Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Open Letter To City Council and Mayor Bloomberg about the Chinatown B.I.D.

An Open Letter to the New York City Council and Mayor Bloomberg,

We at The Coalition Against the Chinatown BID, as well as many of the business owners, constituents, and voters of greater Chinatown oppose the BID for the following reasons: 

Chinatown property owners submitted a record number of official BID objection forms during the month of June causing Patrick Synmoie, the City Clerk’s counsel who has overseen the birth of almost two dozen B.I.D.s in the last decade to exclaim “We’ve never had anything like this.”  According to the Daily News the City Clerk’s office said that the number of objections to the Chinatown BID filed was “impressive”. With well over five hundred verified properties in objection to the Chinatown BID we ask that you do not support the BID and vote “no”.
Implications in the proposal that could lead to abuse of low income people's civil and human rights:

 We fear the Chinatown BID will likely impose its will against those individuals it deems as "unfavorable" to the business environment. Who is to say what is favorable or unfavorable in the interest of business? As one example, Chinatown is blessed to have numerous street musicians that come and go at will, however with a BID in place the Board can replace or evict those free spirits in favor of performers it deems as more talented, more presentable or an even more caricatured version if its directors want to promote an even more “Chinese” experience for its much-touted tourist populous that it aims to please so desperately. As one Chinatown BID Steering Committee leader said over coffee one day “ Let’s dress them in Chinese costume, put them on a box at the corner of Mott and Bayard and let the tourists take photos with them like they do in Times Square with that guy who dresses as the Statue of Liberty”. We simply cannot allow a Chinatown-for-the-tourist mentality to prevail. Business can and often does confuse promotion and exploitation, especially in ethnic neighborhoods in America. 
Under a BID, with property owners heavily outweighing anyone else on the Board, there is an unnatural influence guided by a select group which can stifle anyone or anything it deems contrary to the interests of the business it seeks to promote, which ultimately will end up being its largest and wealthiest patrons.  With nearly all of the Board of Directors of The Chinatown Partnership LDC (the progenitor of the Chinatown BID) already contributing to Councilmember Chin’s campaign fund we reject this intimate relationship between multimillion dollar business interests and politics in Chinatown.
Conversely without a BID there is no such entity to dictate who controls the street and sidewalk in favor of business over residential experiences. Academics and planners who will operate this BID are more often than not relying on biased studies to justify street closures as “good for business” rather than constantly updating field study to gauge the popularity of the actions they prescribe and intend to enact. Case in point are the night markets and street fairs prescribed as good for business by The Chinatown Partnership LDC, The Chinatown Working Group, and The Rebuild Chinatown Initiative (An AAFE handbook for the recovery of Chinatown post 9/11). Chinatown restaurants and merchants hate these ideas, yet they keep appearing in literature by people promoting a BID for Chinatown. This is a slap in the face to seasoned businesses in Chinatown who simply don’t want their streets taken over by night markets and street fairs. 

The BID will privatize public space.
Public space plays a vital role in democracy, as a site of free speech, association, and protest. Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg writes that the downtown, with its bars, coffee shops and public spaces, constitutes an important "third place," different from the first and second places of home and work. Chinatown’s parks and open spaces are included in the Chinatown BID, yet each park has its own maintenance. In fact Kim Lau Square has recently embarked in project working with NYC’s Partnership For Parks to organize gardening and maintenance volunteers to brighten the neglected square.
When the policing of a district and its maintenance are based on profit-driven concerns rather than the need to create and maintain noncommercial space where people assemble, it's difficult to use public space the way it was intended. There's been substantial attention to the manner in which BIDs globally have often attempted to rid the spaces they control of the homeless, ethnic minorities, and political activists who might frighten off shoppers. Yet, public space is there to accommodate the right of the people to assemble, and the city's streets and sidewalks are not a country club. You should not have to be the "right" race or in the "right" income bracket in order to walk them. Union Square Park was embroiled in a bitter battle over its use of public space and ultimately lost the year round use of its jewel which was the stone pavilion because business took it over. With a strikingly similar stone pavilion in Columbus park, which was defiantly left inside the BID district plan despite Community Board 3’s resolution declaring approval of the BID only if Columbus Park was removed**, we feel strongly that the Chinatown residents will also lose year round unfettered access to every square foot of park space which is so desperately needed in this compact community. Again, business interests have dictated that the Park is useful to them, and therefore refused to remove it from the BID, this is indicative of future undemocratic use of space and defiant abuse of BID power. 

The power that the BID has over public space seems unlimited.
Most laws give BIDs the power to sue, incur indebtedness, enter into contracts, acquire real property, design, engineer, and construct urban streetscapes, manage parking, and "administer and manage central and neighborhood business districts." The last clause, in its vague, abstract language, is the most frightening, since it could encompass almost anything. Additionally anyone wishing to sue a BID is discouraged to do so because the law says that anyone who sues a BID and loses pays not only his own legal fees but the fees incurred by the BID as well. As a result very few law suits are brought against these powerful entities. 

The danger lies not only in the individual BID over its domain, it lies in the combined power of several or all the BIDs in the City which can influence political votes, public policy*** over street and sidewalk use, and general quality of life issues that will permanently put business interests over that of the public good. Why should we let BIDs have precedent over any of these rights that we pay taxes for already? In the case of resident business owners, they pay twice for the use of these public spaces and services, with a BID tax being a third tax.

B.I.D. Executive Directors answer to no one.
B.I.D's are under no obligation to log or reveal any complaints  against the BID.
The City's record for routine financial or satisfaction audits of BID's is abysmal.
the Fox is guarding the hen house in 65 neighborhoods in New York City

The BID is not subject to oversight and does not operate based on democratic principles.
The BID will be making the big decisions the law gives it authority over behind closed doors. The law does not require the private BID board of directors to have open meetings, or compel them to follow other public provisions that encourage citizen participation and institutional transparency. In fact BIDs have no obligation to record or reveal any complaint against the BID. The so called oversight of BIDs by politician’s representatives on BID boards is abysmal. A history of absenteeism, corruption and resignation is well documented and leaves no assurance that the City will police the BID to any degree of effectiveness with such a heavy presence of real estate interests on all the Boards.

In a time of economic depression, the BID proposes to heighten recessionary effects.
Property tax under the BID will go up eventually and thus business and residential rents will rise as well as evidenced in this article in Crain’s NY Business, this will drive business to Brooklyn Chinatown where there is no BID and thus more competitive pricing for everything from bok choy to eyeglasses. The BID will affect all of us, whether we are property owners or businesses who opt in or not, by making Chinatown more expensive in general. These effects will further gentrification in Chinatown, forcing low income people out. It will also destroy small independent businesses that make up part of Chinatown’s reputation for arts, culture and cuisine since these businesses don't have a big a profit margin and will not be able to afford the rise in property taxes and rent, leaving mostly only homogenizing corporate chain businesses behind. The Chinatown BID Steering committee (lawyers, real estate tycoons, chain store owners****) is made up of millionaires who cannot relate to the average small business in Chinatown. The BID is designed to be attractive to tourists (as CPLDC has made clear ad infinitum) so mainly only hotels, restaurants and tourist gift shops will benefit, while small local businesses that rely on a more local customer base will just see a spike in rent with no additional revenue .  BIDs are only supposed to be formed in areas that which are at least 3/4 zoned for commercial, industrial, and mixed use because BIDs put a devastating financial burden on residential areas.
The hidden cost to the community, which is of no consequence to the people who are the BID’s Steering Committee, because they are literally millionaires, is the loss of affordable nutrition to a community whose population is largely living under the poverty line. The businesses who provide affordable groceries and cooked meals to the working poor will be the first to flee due to rising rent as a result of the BID. Gone will be the five-for-a-dollar dumplings replaced by more $6.00 coffees from chain stores. This has a domino effect of the working poor having to relocate near a source of affordable nutrition and housing, thus expediting the gentrification* of Chinatown. This loss of affordable nutrition is key to the gentrification process and in fact is a tool used to bring in high end supermarkets or gourmet grocery stores. Chinatown may still have Chinese businesses in it, but the patron demographic will change dramatically over night. The working poor of Chinatown stand no chance against a BID in their quest to have access to affordable food because ultimately a BID will seek to derive as much income to support itself as it can on every block it occupies and “maintains”.  The budget in the largest BID in New York (Chinatown) will not remain stagnant and will seek to increase its revenue any way it can. To endorse a BID knowing this is the ultimate result is unconscionable and not in the spirit of what makes New York great.

The BID is undemocratic.
The entire process has been skewed in favor of BID supporters. For example New York City provides its department staff, time and information free of charge to BID supporters with unlimited access to property information and research. This can go on for years. Who knows how much tax payer money is spent supporting this endeavor?  
The City does not validate any signatures of so called BID supporters who sign ballots produced and distributed by those supporters.  

The Chinatown Partnership’s P.R. firm Rubenstein and its Executive Director claim  97% approval for the BID. Three community boards based their decisions on what appears to be overwhelming support and “diet” of pro-BID propoganda, yet not a single signature is validated nor connection to property ownership provided.   In a clear example of what a double standard is, in contrast those wishing to oppose the BID have only 30 days to obtain an official form, get it notarized and show proof of property ownership via deed, and after that objections must account for 51% of all benefitted properties or 51% of assessed total value of the district to stop the BID from forming. We are confident that the over five hundred objection forms submitted to the City Clerk is the largest number ever to oppose any BID in the City. This represents more than the supposed 3% opposition claimed by Rubenstein and the CPLDC.

Once approved by the Council, we will not be easily rid of the BID. 
The dissolution of the BID calls for the objection vote of 51% of the district's assessed value and 51% of the property in the district. Even if such a vote was made, a BID that still owes debt must remain intact. A BID can actually intentionally incur debt as a safeguard against being dissolved which would explain the cozy relationship between this Board and its banker. Those who are in the BID are locked into whatever contracts the BID enters into in perpetuity. All surrounding areas will be dramatically affected by the Chinatown BID without input into their process which is why SoHo and Little Italy vehemently opposed the Chinatown BID. 
No actual objective quantitative evidence concerning Chinatown’s economy was created in support of this plan. In another words the people (real estate developers Chris Kui, Bill Lam and life- long political candidate Margaret Chin) who wanted the BID for the last decade are the ones who wrote the documents to justify its need to exist. All proponents have done is written the pamphlets themselves while failing to include the pitfalls a BID would have in Chinatown. Even if there is consent for a BID it was uninformed consent. 
By attempting to gentrify the city and police classes of people out of the vibrant mix that is Chinatown, the BID proponents will eliminate the reasons why people come to Chinatown in the first place: because it is a town full of independent businesses, art, and culture with lively public spaces where a heterogeneous crowd of people can all ideally have a chance to thrive as they have for the last century.

Councilmember Margaret Chin won't listen to any alternatives to a B.I.D.

BID alternatives routinely ignored.
With 9/11 recovery money from the LMDC The Chinatown Partnership inexplicably they sent millions of tax payer dollars to a private cleaning contractor in Tennessee rather than employ non-profit local alternatives that have transparent and proven track records. During the years of the Chinatown Partnership’s existence they could have ushered many dozens of individuals through proven rehabilitation programs the employ street cleaning to help formerly homeless New Yorkers. Instead they quietly chose the private company in Tennessee Mydatt Services which has no disclosure of its hiring practices and in fact provides very little for the community other than a few stagnant jobs which largely have gone to only Chinese people. With non-BID neighborhood cleaning alternatives existing all over America Chinatown has been overwhelmed with only one solution by the Chinatown Partnership, Councilmember Chin and one of the most powerful public relations firms in the world (Rubenstein Inc.) who counts no less than two dozen multibillion dollar real estate developers as its clients.

We will not forget.
In closing, over five hundred properties with verified signatures representing blocks and lots existing within the proposed BID district currently stand in staunch opposition to the creation of a Chinatown BID and these numbers will only grow in coming months. Borough President Scott Stringer has “denied press reports that he has supported the Chinatown BID.” – NYDAILYNEWS, 6/27/11.   By endorsing (voting yes) to this undemocratic, politically connected, inefficient, top heavy bureaucracy called the Chinatown BID you will seal the fate of those in Chinatown who can least afford its ill effects. We will organize again at election time against elected officials who support this exploitation of our community under the guise of “cleaning”. We encourage you to vote "NO" when the Chinatown BID comes before the City Council.
The Coalition against the Chinatown BID

Herbert Din said...

A ludicrous mockery of truth and fairness has been perpetrated upon the Chinese-speaking property owners of Chinatown!

So unbelievable to realize that the City Council is so ably in lock-step and synchronized to be marching to the financial Pied Piper's tunes - what a travesty that will live in Chinatown infamy!

Herbert Din

1 comment:

Herbert Din said...

A ludicrous mockery of truth and fairness has been perpetrated upon the Chinese-speaking property owners of Chinatown!

So unbelievable to realize that the City Council is so ably in lock-step and synchronized to be marching to the financial Pied Piper's tunes - what a travesty that will live in Chinatown infamy!

Herbert Din