Speedy CB4 Meeting Delivers

Now that’s what a quorum looks like: CB4’s full board meeting started a half hour late, but still wrapped up in near-record time.  Photo by Eileen Stukane
Now that’s what a quorum looks like: CB4’s full board meeting started a half hour late, but still wrapped up in near-record time. Photo by Eileen Stukane

BY EILEEN STUKANE  |  Waiting for a quorum, the Community Board 4 (CB4) full board meeting began a half hour late on Wednesday, March 5. Neighborhood residents, who filled the approximately 75 seats at the Fulton Center Auditorium (119 Ninth Avenue, between West 17th and 18th Streets), were patient until the meeting was called to order at 7pm.

Items on the agenda proceeded routinely as a public hearing for approving the applications of two physical culture establishments, Massage Envy at 525 West 42nd Street, and BFX (Boutique Fitness Experience) at 555 Sixth Avenue, brought no questions from the community.

The public session began with few speakers signed up to address the crowd. Without a major presentation from a developer or community group on the docket, it seemed that CB4’s full board meeting would see less action than it usually does — but then, an unpredictable clash arose.

With about 10 members of New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) in the audience, four women from the group rose to address the community. NYACT is closely aligned with the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) National Committee.

Several women held signs indicating that the Partnership of Cornell University and The Technion, Israel Institute of Technology (known as Cornell NYC Tech) — which will eventually be located on a 2.1 million square foot campus on Roosevelt Island — was harmful to Palestinians.

Speaking for NYACT, Terri Ginsberg read from a prepared statement: “The Technion is directly implicated in war crimes…specifically by designing military weapons and developing surveillance technologies, drones, deployed to drive Palestinians off their land…By formal association, then Google [which is hosting Cornell NYC Tech until its campus is constructed], Cornell and New York City are implicated in war crimes and other crimes against humanity perpetrated by Technion and its affiliates.”

The group was addressing CB4 in particular because Google is headquartered in Chelsea, at 111 Eighth Avenue. Ginsberg requested that CB4 meet with Google executives and “demand that the company divest from this nefarious partnership at once.”

Following Ginsberg, Carol Yost spoke in support of NYACT, saying that the Partnership “got under the wire and it didn’t seem transparent.” Yost concluded her remarks with, “This would be good if Israel were not committing war crimes which are not being reported. We don’t need it in New York City…it’s not for the purpose we had hoped, educating people and promoting science.” It did not take long for a rebuttal to surface.

CB4 board member Brett Firfer took the microphone to remind everyone that March included the happy Jewish holiday Purim. “One of the main messages that we learn in the holiday Purim is that time and time again, we have our enemies that rise up against us but somehow we prevail. We see this happens constantly,” he said.  At that point, Firfer raised a camera and took a photo of the NYACT group.  “I’m going to call that the modern face of anti-semitism,” he said. Yost and another NYACT supporter, Ahmad Shirazi, shouted out “Shame on you.” Shirazi followed with, “You’re an anti-semite.”

CB4 member Hugh Weinberg, moderator of the public session, asked for quiet. Firfer described the Palestinian BDS as “an organization that likes to tell people that it’s critiquing the policies of the state of Israel, but in reality its message is to critique legitimacies against the state of Israel.” He concluded with, “We have a saying, ‘Those who are kind to the cruel in the end, are cruel to the kind.’” He received lingering applause.

Following the CB4 meeting, Terri Ginsberg posted on NYACT’s website, “NYC Community Board member calls BDS ‘the face of anti-Semitism.’ ” She writes that she “was peremptorily cut off after only one minute by CB4 Chair Hugh Weinberg,” while other speakers were allowed two minutes. According Chelsea Now’s recording of the CB4 meeting, Ginsberg spoke for almost three minutes, was never interrupted by Weinberg and concluded the reading of her prepared statement with “Thank you.”

Dorothy Durlach, president of the Senior Advisory Council of Fulton Houses, speaking on senior issues such as bus transportation and bicycle riders in Chelsea  Photo by Eileen Stukane
Dorothy Durlach, president of the Senior Advisory Council of Fulton Houses, speaking on senior issues such as bus transportation and bicycle riders in Chelsea Photo by Eileen Stukane

Allison Tupper and Kathleen Treat, Chair of the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association, spoke separately about their support for CB4’s Balanced Business working group in its effort to help bring more diversity of businesses to the community. “We need a children’s clothing store, a surgical supply store, a stationery store. But every time some place becomes vacant, we get a bar,” said Tupper. Treat expressed her gratitude to the board for working to get more diversified businesses on Ninth and Tenth Avenues “instead of bar, bar, bar, bar.”

While explaining that he is in total agreement about having more diversity of establishments, David Stuart, Co-chair of the West 45th Street Block Association, was there to support longer hours for a bar, Beer Culture. He emphasized that the owner, Matt Gebhard, was a good neighbor and that the block association had never received a single complaint about the establishment. Later in the evening, the board approved a letter denying a liquor license for Beer Culture unless certain stipulations — among them, that the hours of Beer Culture from noon to 2am, which seem to be the current hours — be met.

Among other announcements, Dorothy Durlach, President of the Senior Advisory Council of the Fulton Center, noted that for anyone over age 60 looking for a job, a workshop, “Job Searching In The Digital Age,” is scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays, 3-4:15pm, with registration at the Fulton Reception. Durlach also spoke about the need for stronger law enforcement in relation to bicycle riders as people are fearful of being hit by those cyclists disregarding traffic regulations.

In the public service area, for anyone trying to meet the March 31st  deadline for the Affordable Care Act, certified navigators and state certified application counselors are available to help at the Ryan/Chelsea Clinton Community Health Center, 645 Tenth Avenue. For appointments, call: 212-265-4500. Walk-in hours are Wednesday and Friday, 9-11am: 212-316-7961. On another public service topic, CB4 member Delores Rubin urged the community to visit sanctuaryforfamilies.org to learn about its partnering with A Call To Men and the creation of Bystanders No More, to explore how gender violence affects men and boys.

The audience had no questions for any of the speakers.

Both City Council Member Corey Johnson and David Czyzyk representing Assemblymember Richard Gottfried spoke about the proposed sale of 1.5 million square feet of air rights over the James Farley Post Office building on Eighth Avenue between West 31st and 33rd Streets, someday to be the Moynihan [train] Station. It came as a surprise to these elected officials that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and the Moynihan Station Development Corporation had released a Request For Proposal (RFP) to help fund the second phase of the Station’s development.  Johnson and Gottfried, along with other officials, sent a letter to the ESDC requesting that any identified development site go through the New York City Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and that CBs 4 and 5, the City Planning Commission, elected officials, local residents and the entire City Council be informed about the sale of development rights.

Johnson also reported on the City Council’s Health Committee hearing on the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) Five Year Plan.  HHC had a $1.2 billion budget gap over the last five years, and as Johnson remarked, “They had to take care of that and mostly did some things I’m not happy about, and now they’re projecting over the next five years a $1.4 billion budget gap.” Since the HHC network provides care to the uninsured, Johnson wants to make sure that whatever is done budgetarily does not impact the quality of care of those most in need. He also proposed new legislation in a number of areas. One legislation was introduced with Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley to outlaw the sale of puppies and kittens from unregulated puppy mills throughout New York State. Another bill would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to do an annual reporting of Hepatitis B and C infections — which are near epidemic proportions in many Asian communities as well as other communities of color.

David Czyzyk also noted that Assemblymember Gottfried testified to the New York City Planning Commission in support of Brookfield’s text amendment that allows more open outdoor space for the Manhattan West development site between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, West 31st to 33rd Streets. The developer had presented visuals for the open space at an earlier CB4 full board meeting and Gottfried reiterated CB4’s request to be involved in the decision-making as the development moves forward.

Representing New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, Robert Atterbury announced that Hoylman would welcome nominations for “Women of Distinction,” a select group of women honored by the New York State Senate each year for contributing to the enrichment of their communities.  The Senate also honors outstanding New York veterans who have distinguished themselves in military and civilian life by inducting them into the “New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.” Hoylman is accepting nominations for both categories. To nominate, send an email to hoylman@nysenate.gov. Please put “Woman of Distinction Nomination” or “Veterans Hall of Fame Nomination” in the subject line. Include in the email, the nominee’s name, address and your reason for suggesting recognition.  A nominee should live in the 27th State Senate District. The deadline for nomination is Thursday, March 20.

David Baily, for New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat, noted that the Senator is in constant talks with the New York State Public Service Commission to take action against Verizon for service interruptions and repair delays on landlines in the city. Phone and Internet service has been regularly interrupted in Upper Manhattan. Anyone with Verizon service problems can contact the Senator: espailla@nysenate.gov. Espaillat is also committed to the fight for universal pre-kindergarten which he has labeled a “street fight.”

He is joined in that effort by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, whose rep reports that she is in the process of looking for space in Manhattan for pre-kindergarten venues, and by City Council Member Helen Rosenthal.  Jason Harding, reporting for Rosenthal, noted that she had spent the entire previous day in Albany working for universal pre-kindergarten. Rosenthal has also introduced two legislations regarding safety. One is a ban of the “rainbow experiment” in high school chemistry labs that caused severe burning to a student at Beacon High School. Another is a legislation that would require mandatory license suspension and investigation for any taxi driver who kills or causes serious injury to a pedestrian or biker. If it is found that a driver “failed to yield,” his/her TLC license would be permanently revoked. Currently, a driver can be on the road during an investigation.

For Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Tricia Shimamura wished everyone a Happy Women’s History Month. She noted that Maloney and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn are continuing to push for a bill to create a commission that will bring a National Women’s History Museum to the National Mall in Washington DC.

No questions arose for the elected officials to answer.

In her report, CB4 Chair Christine Berthet spoke of being in attendance for the Vision Zero announcement by Mayor de Blasio and City Council Members, a discussion that went on for a full day. The Mayor’s goal is to eliminate traffic fatalities within a decade. “This new policy brings much hope to our neighborhood, where traffic safety is one of the residents’ major concerns,” said Berthet. She explained that the New York Police Department and the Department of Transportation are now working on a plan to implement the 63 suggestions that were offered for inclusion in the Mayor’s Vision Zero Action Plan.

Berthet also spoke of attending meetings with the interim board of the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Business Improvement District (BID) which will go from West 30th to West 42nd Streets and from just east of Ninth Avenue to Eleventh Avenue. CB4 member Jean-Daniel Nolan will represent CB4 on the interim board. As well, three tenants from the area (two from affordable housing) will be on the board. Berthet and three other CB4 members will also offer input in the creation of this very large piece of the CB4 district.

Berthet praised the energy and efforts of the four new working groups: Outreach, Openness, Best Practices and Balanced Business, and the tireless dedication and work of the individual CB4 committees’ chairs and members. She asked for applause in recognition of  everyone’s  “selfless service.”

Votes for approval of 22 items on the agenda, letters relating mostly to Business Licenses and Permits, were accomplished in record time. The meeting was adjourned at 8:05pm. Clocking in at only one hour and five minutes after it officially began, this was — if not a record — certainly a full board meeting of notably brief length.