Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Community Board One: Welcoming the Rob Solano Era
"I'm already burnt out and it's only January" says Jose Leon, speaking for everyone here.
6:15 PM: It's time for the first community board 1 meeting of the year and if there's one word to describe the energy in this room tonight it would be "sluggish". Just an all-out sluggish effort. Perhaps it's because we're in Week 3 of the Post-Teresa Toro era and Karen Nieves is apoplectic. Maybe it's because my colleague in press row, Andy Campbell, had a fever of 108 degrees yesterday and looks like a backup dancer for Bruce Springsteen circa 1983. It could be that Land Use Chair Ward Dennis is a no show and this might be the first meeting that The Chairman Emeritus might be missing his first meeting since General Motors recorded a profit.
"I saw him walking the other way, away from here. Maybe he's going to get a cup of coffee or something," said CB1 rookie Thomas Burrows.
Personally, I think it's because The Chairman Emeritus doesn't want to miss the newest episode of MTV's Jersey Shore, featuring a guest appearance by Joe "The Legislation" Lentol.
Rob Solano gets to work
6:39 PM District Manager reads the roll and we're ready to go. We start with a BSA Application on 55 Eckford Avenue whose applicants want to apply for a certificate of occupancy. Peter Gillespie from NAG takes his seat followed a few minutes later by Lacey Tauber. Peter's in the middle of a story on transportation and NAG that I am working on tomorrow. Currently NAG is replacing its co-chairs Mike Freedman Schnapp and Susan Albrecht, who resigned yesterday. MFS is staying on briefly but will be leaving soon to take a job with Council member Brad Lander's office.
6:46 PM Chairman Chris Olechowski gives the floor to Congressional liaison Evelyn Cruz.
"It's a new year but it's the same old business," says Evelyn.
Cruz highlights the health care reform bill and the immigration reform bill that Congress is currently debating in Washington.
"We know that Newtown Creek is supported by the city of New York for Superfund designation. How we can clean up the creek, retain jobs that were there, retain the waterfront and do this collectively. There's a lot of dialogue before us and we will know the process in the months to come."
6:49 PM: Chairman Chris begins the liquor license process and on cue Mieszko Kalita enters.
Karen Nieves starts iwth a question about Club Exit's liquor license. They've shut down for the most part, but some details remain unclear.
Just like Club Exit, public session closes and Esposito does a second roll call before moving onto the swearing in.
After the agenda is approved, Chairman Chris moves to approve the minutes but Esteban Duran creates a stir by trying to correct them. Esteban is still upset in what he believes is a double standard at work with the way that the board approved the Broadway Triangle but did not approve Rose Plaza. Chairman Chris says that Esteban is making a valid point but asks to table his motion to look at the minutes and possibly correct it in the future. Meanwhile the Reyna Boys are surfing the internet on their Blackberries for updates to MTV's Jersey Shore.
Jaye Foxe adds her two cents that Diana Reyna made a succinct argument about this already (which she did), and wonders why this change is necessary. Chairman Chris says that the call on the field is under review and the executive board will review the tape. Let's go to commercial.
7:01 PM Council member Steve Levin walks in and takes a seat behind Karen, before circling around to greet District Manager Esposto. Rabbi David Niederman walks in and takes a seat in the front row.
How much do you think the Rabbi's hat costs?
I guess $150.
"No, it's designer. At least $300. That's like real fur," says Andy.
Rami Metal comes by Press Row and estimates the value at $90.
That's real fur," says Andy.
That's a real rabbi," says Rami.
7:07 PM: Chairman Chris addresses two vacancies for committee chairmanships with a very long monologue:
We are in need of two chairmanships, chairpersonships, whatever. One is the transportation committee, unfortunately our very very good volunteer chair Teresa Toro had to lave that position for personal reasons. That's a very important committee, with a lot of items on that agenda. We are looking for someone to step over the plate and take over that chairmanship. Not only because it's the transportation committee but it leads into what I'm going to say about Charter revision. Being involved in these committee and playing a role in the agenda that they put forward is very vital not only to the public but it sends a message to how active we want to be. Transportation is very important to this committee.
The other committee that will be absent is Environmental.
A single GASP! breaks the silence. Moving on...
There are other people who need to think about what this means, the importance of superfund, of Newtown Creek. I'm looking to think about this very carefully, someone to notify me that you'er willing to take the chairmanship of one of these two committees. If community boards are perceived that they are active, that gives us the argument that the powers tha tbe that we are an essential element of this community. They are the voice of the people, which is heard and interpreted through committees. We know that. There are strong arguments being prepared by those being involved in the charter commission that think that community boards should be nothing more than community groups that listen to what is being told to us but have very little input. We have an advisory role, but that advisory has some strength.
How do we react to that? Be involved with these committees. Environment, transportation, extremely important (in the wake of the fatality on Nassau and McGuinness and other intersections). You don't think that it's important for people in this community to weigh in on what's going on? We need to find this sense of urgency to come forward and make this community stronger so we can build the arguments against any attempt to dissolve or dilute the power of this community board.
This charter revision will be moving on a fast track. This commission will be put together very quickly, but they may have an agenda and will push this through very quickly. Unfortunately there are members of the press that are responding negatively to community boards (definitely not us Chairman Chris) and the power of the Borough President's office as well (maybe because of this). I'm announcing an ad hoc committee to address Charter Review Commission. Gerry and I will sit down and come up with a strategy to address this whole problem, which some members acknowledge looks bleak. We need good ideas to fight strategically on how to present the argument on how we need to exist. What do the people think, what's the choice they have, if they could have the choice of having community board representation or calling 311. What do you think we really need, what do you think we really want.
7:18 PM: Rabbi Niederman breaks up the speech:
I think it will be helpful to say how much time is necessary to chair a committee so people can think, how can I do that.
Some committees need more input than others. For transportation, it doesn't require someone to give up their whole life to run this committee (actually it does, that's why Teresa left).
We're not asking people to replicate or become a clone of Teresa. Just put in as much as you think you can. No one is going to hold you accountable, no one is going to get graded. It's not the length of the meeting, it's the quality of what you bring. Sometimes a few sentences can mean a lot.
I don't think anybody can be forced into a chairmanship but we have to think about what all this means and get back to me.
7:22 Chairman Chris ends his report and turns the floor to... Council member Steve Levin!
I'm looking forward to my next four years working with Community Board 1. There was even a time when I thought about applying for CB 1 but I ran for council instead. The community board to me are the holy grail of community support or community opinion. I am looking toward the community boards to tell me what's what and give me guidance and inform me and decisions that I have to make. I think that' s the most reliable way to indicate what the community wants. When someone comes to me with a project, my response is to say what does the community board want?
With charter revision coming up, the community boards are vital. That's where issues get addressed. You don't see land use issues debated between city council members with as much detail as you do among those whose daily lives are affected. I'm going to be a strong advocate that community boards are protected, when it comes to budgets I'm going to make sure that community boards are protected.
Steve gives a shout out to Gerry Esposito, "one of the best district managers in New York" and says that he calls him when he has a question. Steve also gives a shout out to Rami Metal who he retained on staff and segues into a story about running into a cyclist who was hit by a car on the way to the meeting.
When it comes to transportation issues in this community, it's essential that we have somebody who fills that role.
There are a lot of folks in this room who I have worked with for a number of years, we have good relationships that will get even better as we move onward. We are a community, we're all neighbors. What's good for some of us is good for all of us.
7:30: Julie J-Law Lawrence gives her last environmental report:
"Thank you Chairman for your kind words. I wish I could continue on as environmental chair but there's too much important work."
J-Law highlights a letter from Christine Hollowacz NCMC about Skanska (six month after hours variance for work at the Newtown sewage plant) with a vote on the letter. It's approved.
She also notes five community meetings, including one held by the committee regarding the EPA's Superfund recommendation for Newtown Creek.
"There's a lot going on in this issue and there's going to be a lot more."
J-Law reads her letter which she submitted to the EPA.
Do not delay the dredging of the Creek and the removal of the sludge tank. Allow continued use of the waterway and the nature walk for recreational activities. Include outreach efforts for local businesses and neighbors of the Creek.... Coordinate closely with the mayor's office and other relevant agencies Coordinate with businesses along the Creek...
Sorry, I've stopped paying attention. I heard something about coordinating with The Newtown Five (the five responsible parties for most of the pollution on Newtown Creek) and communicating with the public. J-Law ends by saying that the younger generation should take on these exciting issues and even taking on leadership positions, because God Help Us, no one else seems to want to do it.
7:41 PM Esteban Duran gives his education report, which consists of charter school overcrowding and improving relations between parents and school administrators. He also has news that the School Construction Authority said that District 14 will need 612 additional seats over the next 5 years. Apparently CEC 14 thinks that number is too low. Tracking.
Now that Solano has joined, that brings the number of Latino Community Board members to five. Four? No, Karen Nieves is Latino, isn't she? Or half-Latino? I ask Antonio Reynoso whether Karen is Latino.
"I think she is," he says. "Maybe she's half Latino" "Yeah, maybe"he says. "Or maybe Karen married a guy who is Latino." "Yeah I think that's it."
I don't think he knows. I better ask her later.
7:48 PM: Mieszko Kalita is up to the plate with Public Safety.
"Big meeting. A lot of issues."
Mieszko talks about how some bars and restaurants with noise complaints
Therefore they have to behave themselves so they can be an asset to the neighborhood, not a nuisance."
Mieszko also goes into unattended property, which according to Deputy Inspector Dennis Fulton is the number one crime in the 94th Precinct. "You go out for a smoke, you come back, you say, Hey! My a-bag is a-missing!"
We're onto liquor licenses and Mieszko explains two of them. The board seconds the motion and the businesses get the liquor licenses.
However, 435 Graham Avenue Dady's does not get its liquor license renewed.
Now we dive into backyard garden use and Kalita notes how Ken Lazar from the DOB and other city agency officials will soon be leading an educational seminar about regulations for restaurant and bar owners with a certificate of occupancy for their backyards.
"From now on you won't have to run through open flames when leaving a bar. You can go the other way," says Mieszko.
7:59 PM: Old business. Antonio Reynoso, Chief of Staff to Couniclmember Diana Reyna's office takes the floor, wishes eeryone a happy new year and looks forward to a next four years.
They're moving locations to 217 Havemeyer Street, between Broadway and South 5th Street on the second floor. They're having a party soon.
"We're looking forward to working with Council member Steve Levin as well," says Antonio.
Chairman Chris tries to get things going...
Chairman Chris: Peter you're the leader of NAG. I'm just putting two and two together. Leader of NAG, transportation chair. How about it. You can inspire more young people! So the answer is...
Peter: Not right now.
Chairman Chris: Thought I'd give it a try.
Lacey Tauber likes this. She's hoping no one notices her. Meanwhile, Jose Leon interrupts and nominates Karen Nieves.
Chairman Chris: Do you accept?
Karen: If I'll be a co-chair, sure.
Chairman Chris: It doesn't have to be a motion to pass this. Any volunteers for co-chair? (no one volunteers) I appreciate and admire your courage.
8:04 PM: We have speakers for public session. Stephanie Eisenberg is first up. Apparently she left. Chairman Chris closes the meeting and we're done.
New Transportation Co-Chair Karen Nieves is briefly congratulated by Marin Tockman, Lacey Tauber and Peter Gillespie.
"It's a really big shoe to fit but I'm looking forward to working with everybody," says Karen.
Correction. We're welcoming the Karen Nieves Era!