Community Board 3 Suspends LES Dwellers Group
Community Board 3’s liquor licensing committee will once again take up the controversial issue of The DL, the nightlife venue at 93 Ludlow St., this evening. But before the meeting even begins, there’s some news about the LES Dwellers, the neighborhood group opposing the renewal of The DL’s liquor permit.
CB3 recently notified the group that it was suspending it as a recognized block association until the end of this year. In a letter that was sent not only to the Dwellers but to members of CB3’s SLA Committee, Chairperson Gigi Li wrote, “it appears that the group has been working as its own entity” and acting as a ‘shadow community board.”
Specifically, she said the organization was “contacting and communicating with applicants, attempting to impact the (community board) agenda without communicating with the (community board), investigating and submitting materials to the State Liquor Authority) without informing the (community board).” The letter stated that CB3 needed to “operate within the parameters” of state law and “to be perceived as fair and trustworthy by all.” Li noted that, “over the past several months, we have become concerned about the manner in which the LES Dwellers interacts with applicants, the community board, and the State Liquor Authority.” As examples, she mentioned two proposed resolutions sent to applicants asking them to withdraw their applications and instances in which the Dwellers were accused of meeting with applicants individually rather than calling public meetings in which all impacted residents could attend.
Back in February, the community board instituted new guidelines requiring block associations to follow certain procedures. The rules read, in part:
Block associations must have a publicly posted meeting for every SLA application considered. Flyer should be posted on the street for several days and copy must be submitted to CB office. Block and tenant associations must represent a substantial number of residents of their building or block.
Under state law, the Liquor Authority is obligated to receive feedback about proposed permits from local community boards. CB3’s leadership believes it has the authority to decide how the board interacts with neighborhood organizations.
Last week, local residents met with management from The DL. The SLA renewed the venue’s liquor permit before CB3 weighed in last month, but tonight the committee will look at asking the SLA to add new restrictions to The DL’s license. In the past few days, we reported about the tensions between the board and the Dwellers. Members of the organization told us they are frustrated that the community board office has, in their view, not dealt more assertively with problem bars and clubs on the Lower East Side.
In her letter, Li wrote, “LES Dweller members can continue to be involved in SLA-issues as concerned residents. We value the work that you do, but feel very strongly that all block associations should be held to the same standard and rules.”
In a statement, the LES Dwellers reacted strongly to the decision. See excerpts below:
Community Board 3’s decision to suspend the LES Dwellers for 3 months effective Sept 23, 2013 – or more specifically, the procedurally deficient decision of CB3 Chair Gigi Li, and District Manager, Susan Stetzer, without seeking Board approval – constitutes a serious violation of the First Amendment’s right to free speech. Specifically, the LES Dwellers was suspended not because the group engaged in unlawful behavior, but rather because Li and Stetzer objected to certain opinions being expressed by the LES Dwellers, the manner in which the group chose to express them, and the persons with whom the group chose to communicate them. The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech is not only infringed when a government entity prevents one from speaking, but also when it “chills” free speech by threatening or implementing punishments in response to the decision to speak freely. That is precisely what CB3, through its Chair and District Manager, have done… In response to Community Board 3’s actions, L.E.S. Dwellers filed a complaint with the Manhattan Borough President’s office. The complaint includes an audio recording of the entirety of the conversation between the LES Dwellers and Li and Stetzer, in which the LES Dwellers were told of the suspension and the reasons therefore, as well as the Community Board suspension letter and response letter from the LES Dwellers, including 81 pages of supporting supplemental material. The LES Dwellers calls on Manhattan Borough President to take swift action in response to Community Board 3’s suppression of the group’s constitutional rights, including reversal of the CB3 decision and whatever punitive action may be deemed appropriate given the severity of a Constitutional violation by members of the Board. Although the LES Dwellers want to give the Borough President the first opportunity to condemn and rectify this highly inappropriate behavior, the group is considering all available courses of action, including taking legal action against the board and the offending officers….