Skip to main content

Common Cause, Citizens Union call for Borough Presidents to follow Stringer's reforms in selecting Community Board members; Markowitz's AY purge cited

Last Monday, 3/3/14, the City Council Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing on the makeup of community boards, and good government groups weighed in with reformist recommendations. One suggested that an Atlantic Yards episode should be spur to reforms.

Brian Paul, the Research and Policy Manager for Common Cause/New York recommended best Practices and included a history lesson:
New York's community boards originated in the 1950's as "community planning boards." They were institutionalized in the 1963 charter revision with the intent to increase the role for local communities in the planning process. Their creation was in large part a reaction to the overreaches of urban planning "czar" Robert Moses, who from the 1930's to the 1960's oversaw numerous highway, park, and urban renewal construction plans that often ran roughshod over local neighborhoods. In 1968, Mayor John Lindsay led the passage of Local Law 39 which expanded the function of the community boards . The boards acquired their present structure in the charter revision of 1975, which established the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and expanded the number of boards to the present 59.
The establishment of the community boards represented a triumph for advocates of local democracy and community planning. In the decades since their creation, however, it has become clear that the community boards have not lived up to their intended goals. Barriers to the community boards' mission of empowering local communities and increasing civic participation include lack of adequate resources, an over-politicized appointment process, and a lack of appropriate representational diversity.
With annual budgets of only $200,000 to $300,000 per board, community boards have far fewer staff and resources than other governmental bodies in New York City . The entire budget of all 59 community boards combined amounts to less than 0.02% of the total city budget. Most community boards have no more than two full time staff persons, the District Manager and an administrative assistant, who spend most of their time on administrative tasks and responding to urgent issues. It is abundantly clear that Community Boards have not been provided with the resources needed to adequately fulfill their charter-mandated responsibilities, including their role in the ULURP and annual statement of community district needs. Many community board members and civic governance experts testified to this fact during the 2010 City Charter Commission hearings .
Borough presidents in charge

BPs, Paul said, had too much power:
Community board members are chosen by the Borough Presidents from a pool of applicants. Half of the applicant pool for each community district is nominated by the local City Council Members, but the Borough President has final discretion over the selection of all members. All members serve staggered two-year terms. According to the City's official explanation, qualified board members are selected "from among active, involved people of each community and must reside, work, or have some other significant interest in the community."
This extremely vague description of a board member's qualifications allows the Borough Presidents nearly complete discretion over community board appointments. Each Borough President is free to establish his or her own procedures, and as a result, each of the five boroughs has a different set of rules and procedures for appointing and reappointing members. Briefly reviewing the current application forms of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens reveals wide ranging discrepancies in the level of detail required on important aspects such as the applicant's race/ethnicity, type of housing, motivation behind seeking board appointment, and potential for conflicts of interest. The current Manhattan application is the most detailed at six pages while the Bronx and Brooklyn are four pages each and Queens' application is only one page with no written questions required at all .
Without a standardized citywide process to recruit and appoint a qualified and diverse body of members, New York's community boards can at times degenerate into mere proxies for more powerful governmental actors and special interests, and fail to adequately represent our neighborhoods.
The AY example

He testified:
Recent years have seen at least two examples of Borough Presidents overtly playing politics with community boards by conducting high-profile "purges" of members who dared to vote their conscience. In 2006, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion refused to reappoint the Chair of Bronx Community Board 4 and several other members who voted against the Yankee Stadium redevelopment plan he supported. And in 2007, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz removed five longtime members of Community Board 6 who opposed the Atlantic Yards project. According to one allegedly purged member, Celia Cacace, Markowitz threatened her months in advance of the appointment decision that he was going to "get rid of everyone on the board that voted for this...Remember you are my appointee." Such direct political intimidation and misuse of the powers of appointment to coerce community board members is anathema to the boards' purpose of providing an authentic local community voice in city government.
Getting to a more diverse board

Newer residents are often underrepresented, and thus the boards "do not reflect the district's ethnic, age, and gender diversity and there is an imbalance in representation between tenants and homeowners, car owners and public transit commuters, and other important diversity factors."

Common Cause/New York endorsed the steps taken by then-Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, now Comptroller, to recruit a more wide-ranging board, to require identification of potential conflicts of interest, and to establish an independent panel to review applications.

It also suggested term-limits for community board members, perhaps five terms of two years each, or for the chair and committee chairs. Noting that some boards have no websites or minimal ones, Common Cause recommends "a centralized website providing information for all of the boards in one location, as well as offering tools like interactive forums, maps, and webcasting."

For example, the "Empower LA" website in Los Angeles acts as the hub for the city's 95 neighborhood councils.

From the Citizens Union

Alex Camarda of the Citizens Union testified, citing the group's 2010 report:
We took positions in the report supporting fixed budgeting for community boards, believing community boards should receive a budget in the aggregate that is 30 percent of the  Council’s budget (or about 65 percent of all the borough presidents’ total funding), with rent, heat,  electricity and other variable expenses part of the regular budget process. We also support  providing urban planners to boards independent of the borough presidents’ offices to provide  assistance on technical land use issues. This will provide community boards with needed resources to ensure they have a distinct voice in the land use approval process.
It recommends a more professionalized, standardized, and transparent process for selection, that borough presidents issue an annual report detailing their outreach efforts, and a limit of five terms.

It helped Stringer create a standardized formal application process, and recommended this. The newly elected borough presidents Gale Brewer (Manhattan), Eric Adams (Brooklyn), James Oddo (Staten Island) and Melinda Katz (Queens), during the campaign, indicated support for at least some of the reforms.


Citizens Union has drafted a bill to reform the process of community board recruitment and appointment consistent with its positions, though it did not include term limits.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

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…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…