Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More lies

We finally got our hour with the Department of City Planning. Actually, almost three hours around the table to feel them out on their plans for Chinatown and the Bowery.

They have none. Pointing out that hotel development is rolling down the Bowery and invading historic Chinatown, we still got no response. Let it roll. That's their plan. "Development is necessary to provide housing for New Yorkers."

How do hotels provide housing for New Yorkers? Don't try to make sense of their explanations. There is none. They see their role as twofold: clear the way for development and BS the public about it.

We did get details from them that belie what we've been told by the Community Board:

1. DCP is fiercely, stubbornly committed to implementing this rezoning. Remember Community Board 3 saying, "We mustn't question this plan or DCP will walk away from it. No dissent! No criticism! Accept immediately"? Crap. There was never a chance that DCP would walk away from this plan. They want this plan. In particular, they want the added bulk on Houston, Delancey, Chrystie and D.

2. In all this process of rezoning the EV and LES, CB3 never once asked to rezone Chinatown. Never.

3. All that talk of DCP not wanting to rezone just the one side of the Bowery that lies in CB3 -- total crap. Not a word of truth. Just the CB making excuses for DCP so that the community voices of protest would just go away.

DCP won't rezone the Bowery because it wants to encourage hotel development there, existing communities be damned. DCP is, after all, out to maximize city revenue, real estate taxes, business revenue. People currently residing in the neighborhood play no role in their plans. It's the Department of City *Development* Planning, not community planning.

This whole process would have been so much more civil if the CB hadn't been so defensive about this plan. As it is, we've had to struggle not only with DCP but with community board defensiveness as well.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The big picture

In the tiny 9-block commercial zone south of Houston, 7 hotel/condominiums have risen in the last ten years, all about 23-stories tall, almost one huge hotel per block. Chinatown and the Bowery share that commercial zoning. Hotels are being built there now too.

In the expansive 60-block East Village there are no 23-story buildings. Only 1 building has risen above 8-stories in the last ten years. It's 14-stories tall. So why did the Community Board ask the city to rezone the 60-block East Village and neglect Chinatown completely? There is something amiss in our politics, priorities, perspectives and strategies. Margarita Lopez got funding for an EV rezoning, apparently to save the former Charas building, an admirable cause though probably not the best reason to rezone an entire neighborhood. But at least it's money and effort. What has Alan Gerson been doing all these years?? Chinatown is in your district, Alan, or didn't you know? It's your responsibility.


As development threatens to displace Chinatown,
LES Residents for Responsible Development
Historical Walking Tours of the LES presents

Five Points Historical Walking Tour:

The Five Points tour tells the story of immigrant unrest, riot, rebellion and reform leading from multi-racial New Amsterdam to melting-pot New Deal. It's the story of a city socially and politically unprepared for its own diversity emerging finally as a progressive vanguard for the nation; a story of Africans, Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews and Chinese; from the 17th century African burial ground and the early slave reprisals to the spectacular structures of the Civic Center and their decadent scandals; the street of Irish Gold just a few short steps from the oldest and most notorious slum in America, the Five Points of Irish Despair; from gangs of New York and Chinatown tongs, their gang headquarters still in use around the corner from winding Blood Alley where countless gang members were murdered in half a century of turf warfare, to the single oldest relic of civilization on the island of Manhattan and abiding emblem of diversity and tolerance. It's a story of bigotry and rivalry; ribaldry, racism and radicalism; oppression, defiance, perseverance, progress and reform.

Every Sunday, 2-4pm. Meet at the southwest corner of Chambers and Centre Streets, corner of the plaza. $15. Guide: Rob

Presented in association with East Village Community Media
Visit their website for more historical tours of the EV and LES:


Gangsters, Murderers and Weirdos, Tuesdays and Saturdays, 1-3pm, meets 2nd Ave & Houston, $15
The dark underbelly of the East Village wild side. Guide: Eric

The East Village, Fridays and Saturdays, 11am-1pm, meets Astor Place Cube, $15
Culture and progress in the slum ... and their unraveling. Guide: Rob

Anti-gentrification event

The Tompkins Square Romp
(space to play)

A free festival with dance, music, and theater
about the changing face of the Lower East Side.

Tompkins Square Park
Sat. April 26

Speak out! Act out! Sing out! Dance out!

If you are interested in performing your own material, or being a part of existing material please contact

"The Glass Co. is the group that did the Washington Square Park balloon protest/performance last month. They're hoping to get lots of folks out who know about and are concerned about gentrification, about NYC's screwy policies, issues with developers, NYU....
The performances will include dance, music, spoken word, puppetry and all sorts of theatrical work. There will be lots of room for dialogue in the audience and with performers built into the work, and for letter-writing, education, and connecting with people from the surrounding communities." And petitioning...

Improving the DOB

If you intend to testify at the Assembly hearings on the Department of Buildings, take a look at these twelve ways to improve the Department of Buildings, reprinted from The Gowanus Lounge

1) Even if the Department of Buildings functioned like a well-oiled machine that rigorously enforced city regulations, its inspectors are still overwhelmed by the level of construction. The number of inspectors should be at least doubled, if not tripled. Until the numbers are increased, there should be a cap on the number of permits for major projects that can be issued.

2) The Department of Buildings should be removed from the purview of any of the city's economic development officials. It should be an independent regulatory agency whose prime mission is enforcement. Encouraging development and regulating it are not compatible tasks. Its work should be subject to regular audits by the City Comptroller.

3) Each Community Board should have an independent ombudsman to supervise the Department's work. That ombudsman would work to makes sure that citizen complaints are handled in a timely way and that complaints of inaction are investigated.

4) Dramatically increased monetary penalties for violations should be determined by a special blue ribbon commission made up of industry experts and citizens. The penalties should be set so that they act as a strong disincentive to violating regulations. Penalties should increase with each violation and building permits should also be suspended for the most serious violations starting with 30 days and escalating to 60 and 90 days. After repeated violations, permits should be terminated.

5) There should be criminal penalties for both developers and contractors whose actions or negligence result in loss of life.

6) Persistent offenders--contractors and developers--should be put on a special list for highly targeted enforcement and be subject to even higher fines. Firms with a pattern of violations, particularly ones involving safety violations and illegal work should have their ability to work in the city revoked for a period of time. Contractors found doing illegal work should be placed on probation after a certain number of offenses and be barred from doing business for subsequent offenses.

7) Create target enforcement neighborhoods in each borough based on the level of development. In Brooklyn, for instance, Williamsburg and Greenpoint should be a No. 1 priority. These target neighborhoods should be assigned significant numbers of inspectors to increase response times to complaints and to patrol construction sites.

8) The city should make necessary repairs to sites that are shut down if developers don't fix problem quickly, so that abandoned sites don't become hazards to the community. The city should charge back costs to developers and property owners and seize property for unpaid bills.

9) There should be a zero-tolerance approach to violations. Currently, contractors can violate many regulations with virtual impunity. Non-enforcement on small violations leads to bigger violations in a sort of Broken Windows Construction Phenomenon. There should also be 24-hour follow up and immediate dispatch of inspectors on some calls, clearly including life safety issues, but also involving quality of life complaints such as illegal and after-hours construction.

10) Permit fees should increased to fund the entire program of more rigorous inspection and the workforce necessary to do so.

11) Firms with a pattern of violations should be barred from bidding on city contracts or doing city work.

12) The city should issue a monthly "scorecard" in a simple format, grading developers and contractors on their violations or lack of them in each borough.

Thursday, April 17, 2008





The Effectiveness of Regulation of Construction and Development in New York City and the Enforcement of the Building Code and the Zoning Resolution: A Second Hearing


To continue the exploration of the powers, duties, obligations and accountablitity of New York City's regulatory system for construction, development and zoning enforcement in light of the many recent tragic construction accidents involving death, injury and damage.

New York City
Thursday, April 24, 2008
10:00 AM
Assembly Hearing Room
250 Broadway
Room 1923, 19th Floor

Devastating construction accidents are regularly occurring in New York City and underscore the immediate need for improved oversight of construction and building safety by the New York City Department of Buildings, the Environmental Control Board and other City agencies.
Incidents this year involving death, injury, and/or property damage include: the March 15th crane collapse at 303 E. 51st Street in Manhattan involving seven deaths and a falsified DOB inspection report; the March 11th incident at 791 Glenmore Avenue, Brooklyn involving one death; the March 4th collapse at 102 E. 124th Street, Manhattan; and, the January 14th incident at 246 Spring Street in Manhattan involving one death.
Several pieces of legislation whose purpose is to improve safety of construction and development in New York City have been introduced in the NYS Legislature. They include:
  • A10188(Brennan) imposes a duty on the DOB to re-inspect and seek correction of all hazardous building violations. This bill was previously introduced as A7800 and vetoed by former Governor Spitzer at the request of the City of New York.
  • A2886(Lentol)/S1329(Maltese) providing for additional review of building demolition applications.
  • A7745a(Brennan)/S5422a(Padavan) known as the Department of Buildings Community Accountability Act, requiring monthly enforcement reporting to community boards.
  • A7755(Hevesi)/S5407(Padavan) allows the City to convert into tax liens any unpaid, adjudicated fines levied for hazardous building violations.
  • A2665(Lentol)/S1051(Padavan) requiring developers to create escrow accounts in relation to damage to adjoining property.
  • A7744(Brennan)/S5410(Padavan) requiring City licensure of general contractors to prevent willful noncompliance with safety and other laws.
The hearing will consider these and such other proposals as the public would care to put forward as the Assembly examines the DOB's current practices for dealing with complaints, permitting plans, permitting demolitions, initiating inspections, tracking violations, correcting hazardous conditions, ensuring proper construction practices, tracking repeat offenders, protecting the safety of workers and effectively overseeing the enforcement of the Building Code and Zoning Resolution.
Please see the reverse side for a list of subjects to which witnesses may direct their testimony, and for a description of the bills which will be discussed at the hearing.
Persons wishing to present pertinent testimony to the Committees at the above hearing should complete and return the enclosed reply form as soon as possible. It is important that the reply form be fully completed and returned so that persons may be notified in the event of emergency postponement or cancellation.
Oral testimony will be limited to 10 minutes in duration. In preparing the order of witnesses, the Committees will attempt to accommodate individual requests to speak at particular times in view of special circumstances. These requests should be made on the attached reply form or communicated to Committee staff as early as possible. In the absence of a request, witnesses will be scheduled in the order in which reply forms are postmarked.
Ten copies of any prepared testimony should be submitted at the hearing registration desk. The Committees would appreciate advance receipt of prepared statements.
In order to further publicize these hearings, please inform interested parties and organizations of the Committees' interest in hearing testimony from all sources.
In order to meet the needs of those who may have a disability, the Assembly, in accordance with its policy of non-discrimination on the basis of disability, as well as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has made its facilities and services available to all individuals with disabilities. For individuals with disabilities, accommodations will be provided, upon reasonable request, to afford such individuals access and admission to Assembly facilities and activities.



  1. Please describe the status of all building code enforcement activities at the four sites referred to in the notice, including permitting plans, complaints, inspections, violations, responses or non-responses by entities receiving violations to any hearings scheduled by the Environmental Control Board (ECB), and/or any actions taken by the ECB or any court actions taken by the Department of Buildings (DOB) in relation to DOB violations.
  2. Please describe the ECB process and procedures, from issuance of violation through initial appearance to hearing outcome. What is the process regarding setting the hearing date; under what circumstances are hearings postponed; what are the consequences of default, failure to respond, and/or failure to correct; what steps does DOB take to ensure site safety during the adjudication process; and how do the DOB and the ECB interface to control conditions at building sites?
  3. In certain circumstances, violations present imminent danger to the public and are treated as emergencies. Please describe how, by whom, and in what circumstances hazardous violations are brought to the attention of the commissioner, the New York City Fire Department, the Department of Investigations, the New York City Police Department, Department of Housing Preservation and Development or other agency responsible for investigation, correction, and/or emergency response. What are the established protocols for such actions, how are such actions recorded, and what records are maintained of the decision-making during the process?
  4. In other circumstances, many hazardous violations are issued but the hazardous conditions at the work site are allowed to remain uncorrected. Please describe how the DOB tracks pending hazardous violations and ensures their correction. Who is responsible for re-inspection to verify correction? When does the DOB accept affidavits of correction and when does it require in-person inspection to verify correction of hazardous violations?
  5. In regard to the prevention of accidents as well as effective enforcement, please describe how the DOB tracks and reports violations, accidents, defaults, outstanding fines and failed audits of professionally-certified plans by architects, engineers and contractors throughout its database and what measures are taken by the DOB as a result. What, if any, red flags trigger heightened scrutiny, closer inspection, and effective DOB investigation?
  6. Again, in regard to the prevention of accidents as well as effective enforcement, please describe how the DOB tracks the safety performance of general contractors, as well as that of heavy equipment operators, crane operators, and concrete contractors, particularly in terms of hazardous violations, hearing defaults, accidents, and/or property damage.
  7. *** Click here for printable form ***

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NYU expansion open house

NYU will hold another open house on its expansion plans, presenting the "final recommendations based on nine months of planning, analysis, and outreach. New York University will examine these refined options over the coming months as we move towards a comprehensive space-planning strategy for the next 25 years. Your continued input and feedback is [sic] critical."
Wednesday, April 23, 5-7pm
100 Washington Square East

Refreshments will be served and children's activities will be provided.

-- That's fruit and cookies. They're not bad. They've got some knowledgeable planners there who talk intelligently, and their posters are full of important information. With amusing but distractingly seductive suggestion, they always include a poster about Governor's Island, as if they just might-could expand there. You may skip that one. The likelihood of their moving to Governor's Island, earnest posters notwithstanding, is nil. Alas. Have a cookie. -- RH

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A plan for Chinatown

It is the irony of the current administration of affordable housing -- four units of luxury housing for every unit of "affordable" housing -- that the programs for new affordable housing spread gentrification and displacement resulting in a net loss of affordable housing in low-income communities where tenants are vulnerable to harassment and eviction. The problem will not be resolved until the City commits to protecting communities by regulating the location and direction of development.

Contextual zoning -- zoning that prohibits taller buildings -- for Chinatown and the Bowery would protect existing buildings from redevelopment. But protected buildings are themselves vulnerable to gentrifying pressures: when a zoning prevents redevelopment, the only means of profit maximization on a property is evicting low-income tenants, replacing them with upscale tenants.

Designating sites for light manufacturing and 100% affordable housing, the market-rate IZ bonus of which could be transferred to distant, already gentrified neighborhoods that are not harmed by luxury development, would help prevent gentrification of protected buildings in busy, thriving low-income neighborhoods.

These two measures together -- (1) contextual zoning and (2) identifying sites for luxury housing distinct and far distant from light manufacturing and affordable housing -- could protect the Bowery and Chinatown from residential and commercial displacement, while contributing to the vitality of existing communities.

CB3's zoning task force meets this Wednesday, April 16, 6:30, 100 Hester St. (btwn Eldridge & Forsyth). Come ask them for contextual zoning in Chinatown and the Bowery, and no upzoning on Chrystie Street.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Save Met Foods from NYU

NYU's rent negotiations may oust Met Foods from its location on 2nd Avenue. Met Foods is the only supermarket from 3rd Avenue to 1st Avenue, 11th Street to Houston Street. It provides affordable goods for local residents including older, mobility-challenged, and fixed-income residents. An upscale replacement would further marginalize the stable core community of the East Village.

Please sign the petition to save Met Foods. Kindly forward this to all your email lists.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

from the Coalition to Protect Chinatown / LES

I wanted to clarify that the group present on the CB3 meeting is called the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side. In your blog, it sounded like Chinatown was a separate fight, and their residents came to the meeting in defense of Chinatown alone. The Chinatown residents along with other LES folks spoke out about the need to come together and fight as one community. I think it's important to stress that we are facing the same threat of displacement. Also, I take issue with wording of the title. I just feel that the use of the word 'mob' in relation to Chinese masses has racist connotations. I know that's not what Rob meant when he wrote this report. We urge all residents and readers of this blog to join us in our fight against displacement of our communities and for real 'affordable' housing.

Hoon Kim
National Mobilization Against Sweatshops
59 Hester St. LES
212 358 0295