The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Q's Moving On

I have a rock solid belief that working with the Department of City Planning is in the longterm interest of the neighborhood, and the best chance to build affordable housing and to get the City to examine way-outdated zoning that's only creating havoc. Plus, look at infrastructure, height limits - City Planning is even empowered in this new administration to make serious recommendations to other agencies like the DoE and DEP, and with Council and Mayoral approval anything is possible. But...but...but...let's get real, shall we?

This neighborhood has riots for frigs sake in its somewhat recent past. Just under the surface are lingering resentments that have only grown more intense in the last few years. Tensions between orthodox Jews and African-Americans are revealing themselves once again, and now you can throw in a lot of anti-gentrification (anti-white) sentiment as well. The new colonialism is a very real reality for many proud longtime Central Brooklynites, and it's become clear to me that any new move towards change with a capital "C" is going to be perceived as an assault on the locals It may be, and I can't believe I'm saying it, time to let things play out as they may, and not make serious policy choices that will only exacerbate the conspiracy-peddling and fear-mongering. Maybe, since the neighborhood is already being remade at lighting speed, it's time to let the loudest voices win the day. Because they have no plans of toning it down, and will lay the blame for any unwanted changes at the feet of their perceived enemies.

To be clear, I don't think Alicia and her minions should be tolerated, appeased or even listened to. That's not my concern here. My point is that this battle has implications for the relationships that bind a neighborhood together. The good will of neighbor to neighbor is more important, I think, than any particular land use issue. It's probably too late to affect the current development insanity. I think our chance passed, for now. And I don't think that any "victory" for the moment will be anything more than short-lived. Just imagine meeting after meeting after meeting during the planning process, constantly disrupted, with the nasty rhetoric only intensifying as changes become closer to ratification.

When you're in a battle with a rational opponent, you can expect them to concede defeat when presented with a vote against their position. I did my best to articulate a position of working with the current administration and Council and BP to reach modest housing goals. I wish I could say that a simple majority of Community Board members would be enough to set that process in motion. What I'm saying is that it might be in the longterm interest of peace to respond to any zoning change requests on the other end, either accepting or denying the ULURP applications should they come from, say, developers or elected officials or even DCP itself. I would still like to vote on the currently proposed letter to initiate a study, because I have no idea how much support there is and I would like to know. I've been agitating for a vote for nearly a year. I only know what, maybe, a dozen people think.

But sometimes the "adults" have to take one for the team. I believe this is one of those times.

The below is a statement that I hope to read at the CB9 meeting on Tuesday. I've already asked temporary chair Laura Imperiale for the floor to do so. I wrote it as if it's from the Board not because the Board approved it, but to give the Board a sense of what it has the right to do - issue statements and vote on anything it wants. In all the rush to judge, people seemed to have forgotten that not everything needs to come from a committee. The Board can do work on the floor of its monthly meetings AS WELL as in committee. I'm still not sure where that fallacy about process began, but I hope we can start to follow precedent rather than create unnecessary restrictions to getting work done, so long as the community is given a chance to weigh in before the vote of course. Here goes, again, meant as a draft:

In March of 2014, Community Board 9 requested a Planning Study of the Department of City Planning. We began meeting with the Brooklyn DCP office, and seemed to be heading in a positive direction, wherein various neighborhood groups would have a seat at the table as we outlined the parameters for such a study. There was plenty of precedent for such a collaborative approach to strategic planning of a NYC neighborhood - not the "top down" rezonings that have led to complete transformations of neighborhoods. We felt that the outdated Zoning Map of 1961 did not adequately address the needs of modern Crown Heights, Lefferts Gardens and Wingate. We were seeing unwanted construction, greedy displacement of longtime tenants, and the developers were swarming. It seemed to many of us high time we took constructive steps to mitigate the negative affects of such a feeding frenzy, and encourage smart growth and mandate affordable housing set-asides in all new construction.

Soon after, the Borough President approved the replacement of an unprecedented 18 members, and the election in June of 2014 brought new blood to the Executive Committee, including a new chair. It also meant that there was a great deal of inexperience on the Board. Such a scenario was an opportunity for growth and rebirth, but it came with risks. The Planning Resolution that past March meant that Board needed a strong voice and solid infrastructure to perform its duty over the coming months or years. In some ways, it was a perfect storm. Because at the first fall meeting of 2014, a group of activist community members brought the full brunt of its anger to bear. In haste, and without a meeting of the relevant committee to discuss and inform, the Board rescinded its own motion from the previous term. The process with City Planning ground to a halt. This was considered a major victory by the anti-zoning activists. And it started a spiral of chaos from which we have yet to emerge.

In hindsight, it's clear that the Board was not up to the task of dealing with a serious attempt to thwart its authority to conduct meetings, and to observe the rules of democracy and rules of order. The activist group, though admittedly small, was able to disrupt every Board meeting and relevant committee meeting for the rest of the 2014-15 Board calendar. And while no one on the Board saw it coming, we believe it should not have caved to outside pressure so easily. A lack of meaningful precedent and guidelines, coupled with inexperienced leadership, doomed the best efforts of the Board to conduct civil discourse.

And so after many failed attempts to restate the intentions of the Board as it engages with City Planning, we find ourselves fighting lawsuits, personal attacks, and deeply troubling accusations of impropriety and misconduct. The Board, made up entirely of volunteers who wish to serve the community in which they live and work, have been made to feel attacked at every juncture. It has been humbling and it has been extremely aggravating. But it has also brought out a certain animosity between individuals and groups, as angry residents continue to pummel members of the Board and each other with vitriol, even stooping to baiting various groups within our diverse community, seeking, it would seem, to provoke confrontation and tear us apart.

We are better than this, both as a Board, and as a wider community. We've let individuals and specific opinions gain outsized influence. We have seen many resignations come as a result of the chaos and animosity. And so, we've come to the following conclusion.

In this environment of hostility and mean-spiritedness, we believe it is in the best interest of all for CB9 to step back from this debate and focus on our internal workings, by-laws and structure. Development is taking place all around us at a breakneck speed. But we risk doing great harm to our sense of dignity and civility if we begin to strategically plan under unhealthy conditions. Over the next few months, we will strengthen the Board, hold new elections, and develop deeper committee commitments to all the issues that must be addressed by an effective Community Board.

To some this will seem like a capitulation. To us, it is necessary to take one step back to take two steps forward. Many of us individually would have wished for a different outcome, but we realize that maturity means admitting one's shortcomings, even when the urge might be to win a fight. Had the Board moved ahead with this effort at this time, the victory would have been short-lived. The anger and resentment has presented itself, and we are living through trying times, in the borough and in the nation. We want to be remembered for having helped the neighborhood survive its growing pains. We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

With an overwhelming commitment to the neighborhoods we serve,



babs said...

Best of luck with that - you know that, whatever you say, you're going to be shouted down. I think even if you got up there and said, "We're a bunch of idiots and MTOPP's been right all along," they'd somehow twist your words into something to be quoted in one of Alicia's bold-faced, ungrammatical screeds.

And it's officially Prospect-Lefferts Gardens (you can do what you like about the hyphen).

One point I really like about these moderated comments is the lack of that ridiculous Captcha thing - I got it wrong an average of every third try.

Anonymous said...

Sad day - I honestly fear for the future of our borough.

Alex said...

Hey Q, I totally get it and I support your decision. We'll see what happens. My guess is that nothing will change.

Maybe MTOPP/CC's focus will change once someone gets a variance to build a hulking hotel on Empire.