Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The land use issue won't go away, even if the Charter Commission won't get to it this year

After spending the day today at Land Use and Local Voices, a conference co-sponsored by the Municipal Art Society and Manhattan Community Board 1, I can safely say that both experts and engaged citizens know there's something wrong with the current process.

There's a significant need to give local voices more credence (though not a veto), while recognizing that land use has borough-wide and city-wide implications.

And while the Charter Revision Commission doesn't have time this year to address land use, if it's reappointed, it should--though some at the conference were doubtful the commission would go beyond the promised issue of term limits.

(I'll have a report on the conference, in which Atlantic Yards was again invoked as an example of a Community Benefits Agreement gone wrong, at a later date.)

At the Charter Commission

The marquee issue at the Charter Revision Commission hearing Monday night (featuring a Citizens Union presentation) at Brooklyn College was nonpartisan elections, as Gotham Gazette reported, but the CU had a lot more on its agenda, and so did attendees, according to City Limits:
While admitting that some land use topics are complex, CU thought some were no-brainers, like fixing loopholes in the 1989 "fair share" provision that allowed the city to circumvent mechanisms intended to spare certain neighborhoods from having to absorb a disproportionate number of waste stations, sewage plants and similar facilities.

Other witnesses echoed those points. Charter Revision Commissioner Hope Cohen resisted the push to expand the commission's agenda, noting that the commissioners have to select issues on which there is enough evidence to act. "It's also right for us to say 'No, it's not time,'" she said.

But Goldstein promised to meet with Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, after Bautista--who has pressed for attention to the flaws in fair share--testified, "My question for you guys is, how long do we have to wait?"

City Pragmatist blogger Alvin Berk also captured the concerns:

No less scripted than top-two [elections] — but more compelling to this observer — was testimony urging the Goldstein commission to improve the city’s 197a planning process and restore compliance with the fair share provisions of the 1989 charter. These seemingly-solid protections against concentration of environmental hazards in any one community had been eviscerated by City Planning Commission rule-making shortly after the 1989 charter was enacted. And, as speaker after speaker stated, minorities and the poor, especially in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park community, had shouldered too much of the city’s burden.

...Three comments worthy of mention came during the evening: Goldstein expects his commission to be judged by history (he spoke about how the 2010 commission is “standing on the shoulders of giants” and then said he’d like to believe that “we have very big shoulders here”), commission member Hope Cohen complained that “the press has not adequately covered us,” and Cohen later took issue with an unfortunate emphasis in the July 9 staff report and the Citizens Union document that non-partisan or top-two elections would be an issue for the Democratic Party.
Indeed, the press has not adequately covered the Charter Revision Commission.

The second in the final round of public hearings was tonight in the Bronx: there will be hearings July 26 in Manhattan, July 28 in Queens, and August 2 in Staten Island.

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