Saturday, January 21, 2006

SoHo Politics

One of the most visible and outspoken members of Community Board #2, Melissa Sklarz is now a star. Rumor has it, she is a supporting member of the cast of Transamerica, an Indy film. As the only announced transgender member of Community Board #2, she has been a highly visible champion of sexual-orientation rights on the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Bisexual Committee. She is reportedly moving to Queens and it is expected that she will be leaving this Board. While there are many who neither understand nor appreciate the problems and concerns of the transgender community, she has been their vocal and unwavering voice. See the film and wish her success.

Apparently Rick Panson, former owner of the Duplex and current partner of Ron Pasquale (both CB2 members) in their new restaurant venture Eat 4 Health, has had "words" with Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance. The continuing flap is about the proposed Beer and Wine license for this new establishment at 76 Wooster Street. The SoHo community is strongly objecting to the possibility that this could ultimately turn into another nightclub/lounge. But, even just a restaurant in this tight mid-block location on a residential street poses problems, according to SoHo neighbors.

SoHo residents boarded a bus this past Wednesday to attend the S.L.A. hearing on 125th street for the Eat 4 Health Beer and Wine license but the applicants didn't show. Instead, two of their lawyers attended and informed everyone that a postponement had previously been requested and that the restaurant owners really wanted to "hear everyone's concerns." Caroline Keating, a SoHo resident and activist, joined the community group at the S.L.A. but called this display simply a brush off. It appeared as though the Commissioners and attorneys for the applicants had played a variation on the good cop, bad cop routine -- at the expense of the community. One of the lawyers claimed to have notified the S.L.A. that the applicants were not going to be able to attend, but the S.L.A. Commissioners apparently did not think it necessary to advise the residents about this inevitable postponement. The S.L.A. heard a few comments and then (surprise, surprise) decided that the only "fair" thing to do would be to postpone the hearing. "Fair" to whom, is the real question. It's doubtful that either the attorneys or Commissioners had spent the previous few weeks arranging for a bus full of people, who have other things to do with their lives, to appear at a hearing -- for one bar application.

This is an example of the contempt exhibited by the S.L.A. towards residents of our community. And, which applicants lawyers (many of whom are friends of Commissioners directly or indirectly), count on in this little chess game.

Seems that the level of hostility this Beer and Wine application has generated, which normally is rubber-stamped by a pro-Bar S.L.A., is rooted in the fact that several nightclub-styled establishments have already been a problem at 76 Wooster Street. The track record is not good. Attorney Barry Mallin is handling the matter for the SoHo Alliance and it seems likely that this application will wind up in court.

Pay attention to the fact that new liquor licenses morph quickly. It is zoning by S.L.A. fiat. What was once Pfiff, a restaurant on Grand Street, for example, is now Copper -- a bar/lounge that is usually closed for private events. The sushi bar and also the former Nameskaar on the corner of West Broadway and Grand Street are closed to SoHo residents as well. But, we have been informed that at least one of them opens late at night and operates as a lounge after hours. So, while we have a couple of dry cleaners, a few deli's, no shoe repair store, not one supermarket, no hardware stores, one pharmacy and NO schools in SoHo -- we have twenty to thirty bars in a two block area. What is wrong with this picture?

Zella Jones, a community leader and activist from the NoHo Neighborhood Association, contacted us and expressed her concern that NoHo seemed to be unfairly treated in their efforts in dealing with bars. NoHo is dealing with another 26 Bond Street application at CB2. She pointed out that in the recent issue of the SoHo Journal, it was suggested that NoHo had less of a problem than SoHo in this regard -- yet has been treated better by the Community Board. In fact, she reported, a bar application which was mentioned in the recent issue had serious safety problems (sprinkler systems) and that there is an ongoing problem with the saturation of bars in their community as well. She also suggested that NoHo and SoHo needs work together to bring this problem out front and center and downtown politicians should be lobbied even more aggressively to get the job done. Zella herself can be reached through her website.

Interestingly, Community Board #3 on the Lower East Side is also dealing with this issue. The "Town Hall Coalition" is a group of individuals for whom the problem has gotten way out of hand. Rob Hollander points out that his Board Chair owns nine bars, all lined up neatly in a row along 1st Avenue, to the detriment of any sensible community planning, at the very least. They are just getting organized. We'll keep you posted on their efforts.

Brad Hoylman, Chair of Community Board #2 Traffic and Transportation Committee has recently been making efforts at community outreach. Among those who are part of the existing power structure at CB2, he has been the most responsive to the needs of parents and SoHo residents. Recently, he made efforts to help parents and caregivers who drop off their children at the few schools near SoHo and who are routinely ticketed by the Traffic Department. His efforts paid off and representatives of D.O.T. joined the dialog. Unfortunately, the effort was hampered at the committee level by lower level representatives of D.O.T. (despite the fact that Commissioner Forgione was personally helpful) who appear to have no interest in finding a way to aid the parents wishing to safely bring their children to school.

Which brings us to the matter of Park space for our children. One of the most exciting developments downtown has been the transformation of the Hudson River Park. The Parks and Waterfront Committee (at Community Board #2) which deals with use of the Hudson River Park is Chaired by Arthur Schwartz. That committee enabled Pier 40 to be completed and there are playing fields for programmed activity and there still is affordable parking after a $5 million dollar infusion for development was allocated. In addition, the Tennis courts are now completed at the foot of Canal Street -- while further plans are in progress.
But, over all, easy access to the park, is not widely available to children. It is not an easy park to get to for little kids. And, they cannot just go whenever they want to play on the fields.

We hear that Arthur Schwartz will not be appointed to the Hudson River Park Trust Board despite the flattering reports which were published in The Villager, and Madeleine Wils, we understand, will not be reappointed to the HRPT Board. There are also unsubstantiated rumors that the Waterfront and Parks Committee may be divorced -- returning to two separate committees -- in the near future.
Since there are three slots for HRPT appointed by the Borough President (and we expect Judy Nadel to be reappointed) there are only two to be named by Scott Stringer. The two names being bandied about are Florent and Goldberg.

One of the most eligible candidates, and one whom we know is concerned with children and parents (he is a parent), is Larry Goldberg. He is former Chair of the Advisory to the Hudson River Park Trust and former member of the Waterfront Committee. His position, among others, is that parents of young children are not represented on Community Board #2 and that their voices are not heard on a number of issues that affect the community -- including the under-utilized resources at the Hudson River Park. Programmed space is fine, but open access and use of the Park is practically non-existent.

Now that downtown has addressed the myriad issues of special interest groups, minorities, and those who have previously been discriminated against in our society -- it is time to bring the hard-working, tax-paying, child-rearing residents -- who vote -- back into the mainstream of downtown politics. We need parents with young children brought back into the downtown political process and that is a mission that has NOT been accomplished. Our politicians needs to pay attention to this.

In last week's political commentary there were comments about the NSA wiretaps of private citizens. This week many of you have learned about the subpoenas issued to Google by Attorney General Gonzales, ostensibly to gain information that would lead to prosecutions for child pornography. Each week, it seems, there are new attempts by the Bush White House to chisel away at our privacy rights.

Deborah Glick in association with Richard Brodsky has crafted legislation to protect our personal information at the State level. This Personal Privacy Amendment to the State Constitution is an attempt to protect our communications and personal information to keep it out of the governments hands. As Brodsky and Glick point out in their release, "The Bush Administration has whittled away at personal privacy rights, through the increasing power of the unitary executive -- the theory that the executive may exercise unlimited power."
We applaud this action by Assemblymembers Glick and Brodsky as a early response to the packing of the Supreme Court with Conservatives who view the Presidency in Imperial terms.

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