Friday, February 03, 2006

Quality of Life

Many of you Downtown know what it's like to walk out of your home, and directly into a photo shoot. The film companies clearly have no interest in your quality of life. While they used to donate to the community for the inconvenience, the Mayor has given them carte blanche and only very organized neighborhood associations get the tribute they deserve. Whether you simply want to get a cup of coffee on West Broadway and Broome, or just want to drop your children off at P.S. 3 on Hudson Street -- the tow trucks are already waiting for you so that the film goons can stake out their turf with orange cones and wave you away. The police help them, not residents. Law enforcement is on site to aid and protect the film companies, not to protect citizens from being inconvenienced. If you doubt this, try complaining about not being able to push a baby carriage over the not so carefully arranged electric cables in your way.

Or, try to escape from your building when a klieg light is shining on the couple kissing in your doorway. You are the interloper, not the star with the collagen lips.
Clearly, the film companies are becoming offensive and making themselves an unwelcome nuisance.

Filming day or night has been so prevalent during the past several months, from SoHo to Greenwich Village, that with the number of different crews and films -- it is almost impossible to decide what to do. Normally, you might call the cops, but in this case they're too busy sucking up to the stars.

There isn't anyone who will listen. Including the Mayor. The plaintive cry, when anyone bothers to answer you, is that the City needs the money. Well, the City always needs the money -- and the more it gets, the more it will need. Oh, and just as a reminder, in real life (when not playing Mayor) Bloomberg owns a media company. So, don't expect those illegal billboards to come down either. Commissioner Lancaster's not listening.

The New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting issues permits for these crews and is totally unresponsive to inquiries by residents. They never met a filmmaker they don't like. Several years ago, a so-called Hot Spot list existed which indicated that some degree of rationality needed to be used in issuing repetitive permits in the same locations. Now, that's not even given lip service.

The result? Well, let's just say that Law & Order, Special Victims Unit (a title which more accurately labels SoHo residents than their series) has reason think that they own SoHo. In the last month alone, their trucks, cables, crews and goons have overtaken Grand Street, Varick Street, Avenue of the Americas and West Broadway for a combined total of two solid weeks. License plates from one of their passenger cars, parked illegally if it weren't for the special location scout parking permit, was registered down South. After five years of shooting in the same location on Grand Street, a location scout "trying" to work SoHo is about as necessary as lipstick on a pig. Lunch in SoHo, with free parking, is more likely. Law & Order already owns SoHo. And, they've given the community nothing -- except aggravation.

Jay Schwimmer, known as SoHo's Mayor, a coop owner and building owner, spoke with us recently and told us of the problems he has experienced during the recent Ben Stiller film being shot on West Broadway. He explained a requirement that film companies never observe without being asked to provide it. The fact is that they are required to have proof of Workman's Compensation and Liability coverage -- proof of coverage for shooting in front of or on sidewalks at local businesses and residences. The obvious rationale is that if anyone gets hurt from work being done during the film shoot, the first to be sued is usually the building and/or business owner in front of whose establishment they are working.

As if this week's filming did not cause enough commotion and annoyance for residents to cope with, there was another crew congregating at 15 Watts Street at the same time. This is the site of Lola, the cabaret styled restaurant/bar that even the nightlife controlled Community Board #2 managed to turn down (before they bought the election from Virginia Fields and consolidated power). Residents, having spent well in excess of $20,000 to fight the SLA's approval of a license that the Community Board denied, have since been treated to an unending campaign by the Lola applicants. After repeated attempts to educate the Board that SoHo has been besieged with bars, booze, noise and crippling traffic jams, activists were additionally treated to orchestrated attacks that SoHo residents were guilty of racial discrimination for not wanting yet another bar. (One of the applicants is black). Where's Johnny Cochrane when you need him?

In other words, folks, if we can't get a license one way, we'll get it another.

Now Lola has decided to wage a media war while their application for a Beer & Wine license is being weighed -- no doubt as a flying wedge -- to force residents to accept their establishment. This effort is aided by the new-found spirituality (as in 50 proof) at Community Board #2. As they helped Besito with the murmurs of discrimination, they are not beneath working for Lola surreptitiously.

So, get ready for LoLa, the movie.

If the electeds or SLA or the courts cave in to this form of financial and psychological bludgeoning and racial blackmail, we had better start lining up some new political talent Downtown. Because it's time to stop the bullshit!

And, Besito, which had a lot to do with the Maria Derr/Nightlife crew election -- is rumored to now have new owners, related to the applicants AND the Naked Lunch crowd a block away on Grand and Thompson Streets. Inquiries into the possibility of adding a little night music have been reported (as in nightclub and lounge) and are being quietly floated by the new management, to augment their restaurant income. Running a Latino-styled restaurant (which the original applicant professed to be his life's dream) may not have been the real game after all. Lots of new people have been wending in and out every day during this rumored changeover in operation. And, they weren't there for quickie empanadas. There is no confirmation on this yet, but it bears watching, amigos. The functional political split on Community Board #2 was focused on this SoHo joint and the ethnic/race card was also used here to get them their license.

Speaking of Quality of Life issues, Zella Jones of the NoHo Neighborhood Association has been working hard on planning a genuine Town Hall meeting -- on March 2nd. Several of the electeds, including Deborah Glick, Tom Duane, Alan Gerson, Rosie Mendez and Scott Stringer, will be discussing Traffic, Land Use and State Liquor Authority Reform. Don't miss it if you give a damn.
We expect SoHo Alliance members and residents to attend, as well as many activists from NoHo.

The event will be held at Luester Hall at 425 Lafayette Street at 7 p.m., between East 4th Street and Astor Place at the Public Theater. For those of you interested in learning more about what is being done, or contemplated -- or to find out what level of activity your political representatives are exhibiting (actions not words), show up and speak your mind. This is a public meeting.

Pay attention to the level of solicitousness aimed at any nightlife representatives present, if they appear. Community Board #2 and Board #3 are already controlled by nightlife money.

Watch how the politicians deal with nightlife representatives. As Joe Montegna said in the House of Games, watch for "the Tell."

The new Community Board applications have gone out. All of those people, who are members of the Boards and are planning to "re-up" in April when their terms end, must fill out a new "Scott Stringer" form.

Basically, it is expected that everyone will be assessed on an equal footing.
In other words, experience and interest in the community will come first this time around. One should not automatically expect to be appointed (or reappointed) if one's only asset is a bar/lounge/nightclub/restaurant. Clearly, a break from the Virginia Fields tradition of only appointing bar owners who vote with liquor license buddies, is anticipated.

Hopefully, Mr. Stringer, a well-liked and widely admired politician will enable those on the Boards to see the light -- whether that be the bright white light of the Sunlight laws or, for some undeserving Board members, the inevitable light of an oncoming train.

For those of you who have not been following the saga of the Hudson River Park's development, the arcane game of three dimensional chess has finally paid off for residents of Greenwich Village, Hudson Square and SoHo. With virtually no parks for the children in lower Manhattan, the HRPT development has been watched with a keen and jealous eye.

The Friends of Hudson River Park recently succeeded at settling with the Department of Sanitation over the messy situation at Gansevoort Pier. For years, there have been negotiations, promises, plans -- and recently a new building erected -- on a pier that has become an eyesore for those wishing to see the Park completed. Completely aesthetically, that is.

The Friends, under the guidance of Al Butzel, a cagey, and smart lawyer who small talks longingly about his unfinished novel in quiet tones -- sued Sanitation and brought them to the table. The deal that was cut, at the insistence of the Court, leveled the playing field.

Although Kate Ascher of the Economic Development Corporation has been pushing the Mayor's plan for a recycling plant at this Gansevoort site -- all the while dangling an unspecified sum of money for its acceptance by the community -- the deal the City has been offering was always contingent upon the building of a Recycling and Transfer station. With that would come the rumbling of garbage trucks (both public and private) more streets clogged with pollution and traffic, noise day and night, and the concomitant smell from putrescent waste. Not to mention a lot of unhappy residents. The Community Board hearings held on this plan were not happy ones.

Butzel's deal, courtesy of the Courts, gets Sanitation off of the pier at Gansevoort within 5 years and collects about $14 million from DOS to develop it as a Park. The trucks move off and a park gets built. No deal for a Transfer station. No trucks. No traffic increase. No smell. And, we get a park. Nice going Al.
How can we learn to play chess like you?

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