Community Board 11’s full meeting on June 20 to vote on the mayor’s rezoning proposal for East Harlem ended in confusion. Protesters staged a loud occupation of the dais to prevent the board from taking an oral roll call; instead the board used a paper ballot, which created doubts about the vote’s validity. Some board members told City Limits they were threatened with physical harm by protesters during the June 20 episode, while some protesters say they were the target of threats, slurs and manhandling by board members or their allies. Marina Ortiz, one of the protesters, said in testimony at a follow-up meeting on June 27 (and re-printed below) that the incident highlighted the need for broader reforms of community boards.
Tell us what you think below.
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Rezoning low-income communities of color transcends statistics, analysis, and policy – however “participatory” the planning process may appear.
Indeed, encouraging massive increases in the number of high-priced properties in low-income communities like East Harlem is the antithesis of “inclusionary.” Real estate is all about the money. Developers are primarily concerned with what tomorrow’s market will bear, not the people who live here today.
The loss of permanently affordable housing is precisely why we fight the Mayor’s racist rezoning policies and challenge any elected (or appointed) official complicit in the destruction of our neighborhoods.
On June 20th, we took to the stage to prevent Community Board 11 from proceeding to vote no “with conditions” (essentially a yes). The point of nonviolent civil disobedience is to stop business as usual, to shut it down. Being “polite” and “respecting the process” will never stop gentrification.
Rather than adjourning the meeting, the board proceeded to hold an essentially illegal secret (paper) vote, while several members (and their friends) threatened and physically attacked several protesters.
These assaults were described as “fights” started by protestors. In fact, it was members of the board that were out of order. Some of you call us “ghetto animals,” to the delight of gentrifers and racists.
As a result, I am calling for the following community board reforms:
· Term limits for community board members: There’s experience and then there’s entrenchment and entitlement. As is the case with NYC Council members, eight or even 12 years is more than enough time for any one individual to make a difference.
· Publicly elected (not politically appointed) neighborhood representatives.
· On-time appointments to community boards, as mandated by law. Bringing members on board two months late (and just weeks before a major vote) is unacceptable.
· Full disclosure: Make board members’ financial and political interests public.
· Training on the legalities of conducting board business during episodes of civil disobedience and the proper etiquette for engaging protestors. Members who assault or threaten the public (or incite anyone else to do so) should be removed immediately.
· Training on the public’s legal right to witness all voting procedures.
· Training on the public’s legal right to record all government meetings.
· Enforcement of legal restrictions on “gifts” (entertainment passes, meals, jobs, contracts, apartments) by any agency, company, or individual doing business before the board.
· Meals and refreshments presented at open meetings must be made available to the public
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