Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Post 2: The encounter with the Community Board District Manager

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

At our meeting, Shelly explained in brief our concern: What could the CB do to curtail the spread of nightlife? Bars tend to have a high cash flow which means they can pay higher rents than many other commercial operations. Landlords will prefer to rent to bars given a choice. Also bars are not limited to local patrons, especially where bars are dense. A nightlife district actually increases the viability of each bar, so that a bar district spirals upward and outward, eating up the local services that cannot pay the rents that bars can.

Susan’s only response to our presentation was to treat our entire concern as an attack on the then Community Board Chair David. As it happened, I did not know the CB chair, had perhaps only once heard his name and knew nothing at all about him. So our concerns had no relationship to him at all. As I soon learned, he was a bar owner, and not just a bar owner, but the owner of multiple bars in the neighborhood, and not just multiple bars but, on the stretch of Avenue A, between 1st and 3rd, nearly every bar was his.

Susan responded first by accusing us of attacking David and then immediately, and patronizingly, told Shelly that she thought that working on commercial gentrification was beyond the mission of her non profit. Since Susan was not Shelly's boss, this was meddling beyond her role as District Manager, especially since Shelly did have a highly competent boss, and it wasn't Susan. In other words, Susan rather than trying to assist us as local members of the community, she took it upon herself to obstruct our effort. Susan got up from the table announcing that she’d go look for the mission statement and end the meeting with that. She told us we were wasting our time; the CB had tried and failed to curtail liquor licenses at the State Liquor Authority. Bar spread in the district was inevitable. Give up. These were her words to us.

I was astonished, as you might expect, and even more astonished when I learnt that the CB chair she served was a multiple bar owner. I recognized that the CB would not be helpful. Instead it would clearly be an obstacle. I looked for other resources. This encounter was my first intimation that the community board, and political institutions generally, do not grasp at all the power of organizing. They seem to assume that if they, with their access to what they view as legislatively recognized influence, can’t accomplish a task, then no one can. The result seems to me to be an internal culture of subservience in politics or deal-making or acceptance and fatalism.

No comments: