Tag Archives: New York City

Client News: ERFA’s New Zoning Plan to Stop Supertowers

East River Fifties Alliance Files New Zoning Plan, Promotes Affordable Housing; Manhattan Borough President Brewer, City Council Members Kallos and Garodnick, and State Senator Krueger Co-Sign

After months of intense preparation, our clients, the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA), just filed a new zoning plan for Manhattan’s Far East 50s (the area between 52nd Street and 59th Street, east of 1st Avenue) with the Department of City Planning. The new zoning plan would restrict supertowers and out-of-scale development in that neighborhood, while providing for affordable housing. Not only that, but they had an elite list of co-filers: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick, and State Senator Liz Krueger.

This proposal, created via a partnership between the community (through ERFA) and city planners, is one of the most sweeping community residential re-zoning plans in City history, and the first plan of its kind to include affordable housing as a component.

Currently, the Far East Fifties is vulnerable to gigantic megatower development because its zoning is left over from the 1960s and sets no specific height limits on apartment buildings. It’s the last residential-only segment of the city that remains without such protections. (The same zoning is generally limited to busy commercial or mixed use avenues in Manhattan.)  In fact, one developer has already proposed a wildly oversized 1,000 foot megatower on East 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place that would dwarf the entire neighborhood. ERFA is working to prevent not only that project but all others like it.

Affordable Housing

As Mayor de Blasio has voiced repeatedly, NYC needs affordable housing badly. ERFA not only agrees, but the neighborhood is welcoming such opportunities with open arms. This new zone would urge developers to devote at least 25% of new units to affordable housing in the neighborhood.

As it stands, the East River Fifties’ R10 zone and equivalent zones throughout the city only create about 4-5% affordable units with each new development. If fully implemented, the ERFA plan would nearly quadruple the amount of affordable housing in new developments in our neighborhood. The details of how that goal could be best met – whether by making the affordable housing component mandatory, voluntary, or by some other formulation – will be determined in ERFA’s negotiations with City Planning. it will enter a review process that moves through the various levels of New York City’s government for approval. You can learn more about ERFA and its new zoning plan at www.erfa.nyc

The media is already excited and we’ve received a slew of stories. Here are a few: City Land (New York Law School), Crain’s New York Business, Curbed, DNA Info, Manhattan Express, New York Daily News, Our Town Press, Realty Today, and The Real Deal.

Truthiness: How Hard Can the Windbags Blow?

Truth, Fact, Interpretation, Misdirection – In An Age of Liars, We Need A Decoder Ring

Think about this: we know the difference between truth and lies. Presumably, we form our opinions from the information given to us. Certainly, this ought to be the case for things like policy decisions. Shouldn’t our elected officials be able to incorporate relevant facts and factors into their plans of what to do next? Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” is alarmingly relevant right now.

When I was in college, I took a tremendous class from well-known writer Francine Prose, called “Language, Literature, and Lies.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a great primer for my work in PR. One of the most lasting exercises was to read the same big news story in three major outlets (The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Guardian). We pored over the articles, picking out how the authors referred to their subjects (e.g. President Obama, Barack Obama, Obama, Mr. Obama, the president, etc.), which snippets of quotes they chose to cite, how they framed an issue, and who they gave the last word. Subtle choices conveyed biases. As humans, it is nearly impossible for us to describe happenings completely objectively – the nature of language is that it necessarily filters everything through our own lens; our own version of truth.

That said, while most media outlets use specific language to shape their version of events, they still stick to the same basic facts in news. That’s something we expect; why read or watch news if none of it is true? So it is jarring to note that when it comes to picking candidates for the presidency, many voters are keen to disregard flat out lies so long as they serve a particular agenda. The author of Wag the Dog recently wrote a biting op-ed about this in Al Jazeera, and multiple papers have referenced Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter” with regards to candidate claims (it ranges from true to pants on fire).

I’m a big proponent of free speech, but I do believe that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are, by nature, true. They are true whether you believe them or not. The converse is not the case. Unfortunately for some of us dreamers, simply believing something very fervently does not magically make it true. There is a danger to pandering to that falsehood. We can handle the truth, and we must if we expect to do anything helpful or relevant in life.

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness

Latest Client News: Welcome Save Gansevoort! Landmarks Preservation Commission Hearing on Fate of Gansevoort Street Development Draws Huge Crowd; Community Members, Elected Officials Testify Against Massive Project

Well it’s been a while, but we’ve sure been busy. Not only are we incredibly excited to belatedly welcome Save Gansevoort as a new client to the LCG family (we’ve only been working with them for about 6 weeks), we’re happy to boast that around 150 people showed up for last Tuesday night’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing regarding the contentious Gansevoort Street development that the group is determined to prevent from happening.


Save Gansevoort, which is composed of community members, preservationists, and proponents of appropriately-scaled construction, has circulated a petition calling on LPC to reject the project, saying that the development plan threatens the unique character of Gansevoort Street, its historic streetscape, and low buildings. The block in question is the only remaining intact block of one- and two-story market buildings in the Historic District, a distinctly New York gem that the developers’ plans would obliterate.

In a blistering editorial entitled, “Save Gansevoort St.; Iconic block under threat,” The Villager newspaper called the plan “nothing short of an assault on the city’s Landmarks Law.”

At the hearing, their numbers spilling out of the packed room, its foyer, and into the hallway, a flood of people took to the podium to testify against the plan. The project falls within the landmarked Gansevoort Market Historic District – a designation that LPC made 12 years ago after a long push from the community. The developer aims to build two massive structures that would dwarf the historically low buildings and market-style architecture that characterize this iconic Meatpacking District street. Quite simply, the proposed development would obliterate that character and history, negating the powerful protection of landmarking.

Last month, Community Board 2 held a Landmarks Committee hearing and full CB2 session, which produced a unanimous resolution opposing the plan. Local elected officials from all levels of government stood firmly behind the sentiments of their constituencies when they wrote a collective letter to LPC imploring it to reject the plan. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Landmark West! have strongly opposed the project, and The New York Landmarks Conservancy, one of New York’s foremost city-wide preservation organizations, also joined in on the cause, writing its own letter to the LPC Chair, urging the institution to reject the project.

To date, over 2,000 people have signed the petition!

The LPC meeting did not yield a decision on the matter; the group will hold another meeting during which the LPC will question the applicant and discuss the plan further. That meeting, which has not yet been scheduled, will be open to the public but will not allow for more testimony.

The youngest person to testify, a girl of about 12 years old, made a brief but eloquent statement where she firmly underlined that, “Owning a building or even a whole street does not mean you have a right to that street’s history; history belongs to all New Yorkers.”

Some of the press coverage: The New York Times, DNAinfo (here, here, live tweeting of the LPC meeting, The Villager (here, here, and here), New York YIMBY, and NY1.

Latest Client News: Rally Against the Corporate University

We were thrilled with the immense show of support earlier this month, when 300 people came out to Washington Square Park to protest NYU’s financial practices, as well as those at Cooper Union and the New School. This remarkable event included an unprecedented coalition of students, faculty, staff, and labor unions at all three schools, as well as many neighbors resolute against the Sexton Plan, and other mammoth real estate developments throughout the city.

STOMP performs at the rally, showing their support for the cause. Photo by Tequila Minsky.

Members of STOMP performed for the crowd and were met with roaring approval. The rally’s heartbreaking climax came when an anonymous NYU student, “Mandy,” told her story of having to resort to sex work to fund her exorbitantly priced education.

NYU student, “Mandy,” recounts her desperate turn to sex work to afford tuition. Photo by Tequila Minsky

The rally delved into the soaring price of higher education, and its consequence of student debt that has reached crisis levels coast to coast. The two main causes of that nationwide disaster are clear: mammoth building booms on campus after campus, and vast bureaucracies whose top executives make six- and seven-figure salaries; NYU is legendary for its contributions to both.

If you were unable to attend, you may get some sense of the event from this short video, produced by NYU students.

Some of the press coverage: Buzzfeed, Observer, The Villager, Washington Square News, Metro, Business Insider, Bedford + Bowery, and NYU Local.

Status Report: Reporters

Those of us who have worked either in the field of journalism or alongside it for at least a couple years have seen a dramatic shift in structure over a very short period of time. Papers don’t sell like they used to, especially when everyone expects information to be readily available and free (and advertisers don’t want to pay for something that not many people see), so the business model has had to change with the times.

Over the last three years, just about every major news outlet in New York City has effectively gutted its staff. The New York Times, the New York Post, The Village Voice, and WBAI radio, each fired at least a third of its staff, and the list continues. The New York Daily News, once renowned for its coverage of local stories, dissolved each of its bureaus situated in the outer boroughs. So what does that mean for reporters? Is journalism a dead profession whose practitioners are SOL, or is there more to the story?

I’ve debated this with friends, colleagues and media contacts alike. Some see the future as relatively bleak: without the large papers, etc. providing job security, writers are forced to scrape together an existence piece-meal as freelancers, with meager earnings for individual stories. On the other hand, this phenomenon has also given rise to countless blogs and websites – often specific to certain topics. Some of them act just the same as a brick and mortar outlet, minus the paper. It’s a whole wide web out there, and we are learning to adjust our perception of where we go for our news.

Meanwhile, we hold our reporters accountable for a lot more than we did previously. Not only does the internet’s never-ending clamor for information mean that we want our news NOW, 24/7, which sort of rules out a regular-hours kind of gig; we also assume journalists will constantly update their social media pages at the same time. Our impatience means that many outlets are no longer willing to let their employees spend the time and resources on long-term investigative reporting (this is less recent than some of the other changes). What would have happened if Woodward and Bernstein couldn’t do the research needed to back up one of the biggest national stories of the 20th Century because they had to live tweet a celebrity event?

Ironically, while we expect a lot from our news sources, all this pressure – the financial stress, the extra duties for full-time reporters, the tighter deadlines, and the global marketplace – has led to a common response: cut back on both the quantity and quality of their product. After all, it’s quicker and cheaper to stream headline feeds from other outlets than to focus on (wo)man-on-the-street stories.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who bemoans this loss, and some fields have seen a resurgence in thorough reportage. New York Magazine, for instance, just published the horrific story about Bill Cosby’s victims, in which it interviewed each of the women – not a trivial task when 35 of them have come forward to speak.

There are still jobs for enterprising writers and quality information is still out there, you just have to look harder – and know what you’re looking for. It’s less likely that you’ll stumble across a serious exposé about such and such as you fold your paper to make room for your breakfast and coffee, but hey – given how much time we spend collectively browsing the internet for interesting tidbits and “sharing” them, maybe all hope is not lost.

Warning: Are Parks and Open Spaces Up for Grabs? Are We Slowly Taking the Public Out of the Public Trust?

We’ve been working with the many groups and people opposed to NYU’s ridiculous, bloated and unneeded expansion plan for some time now. Our main client, NYUFASP, represents hundreds of professors and faculty within NYU who are also against the plan; this, in itself, speaks volumes about what an awful plan it is: one that will crush the Village and abolish some much needed green and open spaces with it.

There was a lawsuit filed in 2012 against the plan. One of the main aspects of the lawsuit was that the green spaces that would be bulldozed by the plan are public parks, and, therefore, under the tenets of the Public Trust Doctrine, cannot be simply “given away” for development. That doctrine, which dates back to the time of the Roman Empire, is a crucial part of America’s common law tradition. According to the Doctrine, the government holds the titles to certain waters and lands in trust for the people; this has evolved to extend protection to scenic resources, open space in general, energy generation, preservation of ecosystems and historical sites.

In New York State, if an entity wishes to develop or remove a parcel of parkland from public ownership and use, it must follow a legal process called “alienation,” which, among other conditions, requires approval from the state legislature.

This lawsuit wound its way through the court system and, ultimately, came before the state’s highest court, the NYS Court of Appeals. A few weeks ago, we found out that we’d lost the case.

Reading the Court’s decision left me wondering whether we had somehow travelled to the “doublespeak”-laden parallel universe of Orwell’s 1984. Although it’s true that some of the parks in question never “formally” became part of the Parks Department, at least a couple of them did, in fact, have parks department signage, were maintained by the Parks Department, and were listed on the Parks Department’s website. In addition, one of the parks was actually dedicated – about two decades ago – by the Parks Commissioner at that time, Henry Stern (who, by the way, gave our side an amicus brief detailing the fact that, yes, that’s really a park). This would mean that they were, quite obviously, implied parkland, and that they’d be protected under the Public Trust Doctrine. Not only would they be protected, but they couldn’t be given away for development unless approved by the state legislature. Even then, the developer would have to “give back” to the community the same amount of open space as was taken.

Importantly, the whole community has used those spaces as parks, some for decades. But, apparently, if it looks like a parks, acts like a park, and is used like a park it’s….not. Here’s just part of what the court said, “That a portion of the public may have believed that these parcels are permanent parkland does not warrant a contrary result.” This means that although the public (and, really, not just a part of the public, but ANYONE passing by these parks would think they’re parks) actually thought these were parks, it does not mean that they were/are. Huh? If the Public Trust Doctrine is there to protect public lands, including parks, and if the public has used those lands as parks, and believed them to be parks – for decades – how could they be declared NOT parks? This is a scary precedent.

In better news, however, the folks in Queens fighting the erection of a shopping mall in Willets Point, next to Citifield (home stadium of the Mets), successfully used the Public Trust Doctrine in a lawsuit to stop the mall. The land that developers wanted to build on is public land that was specifically slated to be used only for stadium purposes; clearly, a shopping mall is not consistent with that usage. The lower court ruled in favor of the petitioners – Willets Point shop owners, the City Club of New York and State Senator Tony Avella (D-Queens). “Today’s decision sends a message loud and clear — our parks are not for sale,” said State Senator Avella. You can read the full story here.

We wish that Senator Avella’s words were true. Apparently, in the rush toward unfettered development in this city, public lands are, indeed, in jeopardy, and the courts can’t be counted on to side with the public. What’s worse is that, although many elected officials sided with the public in both the NYU case and the Citifield/Willets Point case, the City of New York itself, in both instances, sided with the developers. In the NYU case, the City continued to oppose the public’s stance even when the suit went to the Court of Appeals. Now the question is whether or not the City will be part of the inevitable appeal that developers will file in the Citifield/Willets Point case.

Under the guise of “controlling” City owned property, the City is clearly attempting to violate the Public Trust Doctrine, and is taking away one of the few protections that the public has to save public spaces, parks, and waterways in a time of rampant development. To say that it’s disappointing is an understatement.

Meanwhile, more evidence has arisen that even when developers are ordered to keep their hands off public spaces, they don’t always comply.

In Monday, July 14th’s NY Times column, “The Appraisal,” journalist Matt Chaban uncovered how Donald Trump is now selling Trump wares in a part of his Trump Tower in Manhattan that is supposed to be a dedicated public space. Mr. Chaban explains that, as part of a deal to let developers build larger buildings back in 1961, the City required that a certain amount of the developed space be open to the public. If Trump is in violation of his deal, I wonder how many other developers have done the same. Advocates have tried for years, to get the Trump situation fixed, but clearly, there is no real enforcement against these kinds of encroachments onto public spaces. Trump was fined $2500 for the infringement back in 2008 (a trifling price for Trump), but no other action ensued. You can read Chaban’s excellent piece here.

What does this all mean? I think it’s clear that public spaces are increasingly up for grabs. This is especially true now, when developments – mostly for the wealthy – are overtaking just about every neighborhood in the City. It’s also obvious that the City is clearly disinterested in angering developers, since the City is hoping it can persuade developers to build more affordable housing. (And that’s a subject for another day…)

While, of course, all developments aren’t bad, this slow erosion of the Public Trust Doctrine – with the City’s hearty assent – coupled with little or no enforcement when developers fail to comply with public space agreements, potentially adds up to fewer parks, gardens, and green and open spaces for the people of New York City. In a city where developments are rising higher and higher, blocking out the sun and dwarfing other buildings, and where the ratio of open space to people is among the worst of America’s big cities – 4.6 acres per 1,000 residents (Trust for Public Land 2014 City Park Facts), we can ill afford to let this trend continue.

Shocking Report by Professors at New York University Reveals University Education As Just Another Commodity with Exorbitant Rates, Price Gouging and All

I remember a time when providing a good, reasonably priced education for all was an ideal that everyone believed in; it wasn’t particularly left or right wing. Thus, we got terrific public universities like the CUNY system here in New York, which, when I went was free – yes, free, except for a $65/semester fee to cover some processing costs.

Slowly but surely, however, conservative forces in government began slashing funding for public higher education, making it impossible for those colleges to function without having to impose fees and tuition.

Private universities also began to ratchet up tuition and fees, slowly.

Within the last ten years or so, the price of a college education has skyrocketed. It’s become just another price point in the marketplace, with really scary numbers. The College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2014–2015 academic year averaged $23,410. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $46,272.

What this means, for most folks, is that we’re sending our young people into a form of indentured servitude, where they will be paying off their college loans for, quite literally, the rest of their lives. And it means that the bottom line is now more important than the quality of the education itself, since the price you pay for college seems to have no relationship to its cost. As a matter of fact, it seems that a lot of the money that’s paid for tuition goes to bloated college administrative functions and salaries, but not to professors or academic endeavors.

This was really brought home to us here at LCG because we work with a group of NYU professors who are trying to stop the university from spending billions on an unwanted and useless expansion in Greenwich Village (NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan) while NYU students pay one of the highest tuitions in the nation – $71,000 per academic year.

NYUFASP and other faculty recently issued a truly jaw dropping report on how NYU bilks millions from its students to finance real estate and pay for its top executives.

The blistering 14,000 word report on how NYU has been gouging its own students (and their families) to raise billions for gratuitous real estate transactions and lavish compensation packages for NYU’s own top executives.

Concerned about their students’ ever worsening financial plight and wild spending by NYU’s Board of Trustees, the professors spent this past academic year researching NYU’s financial practices. Interviewing scores of students, both undergraduate and graduate, and studying the fine print in NYU’s own documents, the professors “followed the money” to reveal: students going hungry regularly, becoming homeless, and signing up for “dating services” to pay tuition, fees and insurance; out of control real estate acquisition; millions of dollars in compensation and personal loans for top NYU execs, but tiny raises for faculty.

Here’s Part I of the full report. It’s in three parts, and the other parts can be found through that link as well. It’s not short, but well worth the read.

The report is also mentioned in an article in the June 9th edition of Salon. The article, “Massive endowments, massive tuition, massive debt: Our colleges are out of control and crushing students,” gives an even broader and more frightening view about the college crisis in America.

The NYU professors who penned the report are demanding more transparency and accountability from NYU’s administration. That needs to happen at colleges all across the country, and we need to demand it right now.

Latest Client News: Tournesol Treats Trauma, as Highlighted in TV Features

We couldn’t be happier for Tournesol Wellness, which was recently featured on NBC4 New York’s “The Good Fight with Pat Battle” and as part of a NY1 piece about how yoga and mind-body techniques can help veterans. Tournesol, an integrative and holistic health center, is the only place on the east coast to offer vibroacoustics on a liquid sound table, a customizable technology that has proven helpful for a plethora of problems, from knee pain to PTSD.

Tournesol’s Veteran’s Program, which both TV spots highlighted, includes:

  • Free 30-minute Holistic Health Review
  • Free 30-minute Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy Session
  • 30% off Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy
  • 50% off Yoga Classes
  • Two Class Guest Passes per Month

 

On Earth Day: Remembering the First Earth Day and Honoring Its Legacy

I remember the very first earth day in 1970.  Although my memories are vague, it made an impression on me.

I was a senior in high school, and I remember going down to Earth Day’s NYC headquarters in advance of the event.  It was not that big, and was crammed full of papers, flyers, hand written to do lists and people were coming and going constantly.  I spent some time with friends making signs for what would turn out to be an incredible first Earth Day turnout; the crowd was estimated at about a million. The mayor at the time was John Lindsay, and he agreed to shut down Fifth Avenue for the march, in addition to allowing people to flow freely through Central Park.  The main organizers of the NYC event – Fred Kent, Pete Grannis, and Kristin and William Hubbard – got a lot of help from the Mayor’s office, even using some of the Mayor’s own staff to help with the huge organizing task.

Many people who participated, even in a small way, in the first Earth Day were changed forever by the experience.

NYC Earth Day organizer Pete Grannis, for example, went on to become a Democratic member of the NYS Assembly from Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island (for about 30 years), where he was always an environmental advocate.  After the Assembly, he became Commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation where, in May 2007, he instituted a new Climate Change Office. He left behind this remembrance of the first Earth Day on the NYS Office of DEC’s online magazine NYS Conservationist.

As for me, I can’t say for sure what specific impact this event had on my life, but, here I am today, heading up this progressive pr firm and helping, among other worthy organizations, people and causes, an incredible Climate Change scientist, Professor Micha Tomkiewicz.  He writes a great, science-based blog on Climate Change called Climate Change Fork.  Here’s his latest blog, focused on Earth Day.

For me on this Earth Day, I’ll reminisce about that first Earth Day for a bit, but I’ll continue to honor its lasting legacy by making sure that Professor Tomkiewicz’s  voice – and the voices of those who know that we must act now on global warming – get heard loud and clear.  What will you do for Earth Day and beyond?

A Park is a Park, is a Park, or is it? In NYC, the Answer Might Be, “NO”

For the past three years or so, a large swath of New York University’s professors (who have formed a group called NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, a group we proudly represent) and the Greenwich Village community have been in a protracted and fierce struggle over NYU’s plan to expand enormously in the Village.

No one, it seems – other than NYU’s administration, especially its president, John Sexton – wants the monstrous 2 million square foot, multi-billion dollar development plan. The local community board voted unanimously against it, and 39 departments within NYU itself have voted against it. There have also been votes of no confidence passed against Sexton by a number of NYU’s schools. NYU’s own Stern School of Business – where at least two of its professors have earned Nobel Prizes in economics – voted against the unneeded, bloated and expensive plan.

It is unfortunate that in America today, many universities have become nothing more than big business, where the bottom line is most important, and education takes a back seat.

NYUFASP and other community groups have struck back hard, filing a lawsuit that would prevent NYU from implementing its plan. The groups won a big victory in court when it was ruled that NYU could not build on three strips of parkland – LaGuardia Park, LaGuardia Corner Gardens and Mercer Playground – because they are actually, well, parkland. (If you click on the link for Mercer Playground, you’ll see that it’s listed as actually part of the Parks Department!)

In NYC, not every green space is an official part of the parks department. Other agencies, like the Department of Transportation, often have authority of some of these spaces. But, fortunately, what really matters, legally, is how those spaces are used. And, in this case, some of these spaces have been used as parks for decades. In essence, NYC “gave” those parks to NYU illegally. Public parkland can’t simple be given away. In cases where the City does want to have parkland developed by a private developer or institution, there’s a legal process that has to be gone through, called “alienation,” and the City didn’t do that.

This throws a real wrench into NYU’s expansion plan, since those parks – which would be crushed – are needed for its scheme.

So, not surprisingly, NYU is appealing the decision.

What is somewhat surprising is that the City of New York is standing with NYU and appealing the ruling too. Mayor Bill de Blasio has fashioned himself as a progressive champion of the people, and that’s the basis upon which he was elected. He has shown himself to be progressive in other policies, so people are both confused and angered by the City’s response.

The appeals court appearance happened on September 24th, and, before the hearing, the NYU community, Village residents and those concerned about green spaces and overdevelopment held a rally in LaGuardia Park. Over 200 people attended, and many elected officials, including the City’s Public Advocate, Tish James, came to show their support. There was also an incredible performance by the internationally known, East Village-based group STOMP.

One of NYC’s former Commissioner of Parks, Henry Stern, supplied an affidavit for the case, saying that he tried – for 14 years – to get those pieces of parkland officially turned over to the Parks Department, but NYU blocked all attempts. He came to the rally to show his support and he also wrote a blistering editorial that appeared in the Saturday, October 4th edition of the Daily News, asking City Hall to drop its appeal.

The bottom line…everyone is still hoping that the City will come to its senses and drop the appeal. It’s not too late, and would, in fact, be the right thing for a progressive Mayor to do.

NYU Expansion Update: September 30, 2014

Park Advocates, Villagers, Elected Officials Join @ Rally/Press Conference to Keep the Village Green/Save the Village Featuring a Performance by the World Famous STOMP; NYU, City Try to Overturn Decision That Would Save Parks from Destruction by NYU Expansion

The #SavetheVillage #KeeptheVillagegreen rally

On Wednesday, September 24th, parks, gardens and open space supporters from across the City held a rally at Greenwich Village’s LaGuardia Park, decrying NYU’s and the City’s appeal of the court decision that saved that park and two other Village parks from being destroyed.  The appeal was heard after the rally, at the Appellate Division’s First Department.

Members of the internationally acclaimed East Village-based group STOMP joined the crowd and did a short performance.

The three parks in question – Mercer Playground, LaGuardia Park and LaGuardia Corner Gardens- were at risk of destruction for the sake of NYU’s outsized and unwanted 2031 expansion plan.  On January 7th, Judge Donna Mills vindicated the position of parks advocates and community members by officially declaring those parks as City parkland, effectively halting redevelopment efforts by NYU that would have stripped the community of that precious open space. NYU’s rejection of that decision and its subsequent appeal (through the City) have left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Village residents, NYU faculty, parks and open space advocates and elected officials.

Speakers included Congressman Jerry Nadler; Assembly Member Deborah Glick; State Senators Brad Hoylman and Daniel Squadron; Public Advocate Tish James; David Gruber, Chair of Community Board #2; Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern; Actress Kathleen Chalfant; NYUFASP’s President Mark Crispin Miller; and GVSHP’s Executive Director Andrew Berman.

Public Advocate Tish James

Mark Crispin Miller, president of NYUFASP

Award winning actress Kathleen Chalfant

Former NYC Parks Commissioner, Henry Stern

Andrew Berman, Executive Director of GVSHP


You can read coverage of the event here:

Bedford + Bowery

Capital New York (here and here)

DNAinfo

The New York Post

The Real Deal

The Villager

Washington Square News (here, here, and here).

If It’s Capitalism, Why Not Teach Financial Literacy?

Photo from Google Image Search, courtesy of World Financial Group

Even though I am the president of this pr firm, I will admit that, before opening LCG Communications, I had little practical knowledge about the actual business side of running a business.

And, although I know how to balance a checkbook and have enough money in accounts to keep things “in the black,” no elementary, middle or high school class ever taught me “financial literacy.”

Oh sure, there were courses on things like making a budget or shopping for the best food bargains, but no one actually explained the nuts and bolts of capitalism and how it works.

And I know I am hardly alone.

As a result, the ins and outs of capitalism are left to the “experts,” whose job, in part, is to “tell” us what to do. No one ever explained, for example, that this “credit rating” thing could actually ruin a business or someone’s chances of getting a loan, or a mortgage, or an apartment. People marry and have families, and no one explains that the way you deal with your finances can seriously affect your ability to have the home and the life you want.

We have to deal with capitalism every day, but, for most people, it’s a high concept that’s really fuzzy and seems unrelated to what we do.

Of course, there are some courses in college that can be taken, and sometimes, local government provides courses too.

I’m bringing this up now because, just recently, we worked with the BrooklynSpeaks community groups on the new deal that will bring the promised Atlantic Yards affordable housing online ten years earlier. People will be able to apply for the housing through a lottery system. (The project has now been re-dubbed “Pacific Park.”)

What many people don’t know is that simply showing that you need the housing and can prove it – through providing tax returns, etc. – is not enough. You have to be able to show that your household is financially capable of paying the rent in a timely manner every month. And that requires that your household’s finances are in tip top shape. Of course, ironically, a large percentage of the people who really need this kind of housing won’t qualify because they are unaware of this requirement and, since they are often scrambling just to make ends meet, they simply haven’t focused on their own financial fitness as calculated by the “outside” world.

Some non-profits, like Brown Community Development Corporation, are trying to address this problem by holding free sessions about the lottery, and these sessions include advice on getting finances in shape.

But it shouldn’t have to come to this. Why don’t we include financial literacy education from elementary school through high school? Perhaps it’s because if people really understood capitalism, those in power would have to face an educated voter base who’d be less likely to stand for some of the financial shenanigans we’ve seen.

It still comes down to this: If we have to live in this world of capitalism, we need to understand it. That goes for everyone.

Affordable Housing at Atlantic Yards in the News!

The issue of affordable housing has been popping up everywhere in the news lately. We couldn’t be more delighted to announce that our clients, members of BrooklynSpeaks, were just featured in two great TV interviews about the recent deal struck at Atlantic Yards that guarantees completion of all affordable units by 2025.

Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), joined Marjona Jones, who has worked on behalf of Brown Community Development Corporation (BCDC), on ABC7’s “Here and Now” show to talk about the new agreement, how it affects the community, and what it will mean for future developments.

Michelle de la Uz, Marjona Jones and host Sandra Bookman on ABC7’s “Here and Now.”

 

Nick Powell, City Hall Bureau Chief for City & State, sat down with Michelle de la Uz for an in depth discussion about the ramifications of delaying promised delivery of affordable housing, the implications of the project’s name change from Atlantic Yards to Pacific Park, and the details involved in qualifying for an affordable housing lottery.

Latest Client News July 24, 2014: Great News on Affordable Housing

Here’s our latest news of victory: culminating an 11 year struggle, and following weeks of intense negotiations, our clients — BrooklynSpeaks sponsor organizations and local residents recently announced they have reached a landmark settlement about affordable housing with Forest City Ratner Corporation (FCRC), the developer of the contentious Atlantic Yards Project in Brooklyn, and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), with the support of the City of New York. The agreement at Atlantic Yards has been a long time coming, and we’re very pleased to have helped work towards this resolution. Now that a consensus has finally been reached, it provides a great starting point for discussion of affordable housing within New York City.

Mayor de Blasio has been very clear about his emphasis on affordable housing during his term, and this new accord, which promises timely delivery of affordable housing and real developer accountability, potentially presents a good template for such projects moving forward.

The new agreement at Atlantic Yards fueled a storm of press coverage, including a piece in the New York Times!

Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

A brief summary of the settlement: Under the terms of the agreement, construction on the first of the affordable units will begin by the end of the year, and a full total of 2,250 affordable apartments must be completed by May 2025 – ten years earlier than previously agreed.

It also establishes an Atlantic Yards Tenant Protection Fund and penalties for failure to meet affordable housing milestones. The newly-created Fund, which is expected to be administered by the Brooklyn Community Foundation, will provide grants to local nonprofit organizations offering eviction prevention and anti-displacement services to low and moderate income residents of Brooklyn community districts 2, 3, 6 and 8. (Read more about the Tenant Protection Fund here.) Many lower and working class families – especially African Americans – are getting priced out of their neighborhoods due to escalating rents and costs of living exacerbated, ironically, by the construction of Atlantic Yards’ Barclay Center. Gentrification around Atlantic Yards is rapidly changing the face of nearby communities; African Americans comprised 52% of the population of the combined area of the districts surrounding Atlantic Yards (Community Boards 2, 3, 6 and 8) in 2000, but represented only 40% in 2010. A study of current demographic trends has found that African Americans will represent only 15% of the population by 2035, the outside date by which the housing was originally required to be finished.

Importantly, the settlement will also result in the creation of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the ESDC charged with overseeing compliance with all project commitments; it will enforce real penalties for failure to meet construction deadlines.

To view the full agreement with ESDC, click here. For a complete explanation of the settlement and copies of all its components, click here.

To read more of the press coverage about this deal, please click on the following links:

Capital New York – here, here, and here
Crain’s – here and here
Curbed
DNAinfo
Gothamist
Law 360
Newsday

*NY1
*NY Daily News

Observer
The Real Deal
WCBS
*WNYC
WSJ

*Denotes an article or segment that we especially liked.

 

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Latest Client News – Week of June 16, 2014

Last Friday, June 13th, in a follow up to the ongoing NYU expansion struggle in Greenwich Village, a coalition of over 20 community members and groups filed a legal brief in the state appellate court in Manhattan.

A trial court in January held that the City violated state law by allowing NYU to take over three public parks for construction-related purposes during the twenty-year expansion project. The City and NYU have appealed this part of the lower court’s ruling.

The community coalition asks the appeals court to uphold the trial court, and to require the City and NYU to halt the project, reexamine the building plans and City approvals that were based on the illegal alienation of public parkland, and conduct a proper environmental review that takes the protected status of these parks into account. The parks defenders have also asked the appellate court to hold that the Mercer-Houston Dog Run, like the other three parcels, is public parkland.

The lawsuit, originally filed in September 2012, challenges decisions by the City and the State to approve the massive Sexton Plan, a $6 billion, almost two million square foot construction plan in the heart of historic Greenwich Village, for the convenience of NYU.

Meanwhile, Prof. Micha Tomkiewicz, author of the Climate Change Fork blog is currently attending the Sixth International Conference on Climate Change in Reykjavik, Iceland. Stay tuned for his update when he returns.

Barbara Winslow had a book party on May 19th at the Mott House in Washington D.C., where both Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and House Minority Leader Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi gave remarks.

Latest Client News – Week of April 14, 2014

New! Barbara Winslow’s new biography of Shirley Chisholm was just mentioned and quoted in Newsweek’s obituary of the Harlem politician Basil Paterson.

The New York Times just published an article about NYU’s Chairman of the Board, Marty Lipton, calling him The Power Broker of N.Y.U.. In addition to discussing NYU’s corporate structure, and the scandalous bonus packages for an elite few administrators, the article quotes NYUFASP’s Mark Crispin Miller, who confirms that for all its talk of faculty input, NYU officials did not consult either them or the community while planning the 2031 Expansion Plan.

Barbara Winslow just got back from Atlanta, GA, where she gave a talk at Spelman College about Archiving. She also attended the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting, where she took part in a panel about social and political biography. Her talk focused on “Writing About a First: Shirley Chisholm, Feminism, the Black Freedom Struggle and the Democratic Party.”

In CUNY Radio’s Podcast, “Book Beat” interview with Barbara, she gives some highlights of her research about Shirley Chisholm. Barbara will be doing readings/signings of her book, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change, at Sister’s Uptown Bookstore and Cultural Center on April 23rd, and at Bluestockings on May 19th. See our Upcoming Events page for more details. You can also download the book digitally on Amazon.com.

Prof. Micha Tomkiewicz was featured in an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal. The article, a response to his National Climate Seminar talk, was written by students from Bard College’s Center for Environmental Policy (CEP).

When Will They Learn? How Big Development Projects Get Green Lighted Even Over Community Opposition

I was meeting with a client the other day, and we were bemoaning – yet again – another mega development project that did not deliver on promises made to the community.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s same stuff, different day and my client heartily agrees.  The both of us just sighed.

It is confounding to me that the same “drill” occurs, over and over again, and, yet, people don’t seem to get what’s happening.  Or, even worse, they do, but they just don’t care or are part of the problem.  This applies specifically to elected officials who continue to vote for these giant projects without changing the format – and for those of you unfamiliar with the format, here it is:

Developer wants to build a big project of some sort which will inevitably disrupt a neighborhood, take away green space, use public assets and/or financing, force lower income residents out, drive up rents, etc. – you can pick one or all of these.  Developer also claims great benefits for the community – it will stimulate the economy! Create hundreds or thousands of jobs! Bring needed services/space to the community! Etc!

They quite purposely make the project larger than they know will be approved and are very careful to include a list of so called “community benefits.”

Project goes to the local elected officials which, here in NYC, is the City Council.  The project goes to a specific committee where there is debate and “public comment,” before a vote. Some council members ask good questions.  Developers come with charts, power point presentations, people in suits.  There are the promises to the community, including jobs and a shot in the arm to the local economy, two promises that developers know elected officials cannot seem to oppose. There is sometimes even heated debate, especially during the public comment part.  Some Councilmember or other makes a big deal of telling the developer to scale back the project.  Project is scaled back (slightly), Council committee votes its approval and it’s on to a vote with the whole Council where the project is declared a win-win for everybody!

The same general “process” is used when the project involves state government too.

Perhaps I have oversimplified the situation, but that’s more or less it, unfortunately.

This is not to say, however, that there should never be any development projects or that they are all bad.  Since New York City real estate continues to become more and more valuable, many of these projects are really nothing more than a land grab in disguise and/or a way to get valuable public funding dollars for private projects.

Two NYC projects come to mind – one already mostly built, and the other on the drawing board.  The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is almost complete except for – you guessed it – the affordable housing part that was promised to the community as part of the deal.  Some local officials did try to get the housing built along with the main project, but the move was turned down.

In Greenwich Village, NYU concocted an enormous, multi-billion dollar expansion plan that it said it needed for academic purposes.  Turns out even NYU’s faculty doesn’t buy this reason and has called NYU administration out on it.  There was a lawsuit filed by many groups and individuals in the Village, and the Court has ruled that three strips of important parkland that NYU wanted to destroy for its plan cannot be used because they are “real” parks. (NYU tried to argue that, since they weren’t “officially” part of the Parks Dept, that they aren’t really parks, even though some of those green spaces have been literally used for decades as parks.)  We’re hoping for a better outcome on this development plan, and the judge’s decision has been very encouraging.

No matter what you think of the two instances I cited, I think everyone should be able to agree that the process that leads to approval of these projects is woefully inadequate and needs to change.

Now to find some brave elected officials who are up to the task.

Latest Client News – Week of February 10, 2014

Black History Month continues, and we are happy to note that Barbara Winslow’s new biography of Shirley Chisholm is quickly gaining recognition.

The book, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change, is the first in over 40 years, and the only one to cover the later part of Ms. Chisholm’s life. Ms. Chisholm, who was the nation’s first African American woman elected to Congress and the first to run for President, fought for equal pay, access to education, universal child care and many other issues that still resonate today. In fact, the US Post Office just came out with a stamp in her honor!

And it appears that news about the new book is spreading fast, and journalists, scholars and the general public are taking notice.

Tonight, Friday, February 14th, Barbara will join Shola Lynch, director of the documentary Shirley Chisholm: Unbought and Unbossed on Errol LouisInside City Hall show on NY1. They will discuss Ms. Chisholm’s legacy, her importance in today’s world, and how her current acclaim differs from how she was received by her contemporaries. Tune in tonight, Friday at 7pm or 10pm, or watch for the online link after the show airs.

Barbara will also appear this Sunday, February 16th @ noon on ABC-TV’s Here and Now show to talk with host Sandra Bookman about the book, why parts of it prompt such anger and frustration among many readers, and what it means to bring Ms. Chisholm’s story out of the dry world of trivia facts, into the light of present-day notice.

The book has been getting noticed in print and online too.  The New York Times’  Sam Roberts highlighted the biography in his latest book selection column on February 6th. The Park Slope Patch interviewed Barbara about the Chisholm Project at Brooklyn College, and her inspiration to write the book.  The Brooklyn Paper also interviewed Barbara about her quest to keep Ms. Chisholm’s name and significance fresh in current history, and the role she sees the detailed and enlightening book playing in remedying the gap in our collective memory.  The site Truthout also offered their own, very positive review of the book.

We hope you’ll check out these stories, and tune in for Barbara’s television appearances! The book is available on all the main online stores, like Amazon, as well as in kindle ebook format.

Latest Client News – Week of February 3, 2014

It’s Black History Month, and we are happy to note that Barbara Winslow’s new biography of Shirley Chisholm is gaining recognition.

The book, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change, is the first in over 40 years, and the only one to cover the later part of Ms. Chisholm’s life. Ms. Chisholm, who was the nation’s first African American woman elected to Congress and the first to run for President, fought for equal pay, access to education, universal child care and many other issues that still resonate today.

We are thrilled to announce that Sam Roberts just wrote about the book in his column in the New York Times. Meanwhile, the Park Slope Patch published a short interview with Barbara Winslow, and the Brooklyn Paper recently wrote an article about the biography, emphasizing the importance of keeping Ms. Chisholm’s memory fresh in today’s world. Meanwhile, in recognition of her immense contributions, the U.S. Postal Service has just come out with a stamp commemorating Ms. Chisholm.

The author, Barbara Winslow, is a professor of Women’s Studies at Brooklyn College, and is responsible for starting and running the Shirley Chisholm Project/Brooklyn Women’s Activism at Brooklyn College. The Project has catalogued many of Ms. Chisholm’s original materials, and there are amazing oral histories/accounts from people who actually knew/worked with Ms. Chisholm, or were influenced by her legacy, like Anita Hill, Gloria Steinem, Donna Brazile, Joyce Bolden, Patricia Schroeder, and former NYC Mayor David Dinkins. The book includes insights from all of these contributors, as well as information from Ms. Chisholm’s own FBI file. You can see the Project’s website here.

On a sadder note, we would like to express our deep regret for the loss of one of our era’s most talented actors, Mr. Philip Seymour Hoffman. We join with so many around the country to express our sadness and sympathy for his family and friends. We knew him as a Village denizen and a supporter of all things Greenwich Village. He will be missed.

Latest Client News – Week of January 27, 2014

In our latest news, NYUFASP joined local officials, community groups and John Leguizamo to discuss the next steps in the NYU expansion.

On Friday, January 24th – two weeks after Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Donna Mills put a halt to NYU’s needlessly colossal expansion plan by ruling that the City illegally gave parkland to NYU for its development, elected officials, NYU faculty, Village area community organizations and other supporters – including actor John Leguizamo – held a press conference encouraging NYU to step back from its planned appeal and to “do the right thing” by going back to the drawing board and exploring alternatives.

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and the Historic Districts Council generously hosted the press conference in its offices. A slew of elected officials, including a representative from Congressmember Jerrold Nadler’s office; Assemblymember Deborah Glick; State Senators Brad Hoylman, and Dan Squadron; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Corey Johnson, spoke. Each of them expressed the opinion that the judge’s ruling was beneficial to the Village community and provided a perfect opportunity for NYU to restart the planning phase from scratch. The well-know actor and Village resident John Leguizamo added his voice to the cause, emphasizing that NYU could make an expansion that respected the culture of the community while still gaining the educational space it needs.

The community groups that filed the lawsuit, include our own NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (NYUFASP), GVSHP and Lower Manhattan Neighbors Organization (LMNOP), as well as, Historic Districts Council, Washington Square Village Tenants’ Association, East Village Community Coalition, LaGuardia Corner Gardens, Inc., SoHo Alliance, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Friends of Petrosino Square, and NoHo Neighborhood Association.

LCG is proud to be working with these groups that are fighting to save the Village.

A New Year – and a New Era in NYC?

Happy New Year to all.  As ever, we hope it will be a good one.

We started out the year here by getting the court’s answer to the question, “if it looks like a park, acts like a park and is used like a park, is it really a park?”  The answer was a resounding yes, and with that, on January 7th, the court struck down as illegal the giveaway of parcels of parkland in Greenwich Village to NYU as part of the university’s plan to implement the ludicrous, overblown, unneeded and unwanted 2031 expansion plan.

The struggle against NYU’s plan has been ongoing, and the lawsuit, filed last year by our client, NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan and other individuals and groups, hoped to stop it from squashing what’s left of the Village.

NYU’s attempt to push through their own super-sized expansion plan during the Bloomberg years, was indicative of a larger problem, one that has effected neighborhoods in all boroughs.  During Bloomberg’s time in office, developers had, more or less, free reign in NYC, and there was not one development plan that the administration didn’t wholeheartedly back. And there appeared nothing that the administration wouldn’t do to make sure big developments happened, no matter what the community or anyone else had to say.

This latest attempt to take away parkland from the people of NYC – a violation of the Public Trust Doctrine – isn’t the first.  In 2011, the City, along with the State and Federal government, tried to take away park space in Brooklyn – the Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park – and give it to an arts organization for private development.  In that case, the court ruled in a similar way; the Warehouse had actually been included on the park’s map, but the government entities declared that it was a mistake.  Fortunately, that paper thin excuse didn’t get by the court.  In the end, the Tobacco Warehouse was given over to private development, but, as required by the law, the park had to go through what’s called an “alienation” process.  A new, equivalent parcel of land had to be found and given to the park to make up for giving the Tobacco Warehouse to a private arts organization and, at the end of the day, approval to remove the Warehouse has to be approved by the state legislature. Although many people are still unhappy that the Tobacco Warehouse will no longer be part of the public park, at least, because of the lawsuit, the park will now be given an equivalent amount of land nearby.

These are just two cases that we know of (because we had/have clients in both suits), and there may be even more.

It’s a sad day when the dwindling resources of the public at large are no longer protected and can be snatched away at any time.  The corporatization of everything continues, and, in these cases and so many others, is aided and abetted by those in public office.

However, the firm decision of the court in both instances has been extremely hopeful.  While we still don’t know what will happen with the NYU expansion plan, at least three strips of parkland there have been saved from the bulldozers.

We hope the court’s decisions will set a new standard for the protection of public space in our City.

Week of November 4, 2013

Our top stories this week involve NHS and its efforts to honor the past while paving the future for Superstorm Sandy survivors, and Professor Barbara Winslow’s upcoming book.

The anniversary of Superstorm Sandy was last week, and Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City (NHSNYC) was busy with supporting the communities that are still experiencing the aftereffects. NHS of East Flatbush joined the community at a candlelight vigil in Canarsie, Brooklyn to commemorate the losses and push for more recovery funding. The nonprofit also held a housing fair, in partnership with Councilman Jumaane Williams, which included a workshop on disaster preparedness, foreclosure intervention counseling aimed at educating and aiding homeowners and buyers in the wake of the destruction. The housing fair, which was free and open to the public also had experts on hand to answer questions about homeowner insurance, mortgages, water bill payments and other related issues to buying or maintaining a home.

In other news, LCG is happy to announce that we will be working with Professor Barbara Winslow, who runs the Shirley Chisholm Project at Brooklyn College. She has written a biography of Shirley Chisholm – which will be out this month – and we are thrilled to be helping her publicize it.