Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Post 17: Enter Chinese Staff and Workers Association

As always, with the exception of public figures, I use altered names to protect the individuals in this history.

After DCP had presented its plan and the CB continued to debate over how to improve it, and as the anti-gentrificationists despaired of any chance that the FAR would remain low, that the Bowery would be excluded and a rezoning would be implemented that would drive developers into Chinatown, a new development in Chinatown radically changed the steady movement of the proceedings. While everyone in CB3 was focused on the developments in the LES, there being no development in the EV, trenches were being dug for a new hotel on the Bowery in Chinatown. The change began with an email. 

Jenny (I've altered her name), an organizer in Chinese Staff and Workers Association, a non union independent labor organization, was looking for information about the trenching of the hotel. Why a hotel in Chinatown? Why development now when there'd been none for decades? In asking around, someone suggested that she contact me, saying that if anyone would know, it would be me, and gave her my email address. I don't know who it was who gave her my address, nor why she or he knew me, and when I received Jenny's email, I knew neither her nor CSWA. She explained her organization and asked about the hotel. My response was, you and your organization have got to attend the CB3 meetings on the rezoning of the EV/LES. Chinatown is being excluded from the rezoning, and that will mean a lot more development in Chinatown in the future. 

At the very next meeting Jenny and several CSWA members did in fact attend. There is always a learning curve to catching up with CB technicalities and jargon, so Jenny asked me to come to CSWA to give a workshop on zoning and this zoning in particular. As the group understood that the rezoning might transform Chinatown as one of its unintended consequences, CSWA organized quickly with several other organizations into a Coalition to Protect the Lower East Side and Chinatown. The members included CSWA, NMASS (National Mobilization against Sweatshops, a more diverse organization developed by CSWA) and also the Two Bridges Community Council, a non profit housing developer/manager near Chinatown. 

The Coalition became highly active immediately and drew attention from the CB chair and other members of the CB, who complained that it was unfair of the Coalition and the Chinatown community to wait until the process was nearly over to engage obstructively. The CB chair reminded the public that a couple of years before he'd asked the District Manager to obtain a grant to fund an informational event in Chinatown to bring awareness of the CB. He even praised the DM for her fast work on the grant. 

Under the Freedom of Information Law, I obtained all the documents related to this event, but could find no mention at all of the rezoning, of zoning, or of development. Since I did find that it was mostly about parking and traffic, issues that have always been important to Chinatown businesses, it's fair to say that absence of evidence of any mention of zoning is evidence of absence -- that the rezoning was not featured or even mentioned at the event. 

Of course the reason for the late response was the CB focus on the East Village, with its special target P.S.64 on 9th Street. Some members of the CB viewed the Chinatown community as insular and lacking in interest in CB affairs, but obviously this is a view from the non Chinatown perspective. From the Chinatown perspective, the CB's work on the rezoning was the typical insularity of the inward-looking white community lacking any interest in Chinatown. 

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