Saturday, February 21, 2009

A March through Chinatown

From CAAAV --

Dear friends and supporters,

Tomorrow will mark 100 days since the residents of 81 Bowery were forced out of their homes by the City's Department of Buildings.

The landlord, Donald Lee, is supposed to submit new plans to the Department of Buildings with the violations corrected. 100 days later, he has still not done so. Telling lie after lie, Donald Lee is playing the blame game and delaying the process of ensuring tenants safety and return.

Join us this Sunday, February 22nd, at 12:30 in front of 81 Bowery for a vigil and march against displacement and gentrification throughout Chinatown. The event will last less than an hour, and we will be moving throughout Chinatown, so please come on time if you plan on supporting! Bundle up, it will be cold. But if the tenants are out there, we hope to see you too!

If you have questions, email Helena at
More info. on the building below.
The 81 Bowery Tenants Have A Right to Return!
Our demands:
1) Donald Lee, the landlord, immediately submit plans to the Department of Buildings that correct the safety violations and ensure the return of all tenants to 81 Bowery
2) The Department of Buildings only approve plans submitted by the landlord that ensure the return of all tenants to a safe and healthy home

On the evening of November 13th, the City evicted all of the tenants at 81 Bowery Street (an SRO building located in the heart of Chinatown) without notice-- citing safety issues that were the landlord's legal responsibility to correct. Over 50 people were forced out their homes, many of whom lived there for more than 20 years. It took SEVEN City agencies to properly vacate the building that night, and as of today NO agency has held the landlord responsible.

The Landlord wants you to believe that the tenants created the conditions for the vacate order, and that this eviction was the tenants' fault. Don't believe the LIES! What is ironic is that the tenants have been calling the City for YEARS to get the City to enforce its own housing code. The City finally came to the building to inspect and deemed it uninhabitable. In reality, the tenants of 81 Bowery are being punished for the landlord's failures to meet his legal obligations.

This is a clear example of the gentrification and displacement that is happening throughout Chinatown – more and more low-income residents are being forced out of their homes during a time when services throughout the City are being cut. SROs (Single Room Occupancy) are the most affordable housing that exists for low-income individuals. Losing them would mean more overcrowding in Chinatown and a loss of truly affordable housing that will not be replaced.

For more information contact CAAAV's Chinatown Tenants Union at: (212) 473-6485 or

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Villager once again mistakes politics for morality

It's discouraging to see a newspaper preach ungrounded judgments of right and wrong ("Pagan was right that Tompkins Square Park shouldn’t have been a “Tent City.” ... putting a park off limits to families with children and to seniors, among others, was unacceptable and untenable.")

Political office holders do sometimes base their decisions on perceived principles of human "rights" -- life, liberty, protective shelter, access to health care, a pretty park for sun-bathers and strollers -- but more commonly they represent specific constituent interests.

The interests represented in the eviction of the homeless from the park are too obvious to require mention. Obvious too, the homeless were no one's voting constituency.

The reason the 'homeless' were evicted from their often elaborate park homes and shelters -- "tents," as the Villager calls them -- is that political office holders, Pagan included, acted on behalf of the interests of a particular constituency, not on what is "right."

The questions of "right" emerge only in the definition of "park" and "park use" or in consideration of the greatest good for the greatest number. But the answers to these questions also reduce to specific constituency interests, not to "right." By what measures are conflicting goods and interests compared? Whose interests define the best use of any public space?

The homeless chose Tompkins Square Park, not because it was the only open space available. There were whole blocks of empty abandoned space immediately to the east where no one would have bothered them.

They chose TSP because they, like all true New Yorkers, all possessed in their bones by the metropolitan spirit, hankered to be at the heart of things.

More desperate than their need for shelter itself, they desperately needed to be in a somewhere, not a nowhere. And, like authentic East Villagers, they recognized Tompkins Square Park as itself possessed by the spirit of marginality, irreverence and rebellion. They knew they belonged there, and they did belong there, not by right but by the spirit of the place.

Throughout New York, local gentrification is marked by renovation of the local park in preparation for strollers, dog-walkers and sun-bathers. Marcus Garvey Park will be getting the treatment in the wake of Harlem's recent rezoning.

The interests of strollers, dogs, and sun-bathers were well served by the eviction of the homeless from TSP and the park curfew. Tompkins Square Park, really the entire neighborhood, has become their world, their idea, their playground.

The interests of the homeless in creating their own world in a park that had long welcomed them, have not been so well served.

Oh, the interests of the homeless may have seemed extreme -- a park all to themselves! But there is nothing definitionally wrong with "extreme." Abstract Expressionism was extreme. Ginsberg was extreme. Emma Goldman was seriously extreme. Bebop, extreme. Graffiti art, extreme. Punk rock, extreme. The whole damned neighborhood east of A was extreme.

All that neighborhood extremity, in both senses of the word, was good and bad. To those of us, like the homeless, who chose to be here, it was good.

Extremely good.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Bloomberg's order invites illegal development

On Feb. 2, Mayor Bloomberg, without any legislative process, ordered a time limit on challenges to developments. Ordinary citizens will now have only and exactly 30 days to challenge the legality of a development once a permit has been issued.

Prior to the mayor's order, there was no time limit on challenges. Since the city allows developers to self-certify their plans (yes, approve their pans themselves), the only oversight lies in citizen challenges.

This time limit sends a clear message to developers: plan developments without regard for the law. The thirty-day window severely decreases the chance of any challenge being brought at all, and if challenged, the development will be only at most thirty days into construction. At worst, the developer will merely have to alter plans (and borrow less money). So developers will never have to remove a story -- or thirty stories -- of construction no matter how egregiously those stories violate the zoning and violate the neighborhood.

It's a call to any unscrupulous developer to submit self-certified illegal plans.

Here's the mayor's press release. Notice the headline, spun as procedural improvement. Scroll down to the last two paragraphs before the bullets to learn the underlying motivation: to streamline illegal development. Think about it: as long as the plans are legal, developers have no worries about challenges at any point in the process of construction. Challenges are only a burden to development if the developer is banking on illegal plans.

This is government administrative sponsorship of activity in violation of government legislation; government sponsoring criminality. It's a deft brushing aside of the laws that protect this city and its neighborhoods, and handing the city itself to developers for their fastest buck, no urban planning, no community voice, no legislative process. Just thirty days. Let's close the city council down and let Boss Bloomberg rule in the great tradition of Mussolini and Tweed. (That's an insult to Tweed. Tweed, for all his corruption, responded to his voting base, the Irish working class.)

If developers generally submitted legal plans, this order would never have been. The mayor's order is a response to a problem of excess illegality. His response: make it easier to commit fraudulent and illegal activity and increase the likely profit. Forgive me, it's just so unbelievably outrageous.


February 2, 2009

No. 55


Fulfills State of the City Commitment — Increasing Transparency, Compliance and Certainty about Neighborhood Development Projects

First City in the Nation to put Development Diagrams Online

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler and Department of Buildings (DOB) Commissioner Robert D. LiMandri today announced reforms to the development process that will give New Yorkers a stronger voice in the development of neighborhoods, create greater transparency, and clarify the process for the public and for developers. New York City will become the first city in the nation to put diagrams of proposed new buildings or major enlargements online so the public can view the size and scale of a proposed building. A new 30-day formal public challenge period will be implemented to give the public a greater voice in the development process and provide clarity for developers about when and how a project can move forward. The Mayor was joined at the announcement by Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber. The new measures, which fulfill a commitment the Mayor made in his State of the City address last month, will go into effect starting Monday, March 9th.

"The reforms we are detailing today will inject a much-needed dose of transparency and accountability into a critical area of construction and development – zoning compliance," said Mayor Bloomberg. "The reforms center on the public's right to challenge any approved development if they think it violates local zoning regulations. For too long, this process has been too onerous for most New Yorkers. The reforms will make sure people have a stronger voice in the development that's taking place in their neighborhoods, while also giving developers more certainty about their projects."

"Until now, knowledge of development approvals has been limited to a small group of insiders with expert knowledge. This puts the public at a disadvantage and creates uncertainty for developers, who could be subject to a challenge long after a building is out of the ground," said Commissioner LiMandri. "This new process will give the public a chance to see what a building will look like before the first shovel hits the ground and developers certainty that once the public has had an opportunity to comment and any compliance issues have been resolved, their project can move forward. These reforms increase transparency and raise accountability across the board."

Architects and engineers filing applications for new buildings and major enlargements will be required to submit diagrams, which will be available at The diagrams will detail critical information that can be used by the public to determine whether a project is in compliance with required zoning regulations. The diagrams will include the size of the project, drawn to scale, and where a building will sit in relation to the street.

The 30-day public-challenge process establishes a defined and organized means for the public to challenge zoning decisions by DOB that they believe are incorrect, and will provide clarity and certainty for developers about when a project can move forward, and when changes to a proposed development need to be made. The current process, which has no formal timeframe, produces confusion and unnecessary and unintended costs for development in New York City .

The online diagrams and new challenge process will streamline the review of the thousands of challenges DOB receives each year – at no additional cost to the City.

New Formal Public Challenge Process

* Initial Public Challenge Period: When DOB approves plans for any new building or major enlargement, the building diagrams, called ZD1 forms, and other associated documents will be uploaded to the DOB website. In addition, once a permit is issued builders will be required to post the permit at the location within three days so the public is aware of the proposed development. New Yorkers will have 30 calendar days to review and challenge the development approval.

* Initial Zoning Challenge Review: After the initial public challenge period ends, the DOB Borough Commissioner will address every challenge by conducting a full review of the construction plans and rendering decisions that will be posted online. If a challenge is determined to be valid, appropriate enforcement action will be taken, including issuing Stop Work Orders, revoking of permits, and requiring redesigns of the proposed construction.

* Community Appeals Period: If the Borough Commissioner determines that a challenge is invalid, the public will be given an additional 15 calendar days to appeal to the First Deputy Commissioner.

* Final Zoning Challenge Review: Once the First Deputy Commissioner issues a determination, the decision may be appealed to the Board of Standards and Appeals for a final determination.


Contact: Stu Loeser/Marc LaVorgna (212) 788-2958

Tony Sclafani/Kate Lindquist (DOB) (212) 566-3473