Advocates, Electeds to Charter Commission: Be Bolder on Planning

May 09, 2019

Coalition Calls On Commission To Propose Changes To Frontally Tackle Inequality In Land Use

New York, NY – Community advocates and elected officials held a rally this evening at City Hall before the City Charter Revision Commission Hearing to push the Commission towards bolder changes for our City’s charter. New York City is one of the most segregated and unequal cities in America and tackling these issues through the land use process was a leading reason why the Manhattan Borough President, City Council, and Public Advocate took the unprecedented step to form a non-mayoral Commission last year. But the Commission’s preliminary staff report largely leaves the status quo in place when it comes to land use and planning. However, as attendees of today’s rally emphasized, it’s not too late to include specific, meaningful measures necessary to make fundamental changes for equity.

“One of the reasons New York City continues to be intensely segregated by race and income is that we engage in piecemeal land-use decisions without an opportunity for the public to consider their costs and benefits across the city or to address large, structural issues.  It’s time for New York City to do comprehensive planning with clearly stated goals of equity and integration,” said David Tipson, Executive Director of New York Appleseed.

At a critical moment toward the end of the Commission’s public input process, the Thriving Communities Coalition rallied and testified en masse to call on the Commission to go further. Coalition members expressed concern that the Commission’s latest proposal outlines only modest changes to the City’s land use processes that, under the current language, will not create the reforms necessary to empower disenfranchised communities and tackle the deeply entrenched racial and socio-economic inequality that plagues New York City.

“We need the city to take responsibility for its Land Use actions and the time is now, through the City Charter Revision Commission. The Jerome Avenue Rezoning is a perfect example of how flawed and 'broken' the current system is, due to a lack of responsible 'displacement' assessment, transparency, community engagement, and substantial commitments. The city needs to and must intentionally plan and invest for communities like the South Bronx, if it wants to assure an equitable, diverse, and thriving future for the city. The city will get it, when it plans accordingly, with the voices of all communities,” said Carmen Vega- Rivera, CASA Leader.

“Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A urges the Charter Commission to embrace this unique opportunity to articulate clearer land use processes that mirror principles and guidelines outlined in the Fair Housing Act. We need enforceable mechanisms providing for a more equitable allocation of resources throughout the City, proper environmental assessments that acknowledge and propose mitigations to past and existing segregation in our neighborhoods, and accountability of all agencies participating in the ‘planning cycle,’” said Kevin Worthington, Legal Advocate at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A.

The broad coalition of organizing, policy, and planning groups united with the Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the New York City Council’s Progressive Caucus to push the Commission to advance a more complete vision through a set of participatory and transparent steps focused on goal setting for equity, needs assessments, distribution of resources tied to budgeting, incentives and disincentives to accomplish plan alignment, and measuring and reporting on progress.  

“In my decades of experience, I’ve seen firsthand at the community level, the City Council, and the Borough Presidency, how our disjointed system of planning stymies democracy and thwarts meaningful progress towards equality,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “That’s why I supported the creation of this unique Commission and have been calling for a Comprehensive Plan. The preliminary recommendations don’t yet capture the bold vision that we need; we need to build on their good work and go farther to enact meaningful change. I’m pleased to stand with this diverse coalition who stand ready to do what it will take to make it happen.”  

Coalition members noted that Comprehensive Planning has been an overarching demand of theirs, and while the Commission has acknowledged that some change toward that direction is necessary, its draft proposal leaves out crucial components and instead appears to call for minimal coordination of the labyrinthine and uncoordinated plans that consist of the existing system.  

“Even with the best intentions, our ad-hoc approach to planning will never be enough to address some of the most urgent challenges New York City faces. Our vulnerability to climate change, declining infrastructure, and housing affordability crisis continue to exacerbate inequality and require more fundamental change in how we address current needs while planning for the future. The preliminary staff report calls for streamlining the status quo. With comprehensive planning we can do better by building accountability and trust into a data and values-driven process that would align community needs and citywide goals. We hope the commission will take a bold step and push for comprehensive planning in the final report,” said Maulin Mehta, Senior Associate of State Programs and Advocacy, Regional Plan Association. 

“While the mechanisms of a comprehensive plan might be complicated, the concept is not. A comprehensive plan should be a road map for growth and priorities for New York City that exists outside of any one particular administration,” said J.T. Falcone, policy analyst at United Neighborhood Houses.

“Our current land use process, which relies solely on piecemeal rezonings, is insufficient to address the challenges facing New York City,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “Our city is already in a full-blown housing crisis, displacement is rampant, and climate change poses a real threat to large swaths of our city. It is imperative that we meet these issues head on; to do so, we must actually start to plan in New York City. I thank the Charter Commission for putting forth a recommendation that nods toward comprehensive planning, however it remains unclear how the proposal would be incorporated into decision-making around land use and the capital budget; simply connecting our City’s existing plans without a mechanism to facilitate compliance does little to change the status quo of the current process. I’m proud to join my Progressive Caucus colleagues and the Thriving Communities Coalition in urging the Charter Revision Commission to strengthen this recommendation and deliver meaningful change for our communities.”

Since the last major revision to the Charter in 1989, New York City has changed dramatically. In the last decade alone, rents have risen at twice the pace of wages and today more than half of the renters in New York City are rent burdened, or paying more than 30% of their income towards housing expenses. With so many New Yorkers at risk of displacement, and with so few affordable places left in this City, we must make bold decisions with real urgency -- a simple alignment of existing, failing policies will not do.

“The City of New York has effectively abandoned its responsibility to plan for the future. Our city is changing before our eyes, and this change is driven almost exclusively by private interests. This is not planning; private interests do not plan for the public good. Planning requires a values-driven vision, meaningful engagement with communities, analysis of our city-wide needs, and tools and resources to make the plan a reality.  Only a Comprehensive Plan can put our public institutions and communities back in the driver’s seat, and enable us to plan for what New Yorkers deserve and demand: greater equity, climate resilience, and a livable future,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca.

“We are calling on the Commission not to miss this opportunity to make some meaningful changes to the City’s planning process. While the status quo might work for the powerful few, it does not work for most -- and we see the consequences in our growing segregation and inequality. We’re here tonight with a large and diverse set of New Yorkers to push for feasible and significant changes to the planning system,” said Elena Conte, Director of Policy at Pratt Center for Community Development.

The Thriving Communities Coalition has been advocating for a complete set of  proposals, including changes to the environmental review process, community board reform, use of public land for public good, and ULURP for NYCHA, which were not included in the Commission report.

"We provided our input and we expect that to be acknowledged within the revised City Charter provisions. This will increase the inclusivity of community members in the decision making process in their city governments democratic process. That is what we hope for. You have grassroots groups searching through their communities for input so there is no reason to assume that we, the people, will forget that you turned your backs on us," said Samuel Vasquez, a 25 year member of Good Old Lower East Side.

"When MAS helped fight for the creation of a City Planning Commission in the early 20th century, a robust comprehensive planning process was precisely its mandate. What we have ended up with today is a haphazard approach to development lacking any coordinated vision,” said Tara Kelly, Vice President for Policy & Programs at the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS). “New York needs an equitable, coherent plan for its future and the Charter Revision Commission can get us one step closer by adopting the recommendations of the Thriving Communities Coalition.”

“The Charter Revision Commission’s staff report finds that the city’s many disconnected planning processes sew disillusionment and confusion in our land use process. The existing plans do not add up to a coherent, data-based, values-driven vision for the city, giving us the ability to attend to sea level rise and climate change, our housing affordability and displacement crisis, or make investments in infrastructure that’s a century old. We need to implement bold, transformative land use reform in order to meet these pressing challenges. Any planning process must be grounded in shared principles and long-term goals, link data-based needs assessment with public participation, and provide mechanisms to ensure that future land use decisions are plan-aligned and that priority investments are funded through the capital budget process. That’s why I’m proud to join my Council colleagues and the Thriving Communities Coalition in urging the Charter Revision Commission to take up serious land use reform and comprehensive planning to bring to the voters this November,” said Council Member Brad Lander.

The final public hearing of the Charter Revision Commission process ballot proposals are crafted will take place Tuesday, May 14th in Staten Island. Ballot proposals will be released later this spring and considered over the summer for inclusion on the November 2019 ballot. Members of the Thriving Communities Coalition are continuing to advocate for their full platform of demands in the Charter process as well as through other avenues such as City Council legislation.

“New York City needs to commit to the future it wants - and then we need to plan for that future. And that’s why we need a comprehensive planning process that both sets clear goals based on principles of equity and racial justice, and then ensures that our budgeting, land use and policy decisions actually move us towards those goals,” said Emily Goldstein, Director of Organizing and Advocacy at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD).

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