in ships too and also occupy the same boat now. Let us acknowledge that commonality now. It may well be the last chance we get.

March with a group you don't identify with! If you're straight, march with the LGBTQ crowd! If you're white, show up for Black Lives Matter!

ET CETERA!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Alicia Boyd ACQUITTED of All Criminal Charges

They try. Oh, they try.

I am delighted to report that the criminal charges brought against the fearless anti-gentrification activist, founder of MTOPP, the Movement To Protect The People, Alicia Boyd, have come to naught.

After a trail lasting 6 days in Brooklyn Criminal Court, it took the jury all of 21 minutes to unanimously reject the prosecution's charges of obstructing government business, disorderly conduct (2 counts) and resisting arrest. This victory deserves to be celebrated by all New Yorkers angry that their city is being taken from them, block by block, house by house and shop by shop.

I had taken a walk thinking it would take at least hour for the verdicts to come in. I'm told shock was evident on the faces of the prosecutors as well as the judge as the verdicts were read aloud. So confident were they of a conviction that NYPD was posted in the hallway, assumedly to quash the expected ruckus as she was remanded to Rikers. Their confidence was ill-advised; those of us in the gallery, watching the faces of the jurors throughout the proceedings, were every bit as confident of an acquittal. Several jurors were people of color and residents of gentrifying neighborhoods including Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg. They see the corruption and displacement that is epidemic in this town. No way were they going to lock up a fighter on their behalf.

The three members of CB9 who testified as expert witnesses for the prosecution could not agree on how many people were on the land use committee on the night in question, nor how many of them were eligible to vote, nor what constitutes quorum. Their conflicting testimonies brought into high relief the lawlessness of Brooklyn CB9 beginning with a complete lack of understanding of the rules governing the conduct of community boards (City Charter, Open Meetings Law, their own By-Laws), and contempt for residents who dare to question their decisions.

The self-dealing Ben Edwards, a real estate broker from landmarked Lefferts Manor and former chair of the ULURP Committee, referred to the protestors as no more than "troublemakers," denied knowing what "gentrification" is, admitted never having spoken to any of the protestors in any forum, knew nothing of a petition with 4,000 signatures protesting the submission of a request to City Planning for a "study." Mr. Edwards stands to make some serious coin on the condos and co-ops DCP has in mind for un-Landmarked Black Crown Heights.

Making an issue of quorum was something of genius move on the part of the defense, led by Boyd's two attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild, First Amendment specialist Jonathan Wallace (below, left) and criminal defense attorney Martin R. Sollar (right), long may they run. One cannot obstruct government business if quorum has not been established, you see. Such is not a legal meeting. A vote on the resolution to City Planning should never have been taken.

In my opinion, by bringing these charges against Boyd, Brooklyn CB9 was attempting to kill the protest movement by locking up the leadership. Let's not forget that a charge of Assault with a Deadly Weapon was also levied, also unsuccessfully, against MTOPP's Maxine Barnes by board member Evelyn Williams, for allegedly throwing a piece of paper that resulted in a paper cut to Williams's face. Williams wore one of those little round band-aids that comes in the variety package during her ridiculous recovery. History has proven cutting off the head to still the body to be an effective strategy. Boro Prez Eric Adams, the former state senator from this area, should be ashamed of his assumed role in pursuing such a strategy. Which side is he on? Sing with me.

Also shocking was the tearful revelation by former District Manager Pearl Miles that she had been convicted of prostitution under an alias prior to being hired by CB9 30 years ago. Prior to Miles' perfunctory dismissal over a year ago, Miles was the highest paid, longest-serving DM in the city of New York, a job she held for 20 years. She was thrown under the bus by CB9 in order to make a previous lawsuit brought by Boyd go away. Miles is, of course, bringing a lawsuit of her own against them. Chickens, roost, etc.

The prosecution relied heavily on video evidence. Let's talk about that for a moment. There were two cameras on tripods that night, in addition to cellphone cameras. The tripod cameras had the same owner; they faced each other, but only one video was posted to the internet. Maxine Barnes, knowing of the other camera angle, obtained the reverse view from the videographer, to use in her defense. Boyd's prosecutors used a compilation video that neatly excised perhaps single second, the moment where a collapsible banquet table was overturned atop the squirming Alicia Boyd, who had dropped to the floor when approached by police.

In creating a compilation video using evidence from another case the DA's office broke I don't know how many rules, but I'm advised that this is a very serious offense. The prosecutor claimed the tape had been posted to the MTOPP Facebook page and insinuated that Maxine Barnes, a professor of technology at the New York City College of Technology, had posted it, using her expertise. Because we all know only an expert can post a video link to an open Facebook page. The idea was to blame Boyd for nearly being crushed by the heavy metal table. Nonsense. About a hundred of us, myself included, were in attendance at the raucous protest of May 19, 2015. My recollection is that the cops both turned over the table and, with the help of protestors, prevented it from falling on her. Perhaps you would like to try to upend a banquet table with one hand while lying on the floor.

The judge, name unknown to me, a young, ambitious Latina for whom I have some sympathy since Hispanics have been disgracefully prevented from ascending to the bench for decades, should never have allowed a compilation video of unknown origin to be admitted into evidence. It should also be noted that she allowed the prosecution seven (7) adjournments but refused outright to allow a second for the defense. She also refused to provide the jury with the City Charter rules governing community board committee votes, rules that made a joke of the prosecution's assertions. Sigh.

I don't usually have praise for the criminal justice system, but in this case the people were heard. Not The People as represented by the DA's office, but the people of the city of New York who are being forced from their homes and out of business by skyrocketing prices for co-ops and condos in full-on hideous towers made of cheap materials where once stood brick and frame houses and 6-story apartment buildings. WE, the people, spoke today, in no uncertain terms. Since the verdict, self-dealing CB9 chair Demetrius Lawrence has announced his sudden retirement from the board. Apparently the demands of his new job as some kind of technology officer with the Blackstone Group, "the largest real estate private equity firm in the world today with $103 billion of assets under management," by their own description.

In fact, despite the entire board recently having undergone training in the Open Meetings Law, Chairman Lawrence had issued new Rules of Conduct for all CB9 meetings which banned speaking out of turn, placards, raised voices, video- and audio-recording and other violations of First Amendment rights under threat of arrest. Both Boyd and I made it clear during the Public Comment period last month that adoption of these rules would result in a federal case. The rightly terrified Vice Chair, Dr. Zorina Fredericks, standing in for the absent Lawrence, wisely tabled the matter for further consideration.

Now we wait. We wait to see what Judge Saitta, the State Supreme Court judge who has delayed his rulings in Boyd's two other cases against CB9, while waiting to see what happened in Criminal Court. One case, to which I am a party, seeks to have the request to City Planning for a study rescinded for a second time. The other seeks to prevent the ethically-challenged Carmen Martinez from becoming the new District Manager. I am, we are, very hopeful.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What's missing?

I saw this picture, opening pages of last week's Sunday Times magazine. I thought, "What's missing from this picture?" Oh right, the EMPIRE STATE BUULDING!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Who is the Crown Heights South Association?

As you know, much energy and creativity continues to go into the fight to prevent the Department of City Planning from re-zoning our neighborhood in particular, Empire Boulevard. If Empire is changed from commercial to residential, Black Crown Heights will become Williamsburg. No amount of landmarking will prevent that. Empire is the fight.

Just as we are in court to fight CB9's illegal resolution letter to DCP, we are also fighting a PLGNA "study" of our area (not theirs!) funded by our elected officials, because any "community-based" study can be characterized by DCP as a request for a re-zoning. We have been successful in holding off DCP for over 2 years, an extraordinary achievement. That is why I am writing to convey my concern about the upcoming Town Hall Meeting and Landmark-Weekend organized by Crown Heights South Association. Landmarking requires studies.

I can't find any information about CHSA's membership. They have an email address and a Facebook page; that is all. This makes me suspicious. The Borough President is 100% eager to deliver Empire into the hands of the developers; CHSA could be a front organization.

I say this with assurance: There will be no landmarking in Crown Heights, just as there will be no downzoning. This is true throughout the city, not just here. In fact, earlier this year the Landmarks Commission DE-calendared 60 buildings that languished for years without being considered. All those de-calendared proposals involved hundreds of hours of research, documentation, analysis and substantial fundraising (I worked to protect a threatened landmark for 15 years; I have had a lot of experience in this area). And all those proposals were back-burnered, especially if in minority neighborhoods.

Through their bought and paid for shills on the City Council, the real estate industry is seeking to impose a time limit for landmark consideration, after which any proposal will be rejected, as opposed to, say, increasing funding to the Landmarks Commission to insure timely consideration.

To suggest, as Crown Heights South Association is doing, that "Automotive Row" (Empire between Flatbush and Rogers) is a viable candidate for landmarking is naive at best. To actually create such a proposal would be a yuuuuuge waste of scarce resources of time, effort and money.

I suggest that it would be more useful for CHSA, whoever they are, to join our ongoing fight to prevent the Dept of City Planning (Plotting) from rezoning Crown Heights, and in particular Empire Boulevard. If DCP succeeds in rezoning Empire from commercial to residential, Black Crown Heights will become Williamsburg. No amount of landmarking will change that.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Do Over! Carmen Martinez doesn't make the short list, so a new search begins!

The riot never stops over at CB9. The April general meeting was Popcorn Night! Every attendee was handed this playbill

featuring Board member Tim Thomas with added (by the artist, not by TT) clown nose and wig, as well as a bag of kosher popcorn, a gesture much appreciated by former Board chair Jacob Goldstein, who again found a way to let his contempt for current chair, Demetrius Lawrence, be known. This month his objection was to the scheduling, by Lawrence and Housing Committee chair Carmen Martinez, whom he also clearly despises, of a housing information forum on a Saturday. Never would have happened on his watch!

Protestors wore clown noses, too. Here I am; Alicia Boyd is behind me.

Much time was given over to the consideration/issuing of liquor licenses, to the growing disgruntlement of the community. Someone suggested the name of the neighborhood be changed to "Liquor Heights," while another pointed out that Black people prefer to buy liquor from the street side of bulletproof glass and sell it at home; I didn't know that. In other words, the bars proliferating on Franklin are not serving Black people. In so many ways. One applicant kept correcting himself every time he referred to his "restaurant" as a "bar", what it actually is, something more like this:

Then came the problem of what to do about Carmen Martinez, Eric Adams' choice for the new district manager of CB9, the former true-blue treasurer for convicted Brooklyn powerbroker Clarence Norman, Jr. and a woman allowed to retire from her job at the City Comptroller's office after admitting she stole 14 years of public service, basically keeping Clarence's dirty little empire in shipshape while the master did his time. Nice choice, Eric! This is a woman as loyal as she is self-serving and knows how to get things done!

You may remember that last month, Chair Lawrence said the Search Committee was going to have to be rejiggered and start all over again because quorum had never been achieved in their meetings. Lawrence was present at all of the meetings, of course, and had no objection at the time, not so long as the committee was putting a good face on the selection of Adams' candidate.

But, lo and behold, the Search committee chaired by Lawrence's go-to guy, Hector Robinson – at one point, Robinson chaired three committees – did their job and selected the three most qualified applicants, none of which was the disgraced crony the Borough President prefers. What's a puppet chairman to do?

And so the Board went into an illegal executive session to discuss. I say "illegal" because executive session is reserved for discussion of matters like the personal information of the applicants, salary negotiations, etc., not matters of policy and procedure, which are subject to the Open Meetings Law. Rumor has it that the session was a brawl, replete with accusations and recriminations. In the end, the Board, with few exceptions, voted to create a new Search Committee with members hand-picked by Demetrius Lawrence, who understand their marching orders, and grasp the need to fill the position by the end of the fiscal year in June, to accomplish in two months what they have been unable to do in eight.

Can they do it? I'll do my part to make sure it doesn't happen. Join me! We have our work cut out for us. Martinez is already running the CB9 office on Nostrand Avenue, following the sudden disappearance of Terry Witherspoon, who had been answering the phones since her former boss, Pearl Miles, was kicked to the curb last September. Witherspoon has been variously described as on vacation, sick, and on extended sick leave. Meanwhile, Martinez is in there, setting up her fiefdom.

Not this Carmen Martinez: