Gloom and Loom at BBG

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

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.