Wednesday, December 16, 2020

“Whose City? Our City!!!” New Yorkers Unite to Demand City Hall Stop All Racist Rezonings! #NoDeveloperGiveaways #NoGowanusRezoning #norezonings


Date/Time:  Wednesday, December 16th, 12 pm 

Where: Outside City Hall at intersection of Chambers Street & Centre St


Riding over to City Hall, where New York City residents, community leaders, and advocates from across the boroughs assembled at City Hall today for a press conference announcing the release of a “Community Declaration on the Future of New York”,  I thought about the press conference we held on the steps of City Hall 16 years prior to oppose the Williamsburg Rezoning.  The city had little interest in the Community 197 Plan which would have added needed infrastructure to the already crowded neighborhood, in need of more green space and more seats on the subway.

The mayor literally laughed at the community plan.  The New York Times sat on Jane Jacob’s letter endorsing the community plan until after the passage of the town down city plan, no assistance to infrastructure, no new green space.

“End displacement now,” said the first sign at today’s press conference.

At City Hall, representatives from countless community groups were on hand.
Janine was there to oppose the bulldozing of the Elizabeth Street Garden.

My friend Wendy was passing out flyers for her petition to tell Governor Cuomo to keep East River Park open during the pandemic, instead of bulldozing it.

Another women gave me a flyer for her petition to save the South Shore Seaport.

“No Howard Hughes Mega Towers I our seaport!”

Everyone has a similar story.

They want their communities to remain intact, without displacement of members or resources.


“There are just too many rezonings,” said Frank, of the Church of Stop Shopping.

“And all of the rezonings are upzonings in the poor and Black neighborhoods. With the proposal in Chinatown, the city ignored our Chinatown Work Group Plan.

Just like Williamsburg.

“We’re not gonna stop,” concluded Frank. “It opens the door for big box stores.  Everyone else is zoned out.”


We’ve had enough developer giveaways, says speaker after speaker.

No more.

Stop the rezoning and demand a new framework.

Stop the weaponized use of affordability for towerization.

Reinvent the land use process.

No virtual land use review.

Stop the ULURP process, said speaker after speaker.


I was there to represent the Gowanus, where the city with the backing of our council members, is planning the biggest rezoning of the de Blasio era.

I hung out our “No Gowanus Rezone” sign from our weeks of work on the issue this summer.    

Since then, I’ve been working with Voice of the Gowanus, a community group calling for a better plan that:

-“Considers the post covid landscape, including the fiscal shortages the city is now facing;

-Supports local manufacturing and the creation of new green jobs to remake and revive the local economy;

-Truly addresses the profound environmental issues in our neighborhood after decades of neglect;

-Supports a viable plan for NYCHA (see the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal for Public Housing);

-Creates more public open green space (Visit GowanusLands.Org to find out more).”

Jack Riccobono, of Voice of Gowanus, was next to speak.  He described the Gowanus rezone as the biggest of the de Blasio era.

“We need to fight together,” said Riccobono. He called on Brad Lander, the chief advocate of the proposal, to stop ignoring the health issues of planning sky scrapers along a superfund sight that was flooded just eight years prior during Super Storm Sandy, and stop trying to sell an upzone on the land of a former manufactured gas plant that is now a brownfield, with toxins, running hundreds of feet below. Even the EPA administrator in the neighborhood says remediation is not working there.  The process is broken.  Still, Lander is pushing to put housing and a school there.  Kids going to school on top of a superfund site.

What could possibly go wrong?

Each speaker addressed the need for the community declaration.

Countless other community groups, including the 

MinKwon Center and 60+ Local Organizations Announced the

“Community Declaration on the Future of New York” to Combat Racist and Exclusionary Rezoning.

The declaration calls for an end to the de Blasio administration’s racist luxury rezonings, his failed affordable housing policies, and the charade of virtual land use hearings. Organized by the MinKwon Center of Community Action in Flushing, the press conference comes just one week after the City Council voted to approve the Special Flushing Waterfront District (SFWD), despite sustained community opposition and an unaccountable ULURP process. View the Community Declaration, signed by over 60 local organizations and counting, here.

Seonae Byeon, Lead Housing Organizer at the MinKwon Center, said: "In the middle of our battle in Flushing, I called for these citywide groups to come together to unite our efforts in challenging SFWD. Many neighborhoods responded because we know the same patterns of racist rezonings have ruined our communities. We witnessed the increased pace of gentrification, the shutting down of longtime small businesses, and the astronomical increase in rent.


"These luxury developments throughout the city have been nothing but a giveaway to the developers. Developers are granted special permits, tax benefits, and deregulation at the expense of the community. The Flushing community has been bearing the burden of this environmental racism and is suffering from displacement due to this predatory development. Enough is enough. We should not have to suffer at the whims of greedy developers. The concerns of our community should be of utmost importance in any development plan, since we are most directly impacted by that plan."


Alicia Boyd, founder of the Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP), opened the press conference by reading the declaration before attendees and reporters. "We demand an end to the destructive up-zonings, the seizure of public spaces for private gain (including public housing), and the excessive influence of real estate on our City government. We demand reform of the fake community consultations on zoning that serve only to sideline true debate and dissent … We insist upon a new framework for affordable housing that is free of the negative effects of the current policy."


Eleven other speakers also spoke, representing local, grassroots organizations fighting Mayor de Blasio’s predatory rezonings in different New York City neighborhoods.


Emily Sharpe of Stop Sunnyside Yards spoke about the Phipps Houses spot rezoning: "The Sunnyside community is fighting against a spot rezoning that will reward one of NYC's worst landlords for evicting tenants — Adam Weinstein of Phipps Houses Group — with another building across the street from their previous property. The 100% "affordable" units provided will not go to anyone earning under $48,000 even though they claim 25 units will go to formerly homeless people. There are also serious environmental hazards with the rezoning, including the fact that the building abuts the LIRR train tracks and is situated next to a leaky gas pipeline."


Jack Riccobono of Voice of Gowanus spoke about the Gowanus rezoning: "Voice of Gowanus is an independent, grassroots community coalition of groups and individuals dedicated to ensuring a better, community-based plan for Gowanus, Brooklyn. We support a racial impact study prior to any Gowanus rezoning, we question building residential towers in an increasingly vulnerable flood zone, and we call for a moratorium on any Gowanus neighborhood rezoning during the present pandemic. We strongly oppose any Gowanus rezoning that permits construction of residential structures and a school on the notoriously toxic Public Place site and we decry the rampant abuse of state and local tax loopholes by developers and speculators."


Dannelly Rodriguez of Justice for All Coalition stated the connection between rezoning and the future of NYCHA: "The Justice For All coalition is fighting to preserve the most successful affordable housing program in our city’s history: NYCHA. If public housing is sold to private developers, and if public land is used for private interests, our public safety will likewise be lost to private greed. The fight against rezoning is nothing short of the fight to keep our communities safe and healthy."


Sean Sweeney of SoHo Alliance stated their campaign against upzoning SoHo/NoHo: "Until now, there has never been an upzoning of any of the City’s 150 historic districts since the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission was created in 1965, fifty-five years ago. Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to upzone SoHo and NoHo will set a terrible precedent for the debasement of our city’s architectural and cultural history and heritage. What preservationists from Jacqueline Kennedy to Jane Jacobs fought for and won, de Blasio will surrender as yet another gift to his developer contributors."


Stacey Shub from The Seaport Coalition spoke about the fight to preserve the South Street Seaport Historic District: "The Seaport Coalition represents a diverse set of stakeholders: parents, residents and preservationists who are united and resolute in their fight to save our low-scale South Street Seaport Historic District from overdevelopment. The lot at 250 Water St. located within the 11 block Historic district, is zoned for a maximum height of 120 ft. Yet the Howard Hughes Corporation is pressing for twin, 470 Ft Mega Towers. These enormous towers will overwhelm and dominate the low-scale historic district where NYC began. There are better opportunities in the neighborhood to create many more units of affordable housing."


Michael Hollingsworth of Crown Heights Tenants Union spoke of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden “BBG” spot rezoning along BBG. They seek to protect it against tall buildings by placing height limits of 6/7 stories. Now the Dept of City Planning (DCP) is planning to put the largest residential development complex in Brooklyn under the zoning of a Large Scale Manufacturing/Commercial zone “LSGD”, and rescinding their findings of 1991 and stating that (eleven) buildings which vary in height from 17 to 39 stories (483 ft.) will not do any damage to BBG. The N.Y.C Department of Parks and BBG staff agree that this development will cause irrevocable and permanent damage to BBG but still this project is moving forward with the support of Majority Leader Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo and Mayor de Blasio.


Jorge Muñiz-Reyes, organizer at Protect Sunset Park, demanded City Council to vote NO to a corporate landlord’s plan for a 14-story luxury tower in the neighborhood. “Right now, millionaires and billionaires are advancing plans to replace working-class neighborhoods with luxury housing and playgrounds for the rich. We need City Hall leaders to work together to stop these racist rezonings and instead democratically plan the future of New York for community and not corporate welfare!”


Yadira Dumet of Astoria Tenants Union expressed their fight against Innovation QNS: "Innovation QNS, a mega development being proposed by billionaire Larry Silverstein, Kaufman Astoria Studios, and BedRock Real Estate, will flood one of the few remaining pockets of truly affordable housing in Astoria with 2,000 luxury units, high end retail, office space, and an additional 1,500 cars. They will receive enormous tax breaks, make huge profits, and displace the working class and lower income residents who actually built the community. The project is in the pre-certification phase and has already led to speculation resulting in commercial/industrial lease termination and displacement of small businesses in the area."


Saundrea Coleman of Holmes-Issacs Coalition spoke about the infill at Home Towers: "Residents at Home Towers have been fighting against infill since 2015. We filed an HP-ACTIONS lawsuit against NYCHA, demanding repairs for our building. Our lawyers pointed out that in the Blueprint for Change NYCHA is still depending on the unfill project to be successful, even though we took them to court. As recently as two weeks ago the developer had asked for a meeting with our Council Member. This project is very much on the minds of the residents and we are ready for the fight."

Zishun Ning of Chinatown Working Group expressed the future of Manhattan Chinatown after their victory against Two Bridges rezoning: "Chinatown and the Lower East Side have been excluded from protection against displacement since the 2008 East Village Rezoning. Our communities came up with the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) Rezoning Plan that seeks equal protection as the White middle-class East Village by setting height limits on new developments, discouraging privatization of public land and mandating truly affordable housing for the community for the whole Chinatown and the Lower East Side. With his racism and displacement agenda, the developer-friendly Mayor de Blasio rejected our plan as "too ambitious." But over the years of organizing against luxury high-rises such as the megatowers in Two Bridges, we are growing more unified in demanding that the City pass the entire CWG plan."


Community Declaration on the Future of New York



To Elected Officials, Candidates for City Office and to New Yorkers Everywhere:


We, the undersigned, demand an end to the destructive up-zonings, the seizure of public spaces for private gain (including public housing), and the excessive influence of real estate on our city government. We demand reform of the fake community consultations on zoning that serve only to sideline true debate and dissent. We are outraged by the racist displacement of working-class people and small businesses and deplore the excessive demolition of our city that Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing policy imposes. We insist upon a new framework for affordable housing that is free of the negative effects of the current policy.


Elected officials and candidates should:


·         Stop all rezonings - be they neighborhood-wide or “spot” - that allow more luxury high rises and condos to be built. This trickle-down approach to housing only serves to displace residents and small businesses, over-scale our neighborhoods, strain our underfunded public infrastructure and take away our sunlight. It renders our communities unaffordable and alters the places that we call home in ways that make them unrecognizable.


·         Reject the housing policy that is based on enormous giveaways to luxury real estate developers in exchange for a small percentage of dubiously named “affordable” housing. Stop the use of “affordable” as a safe word to justify towerization or as a substitute for real, multi-generational affordability for low-income people.


·         Reinvent the rigged land-use process to allow for legitimate community-led planning instead of imposing “done deal” developments. No land-use review process should be allowed to use “virtual” meetings - such as Zoom - as a substitute for public hearings.


·         End the reckless conversion of still useful manufacturing space into gentrified housing. 


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