Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Matter of Principle

On a recent walk through SoHo, an activist lamented that she has been devoting a decent part of her life to the fight between the community and the liquor applicant known as LoLa - a bar restaurant bistro that has been insistent upon opening in SoHo at 15 Watts Street.

The history of this case, now at the Appellate Division court - after being denied a license by the Community Board, granted a license by the S.L.A., denied a license by the State Supreme Court, and now on appeal - is a long and annoying one.

What is new about this case is not the case law. And, it's pretty clear that the community has been fighting to eliminate the proliferation of bars in SoHo. No, what is new here, are the extremes to which the applicant has been willing to go to win the case.

As described by the activist, among other tactics, private investigators have been hired to track down neighbors in an attempt to intimidate her and other activists. This, of course, comes on top of the $30,000 cost for legal fees to fight the case. And, that's the cost for fighting only one bar, mind you.

This is a wake-up call for all downtown activists and politicians -- that the nightlife people are desperate to eliminate any objection to new bars in our neighborhoods, and is an indication as to how serious the issue of limiting liquor licenses has become.

It's no news that the Nightlife Association and its allies have been working overtime to discredit activists and anyone else perceived to be an enemy of "all bars all the time." Foolishly, their thinking is that unless you can accept wall-to-wall bars in your community, you must therefore oppose any bars or restaurants. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

Sources have recently revealed that through a paid public relations consulting entity operating under the name of the Durham Group, Allen Roskoff, has now been linked to the notorious "Anonymous Letter" which mysteriously appeared and circulated Downtown this spring. The unsigned letter, which was a coordinated effort by bar-owner members and their employees on Community Board #2, was part of a smear campaign to attack those who sought to limit the spread of liquor licenses in SoHo. It was also an attempt to strike back for an expose which appeared in the SoHo Journal. Apparently Roskoff, a P.R./political insider who prefers to work under the radar was reportedly working his contacts just as the letter surfaced. Could Roskoff have had advance notice of the fact that the letter was being written? The P.R. effort seems to have been launched for the purposes of helping to place the fraudulent letter in order to give it legs -- and, in order to satisfy existing or hoped for nightlife clients. Not to mention his friends on Community Board #2. Nasty stuff for activists to have to put up with. Roskoff is a behind-the-scenes operator who is a close personal friend Maria Derr, Chair of Community Board #2, and has contacts in several political circles.

We clearly need laws that protect our residents - or, we need enforcement of existing laws - that make it a crime to harass people with "legal" techniques such as private investigators and pressure tactics similar to debt collectors that try to embarrass. This is an issue that needs to be addressed in the upcoming "summit" with the City. For updates and information on this, contact Zella Jones at the NoHo Neighborhood Association. A follow-up to the previous Town Hall-style meeting with several community groups and the elected officials will be held on June 26th at the Puffin Room. It will be a Quality of Life Forum and should not be missed. Please note that it is by invitation only, so please make arrangements in advance.

Larry Goldberg has not been a happy camper. First he gets a letter from disgruntled Board #2 member and former Waterfront committee and HRPT Advisory adversary Arthur Schwartz, saying some not nice things about his community work, then the Villager has been less than supportive towards him, and to round things out, Maria Derr has treated him in an off-hand way after he requested a copy of the Board #2 financial statement. Larry had had enough, considering all of the hard work he's done.

As reported last week, at the last Full Board meeting, Larry asked to see a copy of the Treasurer's report and was told by the Chair that it would be available at the Board office. However, since that was not the case, Larry requested it again - and got only a list of deposits and checks. Not a financial statement.

So, after all of the shuffling and scraping and no financial statement, Larry did the only thing that a serious activist-attorney could do - he sent Derr a FOIL request.

Yes, folks, in order to get the information which the Board is required to make available to its members - Larry Goldberg has had to FOIL Community Board #2 for the information. Hopefully, there will be compliance and we can find out if the accounts have been handled well under Treasurer Roscia Sanz' management.

The Conflict of Interest matter involving Chair of Sidewalks Committee Phil Mouquinho has been bandied about by several Board members and is misunderstood by some.

The COIB has ruled, as it did with Bob Rinaolo when he was Chair of Business, that one may not be an owner of a business (bar/restaurant) and also Chair a committee which approves or renews a license for that business. Essentially, it has nothing to do with how good (or bad) a job the person is doing on the committee. It also makes no difference whether or not the person recuses himself, as Mouquinho has. Prior to taking that position, as Chair, he was advised that if he were to bring his own application in front of the committee - he could not be Chair.

This is a matter of Board policy, a matter of record, and a matter of prior rulings by the COIB.

Of course, the rules may only apply to some of us.

No comments: