Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Stinky!" Reasons for a BID - Downtown Express

The "stink campaign" explained.
In the same way a magician uses slight-of-hand to misdirect and misguide the casual viewer, the Chinatown BID proponents and pro-BID politicians have tried their mightiest to pull a rabbit out of their hat. Property owners and residents (you know the ones paying the real estate taxes) have their say on the subject:
To the editor:
Re, “Last Ditch Attempt to Stop Chinatown B.I.D” (news article, Aug. 17) and Supporting a Chinatown B.I.D. (editorial, Aug. 17)
Chinatown Partnership, LDC (CPLDC), after morphing from Rebuild Chinatown Initiative, has, for years, orchestrated “Chinatown Stinks” campaigns focusing on dirty streets to justify their agenda to institutionalize a Chinatown Business Improvement District in our community. Before 9/11, Chinatown’s businesses were booming in the historic core of Chinatown. Weekend lines trailed out most of Chinatown’s restaurants onto sidewalks, necessitating long waits as families and friends gathered for meals alongside tourists who came to eat, shop and sightsee — dirty streets or not.
After 9/11, the boom busted as a result of a confluence of factors. The barricading of Park Row (the main street connecting Chinatown to Lower Manhattan) and other roadways, the takeover of a local park for police parking, and the installation of multiple security booths/barricades created a hostile “under siege” environment. The confusing redirection of four to five bus routes that operated on Park Row, along with the permanent closure of the Park Row/Chinatown exit ramp from the Brooklyn Bridge, created massive traffic congestion on secondary roadways during rush hours. These conditions sparked lawsuits for the return of the park and an environmental impact study. The lack of new directional signage for the street changes, the pervasive government permit placard abuse in Chinatown and throughout Lower Manhattan, and the loss of the 400 car Municipal Garage shortly before 9/11 forced the closing and/or changing of hands of over 29 small businesses within two blocks of Park Row because of the confusion, limited access and lack of parking.  Friends, family, shoppers, and visitors, who used to frequent Chinatown, experienced frustration. To this day, they continue to avoid Manhattan’s Chinatown post 9/11, expressing preference for Flushing or Brooklyn where access and parking are not a struggle.
During the recession of 2008, the city announced plans to dig up Chatham Square (which had just been completely reconstructed nine years earlier) in order to: install a water tunnel, redesign and narrow the Bowery, install a new pedestrian plaza, and take Park Row off the grid as a street, all of which would have further hampered traffic and hurt our businesses. Halting implementation of these plans was fought and won with the help of our elected officials and more than a hundred small businesses around Chatham Square, who hurriedly signed a petition objecting to the L.M.D.C. funding of this project.  Also the Civic Center Residents Coalition was forced to go toe to toe with the DOT through several community boards.
None of these critical battles to reclaim our streets and neighborhood were on Chinatown Partnership’s agenda. CPLDC’s narrow focus and mantra was always “dirty streets” as the major cause of Chinatown’s ails, making it easier to justify the BID’s self-serving, street-cleaning existence. CPLDC used the faulty premise that cleaner streets would be how to rebuild Chinatown and obtained LMDC funds. It spent the bulk of $5.4 million on sanitation and its administration, still leaving store vacancies and a sluggish economy in the core of Chinatown in its wake. This is why we look with tremendous alarm at the prospect of this myopic group controlling the future of Chinatown’s small business and hence residential environment. Chinatown does not need a BID.
Jeanie Chin

....and another thing....... (a property owner sets the record straight about the Chinatown BID)

To the editor:
Re: Support the Chinatown B.I.D. (Downtown Express editorial, July 20)
We, the Chinatown B.I.D. opponents, do not believe the Chinatown B.I.D. steering committee’s claim that everyone will be paying a small amount for large benefits. Their own formation documents lay the keys to their power and their ability to increase their collection of much more money from the taxpayers if they so desired.
This fine print in the B.I.D. (Chinatown B.I.D. N110156BDM Source of Funding) places the property owners in the vulnerable position of potentially being liable for increases up to 20 percent. An additional 20 percent in taxes is a frightening prospect for anyone, let alone for small property owners who have had to pay steadily increasing property taxes, increased water bills, increased utility bills, increased fuel bills, increased maintenance costs, and comply with Local Law 11 (periodic inspections of building fa├žades).
If the B.I.D. is mismanaged and fails, the B.I.D.’s proponents can smile with their hands in the till, while the property owners are stuck scrambling to pay the bill ad infinitum. If the property owner cannot pay for the levied taxes assessed by the B.I.D., they will lose their property!
Considering how the pro-B.I.D. organizers have prevented their opponents from legally voicing their opposition to the B.I.D., attempted to distort their own ballot results, and bashed us in the press when we have tried to educate the community about a B.I.D., how can we trust them? We cannot. Therefore it is likely they will use similar deceptive tactics in the future when attempting to persuade the City Council to increase their B.I.D. fees up to 20 percent, maximum, if they so desired. At that point, the property owners and businesses will be devastated!
Unlike other B.I.D.s, which have many large properties or a large number of commercial tenants that can help offset the costs, many of the Chinatown properties are small. There is a limit as to how much the owners and businesses can realistically afford the B.I.D. fees/taxes before pulling up stakes — thereby leaving fertile ground for developers who will, in essence, force the small businesses and Chinatown residents out. The B.I.D. is steering our Chinatown community not toward boom, but bust!
Eugene Leung, Mott St.

A Poem About a B.I.D.

Roses are red and violets are blue.
You are a liar and that I know is true.
The BID is a tool you use to make Chinatown a fool.
With the BID you want to effectively rule the fool.
You want to pull the wool over Chinatown’s eyes.
So that it will be a fool to enrich and better YOUR lives.
Flushing is crying that they have been made a fool,
"flushing" their hard earn dollars down the pool.
Flushing is crying that they are paying more taxes,
Suffering BID lashes.
YOU use your force and voice to prey on “d, e, and f”.
YOU are about fooling the deaf.
d.. 35 percent of property owners pay just $200 per year –
e.. 74 percent of property owners pay less than $1,000 per year.
f.. Only a handful of property owners pay the maximum dues of $5,000 per year.
And as for CLEAN, who can define CLEAN?
Are you CLEAN?
As there are things and people that are clean on the outside, but are really dirty and filthy on the inside.
Roses are red and Violets are blue,
Lets be true and agree that the BID will put Chinatown in the BLUES. 
We Don’t need the BID.

Monday, August 29, 2011

City Council Finance Committee tries for another Hearing on the Chinatown B.I.D. SEPT. 7th '11

Councilmember Margaret Chin has sent out a notice to an undetermined number of property owners in Chinatown announcing another hearing by the Finance Committee of the City Council chaired by Councilmember Dominic Recchia, about the Chinatown Business Improvement District, on September 7th at 12:pm at Emigrant Savings Bank49-51 Chambers Street.
Councilmember Margaret Chin

This time Councilmember Chin, who is of Chinese descent and has a history in Chinatown in one form or another over the last forty years, decided to translate the notice into Chinese (on the back of the notice) and sent a notice directly from her office.

A previous one sheet notice was sent to some property owners and residential tenants in Chinatown by the Chinatown Partnership LDC (not by Chin's office) about the May 26th Finance Committee hearing on the BID. That notice was sent on May 13th, but had no Chinese translation, a point that was raised by Councilmember Reyna at the hearing. Although Wellington Chen claims" it cannot be bi-lingual because the law says it can only be one piece, double-sided, in English" and therefore didn't allow for additional pages for Chinese translation, we could not find anywhere in the BID law that notices of finance committee hearings mailed to property owners must be this way. We must find, therefore, that this omission was a deliberate attempt to ensure the least possible number of property owners attending the hearing of May 26th.

A Chinatown property owner reported that she spoke to Tanisha Edwards, Counsel for the City Council, regarding this hearing on September 7th and this is what she said: "Spoke briefly to Tanisha Edwards, counsel for Finance Committee of the City Council. She said that they will expect everyone who wanted to speak will have a chance to do so at this meeting. There will be 200 seats at the Emigrant Savings Bank auditorium. When I asked how early will we have to show up to get in to speak she said the speakers will start at 12:01pm sharp and there would be no problem. When I referred to that other meeting, she insisted it would not be a problem. "This is an oversight meeting so we want to hear from everyone." I plan to bother her one more time asking if we had to register ahead of time. "

The last hearing on the Chinatown BID by the Finance Committee was a total fiasco which included Chinatown property owners being shut out of the hearing at 250 Broadway. After building security told property owners who were waiting to be checked into the building that the hearing was "closed for the day," a spokesman for the City Council told the property owners that a special list existed for speakers to register in advance, and that speakers would have to be cleared with the Council attorneys. The Sargent at Arms for the City Council berated property owners for "messing up". This has yet to be determined, whether a special list of speakers indeed exists. Normally anyone wishing to testify at an open hearing does not have to pre-register or check in with the Councilmembers with an attendance list. A favorite tactic of the Chinatown Partnership, the entity pushing to form the BID, is to pack the room with paid CPLDC employees and non-testifying "supporters" from community boards and other BIDs so that there is no room for property owners. Likely this tactic will be futile this time around.

Perhaps realizing the implications of shutting out legitimate discourse and dialogue opposing the Chinatown BID, the City Council Finance Committee and Councilmember Margaret Chin have scheduled this additional "exploratory" hearing on the BID.

What: City Council Finance Committee Exploratory hearing on the Chinatown B.I.D.
Where: Emigrant Savings Bank 49-51 Chambers Street Manhattan
Time: 12:pm noon
When: September 7th
ATTENDEES MUST ARRIVE NO LATER THAN 11:AM, speakers must sign up immediately to fill out speaker cards.

Questions: Property Tax Payers Corp. / No Chinatown BID: 917-710-7503 Jan Lee
Margaret Chin's office: 212 788-7259

IF YOU CANNOT ATTEND, you may FAX your statement about the Chinatown BID to Tanisha Edwards at:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Communities agree that the process of B.I.D. formation is not fair to everyone.

Activist Zella Jones speaks out against the process by which Business Improvement Districts are formed in New York City.

Chinatown no-BID activists, predominantly made up of small property owners, have also been crying foul over the last several years. This came to a head when the Chinatown community had to scramble to get official objection forms signed by property owners within the allotted 30 day period as prescribed by BID law. Regardless of the geographic size of a proposed BID service district the City, inexplicably, limits the amount of time for objection forms to be handed in to 30 days. This means that a one-block-BID and a seventy five block BID with thousands of tax lots has the same short period to object. This is ludicrous and speaks to the built-in-bias in favor of pro-BID developers and the Mayor's office which heavily supports BIDs. The way the system is currently designed, it behooves any group to draw in thousands of tax lots in order to ensure a limited amount of objections due to the short objection period and verification process.

Despite this overwhelming obstacle, the no-BID-Chinatown property owners have eclipsed the pro-BID supporters. The claims made by CPLDC, Margaret Chin, and the Small Business Service that 97% of Chinatown supports a BID, are bogus because there is no system to authenticate any ballot survey turned in to the SBS. There is also no way for SBS or Council Members to claim that every single pro-BID ballot is verified and authentic. The only vetted documents are the ones that are objections because they are accompanied by notarized signatures and copies of deeds (as required by law). These are legally binding documents, whereas unverified support ballots probably are not.

While property owners wishing to oppose the BID scramble to officially object, multi-million dollar public relations firmed who are buoyed by multi-billion dollar real estate developers are throwing out lies and playing with semantics to confuse the issue of BIDs popularity while slinging mud at legitimate opposition.

Zella Jones sent this letter to the editors of the Downtown Express Newspaper referring to the BID process in general, but in response to the proposed expansion of the NoHo BID, which she was able to stop, and the SoHo BID which is in the formation process right now.
She has spoken out in favor, however, of a Chinatown BID. With these built in flaws to the process, we're not clear why Jones sees fit to have a BID in Chinatown, but not one in her neighborhood.

To the editor:

Re: “B.I.D. group charges much opposition is from outside district” (news article by Aline Reynolds, Aug. 11)
These numbers are not adding up. There are 280 tax lots in the proposed district. Only 124 responded and only 99 approved the proposal. That’s only a 44 percent response rate and only 35 percent approval. This certainly does not constitute a majority.
Further, if approving owners represent only 30 percent of the assessed value of the area, there is not a majority by this factor either.
It is particularly unfortunate that the New York State law that enables the formation of business improvement districts does not suitably recognize the impact of a B.I.D. in areas that are predominantly residential.
The legislation reads: “Owners of real property within the district opposed to the plan have 30 days to file objections at the municipal clerk’s office. If either the owners of 51 percent of the assessed valuation of all benefited real property or at least 51 percent of the owners of real property within the district file objections, the district will not be established.”
This puts the onus on property owners who do not favor a B.I.D., and who may not be otherwise organized or funded, to launch a campaign equally as intense and expensive as the city-backed business proponents to actively solicit objections and affidavits and to lobby against its formation. Further, as opposed to the allowed 18 months for B.I.D. formation granted to the proponents, the opponents get 30 days!
This legislation needs change.
Zella Jones

Zella Jones responds to this posting: 

Dear Jan: 

I do feel that the legislation that provides for Business Improvement Districts should be revisited.  As it is currently written, and currently applied, the legislation is flawed. It warrants the attention of our elected leaders in its revision. 

I am not universally opposed to Business Improvement Districts.  There are benefits to collective representation and distinction in many areas of our City and particularly in City Council District 1 where there are so many diverse communities with distinctive needs, highly dependent on International commercial viability and attractiveness…not only to business owners but employment, as well.  Nor, am I opposed to a tax assessment structure that funds the mission, management, and operation of a district, though I would also favor reallocation of regular tax dollars to various City Services to allow for more “home rule” in their geographic allocation.  Some of this could be made available to “Improvement Districts” to defray additional assessments.  The current Community Board budget request system is too often ignored and, by its very nature not well focused on “hot spots.”  Indeed, Community Boards could benefit by more organized and recognized constituencies to back up their district requests.

In my opinion, there should be an additional option provided by the City and State, that could more adequately represent area stakeholders.  Other states and cities have adopted Community Benefit Districts.  In fact I have shared several examples and some research with you on this topic in the past.  A Community Benefit District is represented by resident, business, institution and nonprofit stakeholders.  The assessments are smaller because they are spread among all property owners.  These entities can also apply for and receive grants from third party foundations for specific initiatives.  The disbursement of funds and the initiatives sponsored are more representational because the board and its interests are diverse.  Such entities encourage collaboration and consensus.  In areas like the SoHo and NoHo where the majority of stakeholders and square footage of property ownership is not for commercial investment alone, this model could be very constructive.  There are neighborhoods in all five boroughs that could benefit by such recognized representation and oversight; but at present the State and City have no provision for incorporating it.

As regards the Chinatown BID, it is my observation, from my association with the Chinatown Working Group and intensive involvement with the Economic Development Working Team and involvement with BID structures in general, that the assessments are unusually fair for their distribution;  that the budget for the area is in line with a modest community-wide improvement, that such improvements could affect better commerce, jobs and wages and that the outreach was particularly representational, in terms of stakeholders/property owners and square footage.  I expressed that opinion as an interested citizen; there were many other opinions expressed.  I respect your right to disagree and your more intimate connection to the area.

As regards NoHo, the stakeholders in the proposed expansion area are predominantly residential/institutional and have expressed their majority opinion that a strictly commercial frame of reference does not serve their interests.  As it turns out the business owners in this area also agree.  In fact NoHo stakeholders are so invested in having dialogue and a unified vision that they have initiated the formation of a private nonprofit Community Benefit District to represent their collective interests, until such time as the State and City adopt similar provisions.  The funding is through voluntary membership; it is based on a percentage of gross square footage of property owned.  The budget may not be as substantial as a BID would provide, but the commitment to having one voice among elected and appointed leaders is high.  I am always proud to speak on their behalf.

Thank you for making available this opportunity to respond to your post.

Zella Jones

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Calm Before The Storm - Chinatown 7:30pm August 27th 2011

Photos of Chinatown before hurricane Irene.  These were taken at around 7:30pm.
An eery calm is pervasive throughout the neighborhood.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Downtown Express Editors get an earful from Chinatown Property Owners regarding the B.I.D.

To the editor:

Re: “Last-ditch attempt to stop Chinatown B.I.D.” (news article by Aline Reynolds, July 20)
Chinatown B.I.D. proponents deliberately skewed their data when they touted that 97% of the ballots were in favor of it. However, they were referring only to the returned ballots. Of the 2300 surveys that were sent out, only 550 responded, so that means 1750 either did not respond or never received the survey. No one knows how many mailings were returned undelivered. The numbers strongly suggest that there was insufficient and unacceptable outreach.

Community Boards 1, 2, and 3 were persuaded to vote in favor of the Chinatown B.I.D. based on the 97% quote, when in fact only 23% (534 out of 2300) responded favorably. Even THOSE responses are highly questionable, because the respondents did not need to show proof of identity, nor their deeds for any property. In addition, the survey shows that the respondent could place a check mark to indicate whether they were a property owner, a business owner, or a resident. When more ballots were needed in June 2010, Chinatown B.I.D. targeted the non-profit organizations (exempt from any assessment fee), private residential owners (paying $1 fee), and doctor’s offices (paying $200 fee) because those groups would bear no or minimal financial burden for the B.I.D. Of course, it would be easy to vote yes when it will be someone else’s hard-earned money that will be spent. The survey results lumped all the 550 respondents into one group, and the breakdown regarding the category of any of the respondents continues to be muddled and changed, depending on what the Chinatown B.I.D. proponents wish the number to represent at any given moment.

They further reported that close to half of the property owners would only be paying $1, trying to downplay the cost that most property owners will have to bear. They were referring to the 784 residential owners in 47 residential condo buildings. However, the percentage for 784 out of 2,323 properties is not 50%, it is under 34%.

There are a number of non-profits which own sizable properties within the Chinatown B.I.D., as well as government-owned properties that will not have to pay any B.I.D. taxes or fees. Those groups will not only shift the costs onto the other property owners, but will be in positions to have a lot of control once the B.I.D. is formed.

Clearly, 550 is a low number of unverified and mixed respondents in such a densely populated community and cannot be deemed sufficient to claim the required strong community support for a Chinatown B.I.D. On the other hand, because only verified property owners with deeds were permitted to file objections to the B.I.D., the verified owners of 562 properties filed their objections with the City Clerk within the short 30-day limitation, the MOST verified objections ever against any NYC B.I.D.!

Having full knowledge of the inequities in standards as well as the high number of objections, Councilmember Margaret Chin should be ashamed that she is aggressively advocating for the Chinatown B.I.D. and trying to steamroll it through. Chinatown is still recovering from the 9/11 aftereffects, the closure of Park Row, and the removal of community-available parking. Now it is weathering the economy’s current downturn. Councilmember Chin has failed to grasp the potentially devastating impact of the B.I.D. assessments/fees upon the small property owners and businesses. Those “fees”, which are in fact permanent taxes, will in turn raise the costs for the visitors, workers, and residents in Chinatown. Chinatown cannot afford a B.I.D.!
Susan Parent