Gloom and Loom at BBG

Gloom and Loom at BBG
Artist's rendering of proposed development along eastern perimeter of BBG

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bad start: The Sept meeting of Brooklyn CB9

Let's remember that the June meeting of CB9 (last of the fiscal year) ended with a barely veiled threat to bring the hammer down, NYPD-style, on anyone who dared raise their voice or otherwise disrupt a CB9 meeting come September. So what happened in September?

For starters, the new Executive Committee, under the direction of the perfectly clueless new Board chair, Demetrius Lawrence, held its first meeting in the backyard of CB9, in the dark, using flashlights. Lawrence's response to complaints from committee members about the dark and the mosquitoes was that the idea was to "deter community participation." No kidding! How dumb do you have to be to admit such a thing on camera?

Subsequently, the announced date and location of the full board meeting was abruptly changed, supposedly in deference to a Jewish holiday, as if the dates of Jewish holidays could not be known when the annual calendar was assembled. I refer Pearl Miles to the following website, with dates for all Jewish holidays through the year 2020: Juneteenth is June 19.

Because of the date and location change, attendance was sparse except for board members, representatives of elected officials, the up-for-election Diana Richardson, and several members of my block association, SLSNA, the Sullivan-Ludlam-Stoddard Neighborhood Association. We are paying attention.

Prominently displayed on the stage was a 3 minute digital "shot clock" for use in limiting the length of comments from the community. The By-Laws committee has ruled that no comment may exceed 3 minutes, none may yield their time to another, only 15 people may speak, and no comments will be heard until all other board business is concluded, which is to say, until after most people have had to go home to cook dinner, put the kids to bed, etc. It's safe to assume that the idea is to "deter community participation."

There was a presentation by the people behind Fresh Fanatic, a relatively new Whole Foods-type organic grocery store serving Clinton Hill and Ft. Greene. Fresh Fanatic will be installed on the ground floor of a residential building in progress on Lincoln Road between Ocean and Flatbush. Their presentation was purely informational because, according to Pearl Miles, the store was approved as part of the FRESH tax incentive, a gift to developers in the form of a few extra stories in exchange for giving over the ground floor to a supermarket in a deprived area. Interestingly, there are grocery stores on each end of this stretch of Lincoln Road, both of which will lose business to the newcomer. Crown Heights can hardly be described as a food desert. Perhaps the city is thinking ahead to a time when the giant Western Beef lot on Empire is turned over to luxury housing?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Latest Shakedown: Intro.775

Today, the bought and sold Chairs of the City Council's Land Use and Landmark Committees proposed a new bill, Intro.775, the latest shakedown by the shadow government of NY, the real estate industry.

BRE (Big Real Estate) is chomping at the bit for this one. Under the guise of mandating efficiency in the landmarking process, Intro.775 would impose strict deadlines for site consideration AND render any site ineligible for reconsideration for 5 YEARS after a blown deadline, during which time our city's threatened, shared architectural heritage will be pillaged for, well, you know.

What the city SHOULD be doing is mandating additional resources to the Landmarks and Preservations Commissions in order to speed the process. You might remember that back in November of last year, the New York Landmarks Conservancy was on the verge of eliminating nearly a hundred buildings from consideration; some had been waiting for a determination for twenty years. Mind you, the mandated research in support of landmarking can itself take years and cost thousands of dollars. The outcry was swift and loud, and the Conservancy backed down in June. Read all about it here.

Imagine if all the great world capitals allowed this rampant pillaging of their historic buildings. Please contact your City Council person ASAP. And sign this letter of protest written by the good, hard-fighting people of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. DO IT TODAY. The outcry must again be swift and LOUD.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Cautionary Tale: Results of CB8's Resolution to City Planning

The well-organized, fully functional community board for Brooklyn's District 8, working in concert with former Borough President Marty Markowitz, made several requests for "corrective action" to their zoning status. According to a document distributed by MTOPP at the last meeting of CB9, not a single one of CB8's specific requests or Markowitz's "recommendations" was granted.


What was asked for? Mandatory affordable housing for any buildings taller than 60 feet (NO); New affordable units to be built on site or within CB8 (NO); A 50% preference for CB8 residents applying for affordable units in the district (NO); Affordable housing income requirements to reflect the median income of CD8 residents (NO).

As for Marty's recommendations: Noting that upzoning had not enticed developers to build any affordable housing, he asked that increased heights and floor area rations be limited to developments that provide permanent affordable housing (DENIED); That R6A zoning on residential streets allowing for excessive heights be rezoned to R6B to preserve the character of the neighborhood (DENIED); No upzoning in areas where 3-4 story buildings on small lots predominate (DENIED); Creation of a Special Enhanced Commercial District on Franklin Avenue to insure that the new development, potentially as much as 50% of the area, preserved the retail corridor (DENIED).

So if you think that the Department of City Planning and their overseers in Big Real Estate care one fig for what the residents of any neigborhood have to say about their future, or if members of CB9 think anything postive can come of a resolution to City Planning, no matter how carefully worded, they are mistaken unto delusional. The only hope we have of defeating BRE plans to turn this neighborhood into a luxury tax haven is by denying CP permission to study us at all. For our collective good, Empire Boulevard needs to be removed from the parameters!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Performing Well Below Expectations: Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo

I saw our Councilwoman, Laurie Cumbo at the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza, sitting in one of the reserved seats for electeds at an event featuring warrior saint Congressman John Lewis and his co-authors in-now the second volume of his illustrated memoir, MARCH. The books are extraordinary. I say this though I've only read half of Book Two because they were sold out of Book One; it has fully blown my mind. I have read MANY books about Black American history, the serial, ongoing oppression and atrocities, but the graphic novel form is startlingly well-suited to this history because it is so refined in the art of depicting high stakes drama with violent, even murderous, potential and results.

Anywhere, here comes Laurie Cumbo, smiling, waving, waiting for the great man to introduce her when he acknowledges the other electeds: JoAnn Simon was the one I recognized. I think it's safe to say that everyone else in the room was humbled by the Congressman's entrance and received their acknowledgement with little more than a nod of the head. Not Laurie. She stood and turned to the crowd and waved and smiled. It was unseemly, I have to say.

This the same Laurie Cumbo who picked a finger-wagging near-fight with Alicia Boyd, of Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP). at a CB9 meeting. The subject was rezoning. "I'll rezone this neighborhood myself if I have to!" she said, while we all stood there waiting for the Vaseline and her earrings to come off. Google it.

The other day I dropped in on LC's website to see a large photo of her Tweet earlier that morning apologizing to the Asian-American community "or any other cultural group" living in public housing. Like I said, performing well below expectations.

Friday, March 20, 2015

This Has To Stop: NYPD Community Affairs Officers As "Henchmen" For CB9

Last night I attended my first 71st Precinct Community Council meeting, in the food-strewn, mouse haven of an auditorium at MS 61 on Empire and New York. The condition of the public schools in this area are a scandal, but let me not digress. I'm told the monthly meeting was established in the wake of the Crown Heights riots of 1991, one of several initiatives intended to improve relations in the Black-Jewish neighborhood; this one appears to have devolved into a forum for people of both persuasions to praise the police and share in a free meal at the end.

On this occasion, the regulars were matched in number by those, myself included, there to protest the misuse of the Precinct's Community Affairs officers as, in the words of more than one speaker, "henchmen" for a corrupt Community Board so at odds with the community they are sworn to represent over the issue of gentrification. Speakers demanded to know why Alicia Boyd of MTOPP (Movement To Protect The People) was arrested and charged with Disorderly Conduct at Monday night's ULURP meeting, when a committee member who shouted the MF-word into the public record was not?

There is no doubt that the presence of a half-dozen or so officers at every meeting is intended to silence dissent, and it is effective. "It's not good for Black people to go to jail," even on a violation, a Black neighbor with a very responsible job said to me recently. The ULURP meeting was barely 5 minutes old when the committee chair asked for Alicia to be removed. For the record, she received a warning, and was arrested the second time the chair asked for her removal, maybe 20 minutes later.

Presiding over the council meeting, Commanding Officer George Fitzgibbon had little to say in response to so much voiced disapproval of his officers, even though almost everyone began their remarks by saying, in all sincerity, how much they respected the police, appreciated what a difficult and dangerous job they have. Fitzgibbon reported that his officers are accompanied by a "legal advisor," and read aloud the legal definition of "Disorderly Conduct," the part about disturbing lawful assemblies or meetings, but leaving out the part about using obscene language. Read the law here.

Another in the audience observed that MTOPP is indeed pursuing civil remedies, having brought CB9 to court to defend themselves from a long list of well-founded accusations. At some point, my hand in the air was recognized. I began by noting CB9's reputation for corruption, how it operates in defiance of its own rules and asked the officer, what's the opposition to do when they are being steamrolled? Be polite? I decided to play the "Irish Card," if there is such a thing, being of Irish extraction, with a cop (long dead) in my family, St. Patrick's Day, and all. "When the Irish asked the English to leave their country, they were ignored," I said, not putting too fine a point on it. "But once they turned to more extreme measures, the English had a new, enduring excuse to ignore them. This happens again and again in circumstances great and small, all around the world." He had no response; instead called upon another, who spoke eloquently of her dismay and dissatisfaction with the misuse of Community Affairs officers to silence and intimidate people trying to speak their minds about matters that directly affect them.

The monthly Community Board meeting is on Tuesday, when there will be an attempt to vote on yet another illegal resolution to City Planning. We'll see then whether the anger and frustration in the room last night was expressed in vain.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

They Never Sleep, Much Less Listen: The New "Alternative Draft" Resolution to City Planning

The rescinded draft I wrote about on Feb 15 has been rewritten. I wish I could say it has been re-written to the liking of those with the most to lose, but that is not the case.

The hapless chair of the ULURP committee, Ben Edwards, began this week's committee meeting with a call for a vote on the new draft, a document which had not ever been seen by the community at large. Immediately, a chant of "NO VOTE!" went up, with Alicia Boyd of MTOPP attempting to point out that at least 2 members of the committee were illegally appointed (by district manager Pearl Miles, without authority) or had not been formally re-appointed, as in the case of blogger Tim Thomas. Amid the shouting, Thomas then entered a motion to "use the alternative draft," which was met with more shouting. Thomas and the former Chair, Rabbi Goldstein, made a motion to vote to continue, whatever that means. I heard one committee member say to another, "What are we voting on?" Such was the chaos in the room.

Once again, NYPD was used to silence dissent at a corrupt CB9 meeting, Alicia Boyd of MTOPP was cuffed and carried from the room at the behest of Edwards and Miles. This time she was formally arrested and charged with Disorderly Conduct. More shouting. A cop sneered at one of the MTOPP members, "I can't hear you. I'm a Transit cop." His hatred was palpable.

Edwards was thus cowed into allowing the document to be read aloud paragraph by paragraph and opened to public comment, few of which were in favor of it as written. People stood to assert that 8 stories were going up at the former gas station lot on Eastern and Bedford; that area senior citizens were seeing their rents skyrocket from $300 to $1000 or more without warning; a gentleman from the Union St Block Assn. offered the fine idea that the word "Affordable" be defined based on area incomes in a year preceding gentrification, adding that the resolution just "gave away" the neighborhood to development by "putting the cart before the carrot" and noting that 421-a tax breaks had been a net loss in the billions for NYC while doing nothing to address the city's affordable housing crisis. Diana Foster, formerly of CB8, spoke with passion of the 30,000 applications received for 23 "affordable" apartments in her area.

Requests to reconsider the "parameters" of the study were dismissed. Amid repeated calls for Empire Boulevard to be exempted from the resolution while the subject of a community-funded study by Hunter College, Ben Edwards asserted that "Empire Boulevard will be included in the resolution," because he has his marching orders.

At this point, a new face (to me) rose to introduce into evidence a new document from City Planning, "Zoning for Quality and Affordability," issued to all Community Boards citywide on March 2. He handed out copies to the committee and asked Edwards if he had seen it; he said had not. No one tells Ben Edwards anything, other than said marching orders. The document asserts that ALL zoning regulations will change citywide in the next few months. One member was prompted to observe that if what he was reading is true, it would change everything, which indeed it would; that is its intention. Enough of this community resistance!

There will be one open meeting for public comment on the "Zoning for Quality and Affordability" scheme, on Wednesday, March 25 at 4PM at 22 Reade Street in lower Manhattan. I can assure you that community groups citywide will be out in force to protest. If we allow the city to convince us that current regs "allow for more parking than is needed," among other things, I have a bridge to sell you. Written comments will be accepted through April 6. The instructions are all buried in the doc.

Former District Manager Renee Collymore rose to allow that, "This conversation makes me sick," that we should all be "outraged" by the Mayor's proposed 80/20 split between market and affordable for the future of our city, that it "has to be 50/50," adding that it's clear, "They don't want us here, no way," and advising everyone to, "Get to your elected officials!!!" Maybe that's why she isn't an elected official anymore. I voted for her. She came by our house and spoke to us at length. We liked her.

Committee Member Fred Baptiste, in answer to my question, allowed that "private studies [such as we propose for Empire] may go forward at the same time as the entire parameters are studied as long as you pay for it." Backpedalling, he noted that "The Empire piece is critical and we should not take it out or concede it." Thanks, Fred. He actually thinks that once City Planning gets the bit in their teeth, they're going to pay so much as a moment's attention to what Hunter College and community residents who live nearby think should happen there. My question had begun with an assertion of the historical fact that, "City Planning is the handmaiden, the creation, of the real estate industry!" He nodded his head to indicate he understood that, but clearly he does not. He just thinks he knows more than I or any other community resident knows about real estate, the shadow government of New York City. But until a few months ago, I'm guessing, he had no power to effect change. Now he does, so he pretends to knowledge. It's what people do.

And so on. Edwards called for a motion to vote on the alternative draft, but was shouted down by the assembled. He then attempted to adjourn, but was advised somehow that he could not. Instead, a motion was offered to table the res and add in a few specifics about it, like what is meant by the words "modest," "incremental," and "specific" (!), referring to height restrictions. By now, Tim Thomas had returned to the room, having stormed out in a huff after shouting, "I don't give a fuck!" into the public record. Looking straight at Edwards, he asked if he was being asked to vote on whether to table the motion in order to "put this matter to bed" at next week's CB9 meeting. Gonna be a humdinger.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Resolution Sent Back to ULURP Committee!

Interesting times at the February 24 CB9 meeting. MTOPP's court case is definitely having an effect on their behavior. Thirty-three of 36 board members in attendance, Laurie Cumbo showed but sat down and stayed down, reps of other elected officials including the Public Advocate, first appearance, lots of comm mtg minutes photocopied for distribution, really towing the line. There was an open mike and several people spoke several times and for more than 3 minutes, including Alicia Boyd and Tim Thomas. Alicia also gave out whistles and horns! Mine had Mickey Mouse. We made good use of them.

Comments were taken from the Board about aspects of the proposed operating and capital budget handouts, which were duly voted in. The papers displayed an appalling and ongoing disinterest in the sinful condition of the local public schools, a circumstance shamefully endemic throughout the city. As usual, the good stuff happened at the end.

Amid a furor, the resolution, surely written by Tim Thomas, was sent back to the ULURP Committee. That's a victory. Not one but three motions were made by members, some new, to start again, appalled at what they have seen. TT was gritting and grimacing, of course, But he agreed with Alicia (!) that it is a absolutely a disgrace how few times per year CB9 committees meet. It's no wonder nothing gets done.

No one can be confident that the 30+ ULURP applicants will be admitted to the committee soon enough to have an impact on the language of the resolution, but it seems not impossible. There's a conference in the judge's chambers this week and recognition of our applications will be one of our demands.

But here's the kicker. At the very very very end of the meeting, when almost everyone had gone, the rabbi who was the Board Chair before Dwayne stood up to the mic and started talking about some box full of official CB9 papers that went missing after some meeting. He seemed to suspect Jesse Hamilton's office for the vanishing. It was hard to hear him through the crosstalk, but he was basically questioning the "credibility" of Chairman Dwayne and loudly demanding an investigation. "No elected official should have access" to the Board's official papers, words to that effect.

Dwayne then asked if anyone in the auditorium wanted to respond to "this silliness" but since no one had been listening, and even I, who had been trying to listen, couldn't follow the thread, no one spoke. But it sounded positively incendiary. We'll see if it makes it into the minutes.

Did I mention that Dwayne also had a personal friend go 2+ minutes overtime to tell us how lucky we are to have such a man at the helm and that we need to show him some respect? A chant of "You gotta give some to get some," went up.