Op-Ed: Community Voices Not Heard!
By Alicia Boyd
As a member of the grass-roots organization MTOPP, the Movement to Protect the People, located in Crown Heights/Lefferts Gardens/Flatbush, I was not surprised at the reaction of the East New York Community to City Planning’s study presentation.
Our own experiences here have shown that despite Mayor de Blasio’s talk about the need to incorporate community input in redesigning the community, it is clearly just that, talk!
I could empathize with the frustration that propelled the members of Community Board 5 to have to put their concerns and questions on giant poster boards and to stage a protest just to get the city officials to stop “talking at them” and address their concerns!
All throughout the day it was clear that the concerns of this community were not being heard and yet City Planning kept stating, we addressed the community needs, this is what the community wanted, we listened to the community, as they proceeded to misrepresent the data, show misleading pictures and outright lie. For example, when discussing changing Atlantic Ave. from a commercial to a residential street, the presenter stated that there would be seven-story buildings and showed a picture of a nine-story building as an example, when in fact the rezoning category is R8A that will get you 12 stories!
The commissioners were even worse as they stumbled and stuttered as the community demanded concrete data and information, showing clearly that they hadn’t done any serious preparation in addressing this community’s needs.
Where were the mandatory employment for the youth, the exact percentage of affordable units going to the residents and how long were they going to be affordable, the exact calculations going to be used to determine the “affordable category”, how were they going to protect the mom-and-pop shops from displacement, and protect the residents and homeowners from being displaced as the community became upscale and proved to become unaffordable. These answers were not forthcoming to the point that several times residents shouted out that they had had two years to get that information!
However, what is really at issue here is that Mayor de Blasio’s Administration never had any intention of addressing this community’s needs. This was just to “show” that community outreach had been accomplished and I’m sure their reports will be showing how successful they were at disseminating the information to the public.
De Blasio’s Administration is just an extended version of the Bloomberg Administration, with a little bit more presentation! Now that communities of color have seen the results of these rezoning studies/plans: Willamsburg, Harlem, Downtown, the administration felt the need to at least make the appearance of not having a top-down approach to development, but in reality that is exactly what it is.
For example, Winston Von Engel, Director of City Planning for Brooklyn, was sitting down with CB9 and members of the community, including MTOPP, to begin discussions about doing a study of the only side of the park that hasn’t been rezoned.
During these meetings, Winston kept stating the need to have consensus from the community and that City Planning would not move forward with a study of the area unless there was.
However, once the community got wind of the fact of the proposed development of 20+-story buildings going up against hundreds of two-story 100-year-old homes to enable developers to take advantage of Prospect Park views, they began to demonstrate their lack of consensus for this development by the following actions:
August 4, 50+ residents shut down City Planning meeting demanding a stop to study.
August 24, 200+ people demonstrated and marched against the study.
Sept. 17, 300+ people do a Town Hall meeting to educate why the study is harmful.
Sept. 23, 500+ people came to Community Board 9 and demanded that the resolution to up-zone Empire Blvd. and request this study be rescinded.
Sept. 23, Over 4,000 letters and petitions were presented at CB9 against the study.
Sept. 23, Community Board 9 presented a resolution to terminate the request and start all over! (Which was proven to have passed, despite the falsification of the vote by CB9’s Pearl Miles [District Manager], who still is not facing any criminal or disciplinary charges!)
And yet, despite this clear lack of “consensus”, City Planning (in October) was going ahead with the study of upzoning Empire Blvd. It wasn’t until December, when it was demonstrated that the original resolution to request the study was unlawful, that City Planning has come back to the table to “talk”. But again with the insistence, that if this community does not upzone Empire Blvd., we will not be rezoned!
Now, imagine that! A city agency stating to a community that they must endanger their homes, cause massive amounts of displacement of people in the community and not voice their concerns or opposition to developers’ interest otherwise they will not perform their obligation to the community! That is Mayor de Blasio’s idea of community input; my way (developer way) or the highway!
Moving forward, it is clear for East New York, that right now is the only time they will be able to influence this process and they are going to have to be hard, specific and precise! They are going to have to look at every way they can to stop this process from moving forward, from petitioning their representatives, to exposing City Planning’s agendas, to refusing to accept the study and allow it to go into the application stage until their demands are met; otherwise, this community will be another Williamsburg.
If they buy into the idea that the Environmental Impact Study is where their concerns will be addressed, they are done for, because that is all that impact study is; a “study” created and manipulated by City Planning, where its outcome will be favorable for them! And by this time the community is purely “advisory”, with no legal recourse!
Alicia Boyd, Founder of MTOPP, the Movement To Protect The People!