CB3 Panel Backs Chinatown BID; CB2 Weighs in Tonight

Tuesday night, Chinatown business and political leaders won an important victory, as Community Board 3’s economic development committee voted to support their proposal for a business Improvement District. Many more steps lie ahead, including five more community board meetings and assessments by the City Council, borough president and mayor.  The next stop: Community Board 2’s business development panel, which meets tonight.

It was standing room only in a meeting room on Eldridge Street. Supporters and opponents of the BID plan took turns addressing CB3 members. David Louie, BID steering committee co-chair, pleaded “let’s help ourselves,” adding. “we live and work in the community and we want to see it grow and flourish.” City Councilmember Margaret Chin, a lifelong Chinatown activist, echoed Louie’s sentiments, saying the creation of a BID would allow businesses and residents working together “to build a better future for our community.”

BID backers say there’s great urgency to act now because a $5.4 million “Clean Streets” grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. expires in just a couple of weeks.  Without a business improvement district to take over street maintenance, they say, Chinatown will become a dirty, smelly mess.

The Chinatown Partnership, a non-profit organization, has utilized the LMDC grant during the past four years to sweep streets clean, to handle snow removal and to remove graffiti.  Speaker after speaker recalled the unsanitary conditions that prevailed before the Clean Streets program began. Peter Lau, who owns two pharmacies, said he fears the city will once again begin fining him for failing to maintain the sidewalk in front of his businesses (as it did before the Partnership was formed). “The BID would save me money,” he said. Another business owner agreed, saying “I would rather pay the BID than pay the city a lot more.”

There was also support from some of Chinatown’s neighbors. Mark Miller, president of the Lower East Side BID, said the city’s business districts effectively advocate for their neighborhoods. “It’s almost like having a direct line to city hall,” he added. “Working together, you’re stronger, you have a bigger voice,” Miller advised.

But there were also lots of reservations expressed about the Chinatown BID Tuesday.  Jan Lee, a Mott Street property owner and leader of the Coalition Against the Chinatown BID, said he feared creating an organization that cannot (easily) be dissolved and which can raise assessments at will.

Other speakers said they were philosophically opposed to the idea of taxing property owners to pay for maintenance the city should already be performing. Eugene Leong worried about potentially high administrative costs, saying some BIDs devote up to 36% of their budgets to salaries and office expenses. Jeannie Chin, who lives just outside the proposed BID boundaries, said, “I oppose taxation without representation. No BID, no way!”

If the BID becomes a reality, its board would be elected by property owners and would also include various community leaders. But some opponents fear the Chinatown Partnership would exercise too much power over the organization.  Phillip Grossman, the coalition’s attorney, said the Partnership’s track record (in the Clean Streets program) has led him to believe the BID would be “top heavy.” Based on an analysis of financial records, he concluded the Partnership had spent too much money on administration and not enough on street cleaning.

But Community Board 3’s district manager, Susan Stetzer, was ready with a rebuttal of Grossman’s assertions. “Were you aware that for three years the (city’s) Economic Development Corp. was (administering) the cleaning contract (rather than the Chinatown Partnership)?, she asked. Grossman replied, “that should have been disclosed in financial statements.”

Following the public testimony, CB3 committee members asked some questions of BID advocates and raised a few concerns. Community board member Thomas Parker (a school teacher) put up a pie chart showing the proposed BID budget and said the fact that management costs made up 20% of the budget was concerning.

CB3 member Thomas Parker.

Herman Hewitt, who represents CB3 on the Lower East Side BID, urged the Chinatown group to look beyond street cleaning. “Landlords can get together to clean the streets — it’s not that hard,” he said.   BID backer David Louie replied that sidewalk maintenance would be the first priority, but only a part of what the organization hopes to do for the neighborhood. The BID would put up holiday lights, look at holding special events (such as a Taste of Chinatown) and serve as advocates for local business owners, he assured committee members.

Some issues brought up by the coalition against the BID were not addressed directly in the question and answer session.  For example, there was no follow-up to the allegations made about the Partnership’s management of the LMDC grant. While the New York Post reported “no discrepancies have turned up,” BID supporters have not broken down publicly how each dollar of the grant was spent.

There was also not much discussion about another topic — whether a prevailing wage bill recently passed by the State Legislature would force the Chinatown BID to pay workers a lot more than they have anticipated.  Yesterday morning on WNYC, BID opponent Jan Lee continued to express concerns about the legislation, which the governor has not yet signed. But in the radio segment, Crain’s reporter Eric Enquist said the issue is a “red herring” since the bill specifically excluded BIDs.

One community board member said he was surprised by the opposition to the BID proposal.  Supporters of the initiative, however, believe it’s to be expected. “No business owner likes the idea of having to pay more taxes and fees,” one community organizer told me, in explaining why some people have raised their voices against the plan.  BID backers estimated there are about a thousand eligible property owners in the proposed district (not including condo owners).  They said 97% of those who returned their ballots (about 550 individuals) support the creation of a BID.  The city requires at least 51% of property owners to agree.

After everyone had their say, the panel voted in favor of the proposal. The hearing room erupted with applause and cheering, as supporters congratulated one another for passing an early but crucial test.  We’ll let you know how it goes this evening before Community Board 2’s business development committee. We’re anticipating some fireworks from outspoken Soho activist Sean Sweeney, who believes the Chinatown BID’s boundaries are too expansive.

10 comments to CB3 Panel Backs Chinatown BID; CB2 Weighs in Tonight

  • It must be noted that BIDs being included in bill # A11672 is a hotly debated topic… and it’s misleading of Eric Enqiist to have said the bill is a “red herring” because what REALLY happened was that A BID EXEMPTION was REMOVED from the bill.. the removal of that exemption is a testimony to HOW powerful BIDs really are politcally – in effect 64 BIDs under one umbrella organization had the power to RE_Write legislature to change wage practices. it’s no wonder the BIDs are now under scrutiny. Had the EXEMPTION FOR BIDs language remained in, then yes, the bill would be rendered useless against BIDs, instead the compromise was reached to not mention BIDs at all. From a business standpoint, that means SURELY it CAN affect BIDs !!

  • rob

    I could understand the DM supplying information to help some ordinary citizen without knowledge of the law or the process. Helping to level the playing field might justify the DM’s intervention. But why does the CB3 District Manager intervene to speak on behalf of a highly organized interest group before the committee? The BID sponsors include among the most powerful entities in the entire LES (Chinatown bankers, the councilmember herself, e.g.) let alone Chinatown. If their opposition presented any false claims, the BID are capable of responding themselves — they have all the data, know the process, they were all articulate and well prepared.

    The meeting was superbly run, btw, by Richard Ropiak, who never intervened on either side, only kept order and let the process proceed as it should. I didn’t know until the end how he viewed the issue — the mark of a good chair, the posture of impartiality. He allowed equal respect to everyone, belittled no one, tilted no side, let everyone speak for themselves, let either side defend themselves.

  • District Manager’s job description from the NYC Mayor’s Office website:

    “…The District Manager …play many different roles. They are complaint takers, municipal manager, information sources, community organizers, mediators, advocates, and much more. … In addition, some offices may handle special projects, including organizing tenants and merchants associations, coordinating neighborhood cleanup programs… and more, depending on community needs.”

    Susan Stetzer was doing her job, superbly well.

  • rob

    Actually, K, while I do think she needn’t have taken sides against the underdog — which is really kicking people when they’re down — what really bothered me was that she patronized the opposition speaker with belittling and mean-spirited remarks, in a meeting that was otherwise cordial throughout (there was only one other exception at the very end in the audience from the BID opposition).

    I think it’s appropriate for the DM to present information on whatever side. But it’s never appropriate to be mean. You support the BID, K, and of course you think she acted “superbly.” But is that a good reason to ignore her belittling attitude, which is, unfortunate, all too common with the current DM?

    I raised questions about the consequences of the BID, but I don’t condone mean comments on either side. Even though I am wary of BIDs, after the vote, I heartily and sincerely congratulated Wellington and Margaret for succeeding in an effort that they worked hard on and that they believe in and believe will help Chinatown. One of the CPLDC Board of Directors came over to shake hands with me despite the questions I publicly raised about the BID. He was as kind and friendly as any person could be, and that impresses me and stays with me. Similarly, after the rezoning, I congratulated the victors publicly in a Villager letter, despite the deeply abrasive fight that had preceded.

    The DM works tirelessly and has a lot to offer to the community board and, sometimes, even to the community.
    :-)
    (That’s a joke/wisecrack, in case anyone reading is humor-challenged.)
    But meanness begets its like. Life is too short to be mean to each other. Anyone reading? –R

  • “Has a lot to offer…”
    Wow. Amazingly condescending regarding a woman who has fought for this community as long, as diligently and with as much integrity as Susan has: including supporting and defending many an “underdog”.
    That said, the job of DM isn’t to defend whoever defines themselves as an “underdog”, the job is to recommend informed policies to the Board. It is precisely to exercise judgement. Whether you like the outcome or not, that’s what a DM is supposed to do.
    Are you now saying you were disturbed by the style of her remarks, is that what you take issue with?
    I don’t want a submissive DM. I want an effective one. Even if I disagree.
    As to meanness: I doubt any of us, you very much included, are in a good position to school anyone on that.

  • rob

    Submissive? That sets up a false dichotomy, K. Presenting the facts clearly and unambiguously is not submissive. Effective speakers get more mileage without belittling comments.

    Does effectiveness entail belittling? It is not only unnecessary, not only undermines effectiveness, it sullies the profile of belittler as well as its object. It’s bad all around. An “effective” DM is one that “recommends informed policies” without being personal.

    Susan has done a lot, as I know, having worked with her.

    (But this discussion is beyond its worth. It is a consideration of personality which should not be conducted in public. That’s why my first comment avoided personality, even though that’s what really bothered me. To continue with this, will only lead to more disputes at the expense of the DM, who is, after all, also a human being with feelings. I’m glad that someone as strong and outspoken as you, K, has defended her because she deserves recognition for her work.)

  • Chinatown Property_ANTI-BID

    CB3, District Manager included, swallowed the koolaid and voted yes on unsubtantiated “survey” data presented by Wellington, the Chinatown Partnership and Margaret Chin.  I was at that CB3 BID meeting and it was shameful how that meeting was conducted.  Anti-BID property owners from Chinatown were limited, cut off and hampered by the DM who was biased and drunk on political koolaid.  

    IN SPITE OF THAT –  In a very short time in June, a few weeks, Anti-BID property owners in Chinatown gathered an unprecedented number, about 600, of Verified Notarized Objections, now on file with the City Clerk!!  Fact speaks for itself:   The Record Number of Vetted Objections filed with the City Clerk completely obliterates the Chinatown Partnership Margaret Chin/Wellington’s claim that Chinatown actually supports this BID – which is BAD for Chinatown!!  No property owner in Chinatown wants another PERMANENT new tax for services that the City already renders.  A new permanent tax is actually what the BID represents …. in this time of recession.    

  • Chinatown Property_ANTI-BID

    CB3, District Manager included, swallowed the koolaid and voted yes on unsubtantiated “survey” data presented by Wellington, the Chinatown Partnership and Margaret Chin.  I was at that CB3 BID meeting and it was shameful how that meeting was conducted.  Anti-BID property owners from Chinatown were limited, cut off and hampered by the DM who was biased and drunk on political koolaid.  

    IN SPITE OF THAT –  In a very short time in June, a few weeks, Anti-BID property owners in Chinatown gathered an unprecedented number, about 600, of Verified Notarized Objections, now on file with the City Clerk!!  Fact speaks for itself:   The Record Number of Vetted Objections filed with the City Clerk completely obliterates the Chinatown Partnership Margaret Chin/Wellington’s claim that Chinatown actually supports this BID – which is BAD for Chinatown!!  No property owner in Chinatown wants another PERMANENT new tax for services that the City already renders.  A new permanent tax is actually what the BID represents …. in this time of recession.    

  • NO BID in Chinatown!

    I was present at that meeting and I feel the DM was completely biased.  The meeting was obviously loaded with employees of the Chinatown Partnership and anti-BID speakers were NOT allowed to adequately state their case against the BID.  The dubious aspect of the data presented by the Chinatown Partnership/Margaret Chin/Wellington is now proven to be false (in fact, Chinatown property owners do NOT want the BID to go forward) –  the number of Verified Objections to this Chinatown BID filed at the City Clerk is the HIGHEST NUMBER OF OBJECTIONS ever filed against any NYC BID!!  

  • Anonymous

    Without a business improvement district to take over street maintenance, they say, Chinatown will become a dirty, smelly mess.”Become” a dirty, smelly mess???  Become???
    I’ve lived nearby, and worked, in Chinatown for 25 years.  It has always been a “dirty, smelly mess”.  I challenge anyone to observe, and then disagree with that assessment. I also invite people to compare Chinatown to any other heavily touristed area in NYC (midtown, FiDi, SoHo, etc.) and see how it is indeed much dirtier, and smellier, than any other.
    A BID is the very least that is required and should be welcomed by all.