This week was a difficult one for activists Downtown. Reverberations continued from libelous anonymous letters and slanderous whispers. While the origin of these missives and remarks were masked but still well-known (emissaries of the nightlife crew) the more effective the community's actions were the more blatant became the response.
This coming week, for example, a Town Hall-style meeting (March 2nd at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street) is being held with the combined efforts of the NoHo Neighborhood Association, the SoHo Alliance and LESA. The focus is on land use, traffic and S.L.A. reform. The primary organizer of the event, Zella Jones, is a tireless community worker who has spoken out at numerous Community Board meetings. She supported Andrew Berman's GVSHP initiative to curb the expansion of NYU while giving the Village residents a breather from constant development on and around Washington Square. And, as part of her NoHo organization's community efforts, she helped convince Community Board #2 to deny a liquor license at 26 Bond Street. Not only was there an issue of a safe emergency exit, but in addition it was unclear as to whether there were sprinklers or a C.O. for the building. Neighbors also spoke at the CB2 Full Board hearing and the Business Committee decision that had approved the license had its resolution overturned. Few wanted to be responsible for approving a license at a potentially dangerous location. Visions of the Happyland Social Club fiasco danced in people's heads when the vote came to the floor. A liquor license for the applicant at 26 Bond Street was soundly defeated.
So, between the activism afoot Downtown, and the retaliatory nature of the nightlife crew, what was the logical step? Defamatory remarks, anonymous letters, personal smears -- what's next?
Why, a lawsuit, what else?
A few hearbeats after Community Board #2 denied a liquor license to the applicant B-Flat, Inc., which was to open up at 26 Bond Street, a lawsuit was apparently filed by Saada Roberts, as "assignee" of First Pegasus Management Co., against Zella Jones, the NoHo Neighborhood Association, Ruth Bauman (who lives above the space) and Joelle Shefts, a next door neighbor. Saada Roberts reportedly is the daughter of Bahia Chambi, who, according to tenants and neighbors, is a legend on that block -- a person whom they claim has threatened numerous lawsuits. Chambri signed over the ownership of the building in 2000 to Pegasus. The lawsuit claims that defamatory remarks were made at the Community Board about the building at 26 Bond Street. But, while the summons and complaint asks for $5,000,000 in damages, in part for claiming that someone said "Fuck you, go back to your country" to the building owner -- the lawsuit doesn't deny that there is no C.of O. for the building. Curious logic.
One of the former commercial tenants in this building (subsequent to the antique store) was a massage parlor. The sexy young Russian girls who operated the short-term business, or their clients, didn't seem to worry about an emergency exit. Bars, however, do -- or should.
While nasty remarks have been made before at Community Board meetings, which will no doubt continue in the future -- they are not the proper fodder for litigation. Qualified immunity does apply to statements made during open discussions or hearings where facts can be discussed and comments rebutted. Courts take a dim view of suing Board members or aiding people who try to stifle freedom of expression, even if they are incorrect but spoken during the heat of passionate debate. And while some Board members have used the race card to influence approvals for liquor licenses, generally speaking discrimination is a bullshit ploy. Of all Boards, Community Board #2 has a history of embracing minorities of race, gender, or sexual proclivity. Even cross-dressing Republicans are welcome.
This case is reminiscent of what is euphemistically called a "slap suit" which is a lawsuit initiated and intended to prevent people from expressing their opinions.
Such litigation should not be condoned or permitted by the courts and sanctions should be sought for such adolescent back-biting behavior.
What is important here, though, is that it is entirely possible that such a weak legal tactic may be yet another ploy being used by the nightlife people and/or their lackeys among the business community to attack community activists. Is it possible that litigation, instead of trying to reach an accommodation with people among whom they wish to do business, has become another tool to silence activists? Calls placed by the SoHo Journal to Saada Roberts for a response or opinion were not returned.
On another matter this week, the SoHo Alliance and residents of SoHo took a bus ride up to the S.L.A. hearing for the "Eat 4 Health" Beer & Wine license to be located at 76 Wooster Street. The applicants, Rick Panson and building owner Ron Pasquale once again did not appear after 35 members of the community bused up to 125th Street. The applicants reportedly regretted missing the last appearance at the S.L.A.,according to their attorney, but it is not clear if they also regretted missing this one.
The new Commissioner, Joshua Toas -- a former Upstate Sheriff, and the new Chairman of the S.L.A, Daniel Boyle, appear to be attempting to follow through on their claim of being more community-responsive. After some haggling and complaining by residents that they were being stood up -- again -- the Commissioners ruled that the applicants have 30 days to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy. While the application stated that the building in question had a C.O., it turns out that it does not.
Considering the fact that it is virtually impossible to obtain a C.O. in 30 days, especially when problems exist, it appears that the application is as dead as Kelsey's Cow.
And, now for something completely different.
Congratulations to Noreen Doyle, Vice President of the Hudson River Park Trust -- who will be having a little one. We hope that all goes well and she has a healthy baby.....!