Skip to main content

The Community Boards face cuts, but the system needs a boost

It was a relatively small article on page 5 of the City section of the New York Times, sandwiched in between pieces on the closing of a beloved laundry in Cobble Hill and after-school life at a coffee/tea/spice shop in Park Slope, but it touched on a very important issue: New Yorkers have way too few resources to pursue democracy at the neighborhood level. What it didn't explain is why the Community Board (CB) system needs reform, and may well become an issue in the next mayoral race.

The article, headlined Not Quite Passing the Hat, but Already Feeling the Pain, concerns cuts of 5%-8% at the CBs, which may not sound like much, but cut into already limited resources.

After all, the CBs serve the equivalent of decent-sized cities, as the districts contain 35,000 to 200,000 people, but have a paid staff of three. (The board members are volunteer appointees, as are committee members.)

Perhaps the main role the CBs play is in advising and/or voting on major land use issues. (Remember, because Atlantic Yards was a state project, the three affected CBs didn't even get an advisory vote, though they did indicate opposition and concern.) However, unlike independent cities of equivalent size, the CBs don't have professional staff in planning and other departments.

Cuts hurt more

Outside of funds for salaries, the Times reported, board members "contend that their allocation has not been increased in about 15 years." (That's either a fact or not.) And, given the small budgets, the cuts have disproportionate impacts.

The Times reported:
“Our computers don’t speak to each other,” said Wally Rubin, district manager of Community Board 5 in Manhattan. “We have no I.T. person. We have a cabinet filled with information that the Charter mandates we keep, and we can’t even open the drawer. And now we’re talking about a $10,000 budget cut?”

In response, John Gallagher, a mayoral spokesman, said in an e-mail message, “In these difficult economic times, all city agencies and government entities must do more with less.”

That's cold.

CBs and community plans

The role of the CBs was highlighted last Monday in a Municipal Art Society (MAS) Planning Center Forum: Elected Officials Respond to Communities That Plan for Themselves. (Two more panels, on sustainability and neighborhood planning in the face of large-scale development, are scheduled for April 14 and May 14, with some Atlantic Yards activists scheduled for the latter panel.)

MAS President Kent Barwick, previewing the launch April 15 of the Planning Center's online Atlas of Community-Based Plans, pointed out that the atlas would include 87 plans, perhaps half of them serving communities the equivalent of Richmond, Virginia (population 192,913).

"These are the plans you don't hear a lot about in the press," declared Eve Baron, who heads the Planning Center. "They're not the Bruce Ratner plans. They're not the [Sheldon] Solow plans."

Improving CBs

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a panelist, described how he revamped CBs in Manhattan by establishing an independent screening panel to deflect political interference and offered training sessions in land use and zoning.

Still, he said that CBs are too involved in service delivery and not involved enough in planning. He said the next mayor should "mandate the hiring of a planner for every community district." In fact, he said, mayoral candidates should be evaluated on their commitment to planning. (He's been mentioned as a potential candidate.)

Commented moderator Ron Shiffman, a longtime community planner and former member of the City Planning Commission (CPC), "It's not unfair to say the CPC is more a rezoning agency than a planning agency, and has been that way for a long time." The Department of City Planning, the agency attached to the CPC, has "far fewer people per capita" than in most other major cities.

City Council Member Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, lamented that CBs often don't have the resources to be proactive, to say "This alternative works." The Atlas is an attempt to change that, to show what community planners have been doing.

Support from the Borough President and others, Brewer said, can be key to empowering the CBs. Most don't have the staff to keep up with all the changes in their community and put all documents online. "Maybe Craig Hammerman"--District Manager of Brooklyn CB 6, which has an extensive web site--"because he's a nut," Brewer said affectionately, but few others manage similarly.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…