Friday, October 31, 2008

CB9M District Manager Says Goodbye, Heads to CB13Q

CB9M District Manager Says Goodbye, Heads to CB13Q

By Christine Choi

As Community Board 9 prepares to announce its new district manager, members are looking to fill the void left by CB9 veteran Lawrence McClean.

Long considered a staple of the West Harlem community, McClean will soon bring his brand of community outreach to other boroughs. In September, McClean left his CB9 district manager post of 15 years to fill the same position for CB13 in his longtime residence of Queens. McClean was lauded by colleagues for his work in advocating for the neighborhood while working with board members.

While at CB9, McClean made the hour-long trek to Harlem every day, and his decision to leave was in part due to the commute, CB9 secretary Ted Kovaleff said. “It’s a pretty easy decision to make,” Kovaleff said.

But for a community that remembers McClean for his work facilitating dialogue between locals and city officials, letting go has not been easy.

“He was a pillar,” former CB9 chair Maritta Dunn said. “He had the personality required to deal with people.”

As district manager, McClean ensured that CB9 functioned smoothly. Responsible for the office and everyday operations, he juggled deadlines and timetables, filings, and communication with city officials and locals.

It was this last duty which distinguished him. “He had a great working relationship with the city agency and the community,” CB9 Chair Pat Jones said.

And it was just this “very affable, friendly” ease that helped the board through stormier times, such as chair selections, according to Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, a former board member.
“There were some volatile moments, police being called, battles over who would be the chair,” O’Donnell said, “but he remained above it, didn’t get into the mix, and always brought people back together.”

“This is a thankless job, an impossible job, but it was done with class and dignity with Larry McClean,” he added.

CB9 paid tribute to McClean at its September general board meeting, a day which Jones declared “Lawrence T. McClean Appreciation Day.”

“You’re part of the fabric of my life, you’re part of the way I do things,” McClean said. “I learned how to do it from the people here, so what success I may have is basically based on Board 9.”
Several noted that McClean’s work benefited not only the West Harlem community, but the city as a whole. While chair, Kovaleff worked on a snow removal initiative that required site visits.
“Larry was the one who coordinated and scheduled those site visits, and now we have the best, most well thought snow removal program of anywhere in Manhattan,” he said.

Another time, Kovaleff recalled, he and McClean developed a plan for lead abatement during the painting of West Side Highway. “This program that we developed ... is now a citywide program,” he said.

McClean’s efforts ensured his longevity at the board. “He was the DM [district manager] through nearly five chairs,” Dunn said, “and over the years he was just always there.”Kovaleff, who was part of the nominating committee that hired McClean in 1993, spoke of McClean’s role as a part of the board’s history.

“He was appointed when CB9 and Columbia were at loggerheads over the existence of each other. Right there that shows a major change in the community,” Kovaleff said. “One of these days, without Larry and a couple others like us, nobody’s going to know about all those statements the board made.”

CB9 decided on a new district manager at a closed-door meeting Thursday night, and Jones said the board would announce its decision Friday.

McClean promised in September he would use what he learned at CB9 to reform Queens’ community boards. “Out there they don’t have the kind of meetings we have here,” he said. “It will be an experience that I’m not sure how good I’d be if I hadn’t walked through the door in 1992 for a job.”

In the meantime, McClean already seems to be making headway in his new location. “I’ve had some feedback, and he’s already raised expectations out there,” Kovaleff said. “He’s good luck for them, even if they are the number 13.”

Daniel Amzallag contributed reporting to this article.

Monday, October 20, 2008

CU Works Toward Phase One of Expansion

CU Works Toward Phase One of Expansion
By Christine Choi

As Columbia pushes to complete the first phase of its Manhattanville expansion by 2015, University and community officials have set tentative dates for two projects.

The West Harlem Local Development Corporation hopes to submit a proposal for a community benefits agreement to Columbia by November. Meanwhile, the University plans to break ground for the first phase of development by next spring.

Joe Ienuso, Columbia’s executive vice president for facilities, said that while no definitive timetable had been set, “spring 2009 is certainly the hope.” The University will first have to clear legal hurdles, including the completion of the public review process.

Construction work will begin with the demolition of buildings that currently occupy two patches of land bounded by 130th and 125th streets to the north and south and by 12th Avenue and Broadway to the east and west.

The University plans to construct four new buildings in that space, including, as Ienuso described, “a small triangular building” within the property bordered by 125th and 129th streets, and “the science center, the new SIPA building, and a lantern-shaped building between them” on the larger property between 129th and 130th streets.

The design commission for all four buildings was awarded to Renzo Piano Building Workshop, a Paris-based firm also responsible for the New York Times’ headquarters.

In consultation with the University, the workshop has been designing through a “very dynamic process, very much informed by the occupants of the building, how a building will be put to use,” Ienuso said.

Ienuso said all the buildings were “in very different stages of the design process,” and that none of the designs had been completed.

Two contractors, Bovis Lend Lease and McKissack & McKissack—the oldest African-American contract management firm in the country—have been hired for the first phase of construction.
As part of the large underground “bathtub” portion of the new campus, construction will involve the pouring of a single foundation for the three buildings between 129th and 130th streets, as opposed to three separate foundations. The below-grade layer would be extended throughout the new campus for laboratory space, a central energy plant, and a bus depot intended to shift traffic to the lower level.

“From an urban planning perspective, we’re taking advantage of fixing the below-grade level so we can have the prime condition of the streets above,” Ienuso said of the “bathtub.”

That aspect of the University’s plan has come under sharp criticism from community members who allege it would put the area at risk of flooding. Local-business owner Nick Sprayregen, who is one of the two remaining holdouts in the expansion zone that have refused to strike a relocation deal with Columbia, filed a lawsuit against the University earlier this year over the alleged environmental dangers of the “bathtub.” His suit was dismissed in September.
Ienuso defended the “bathtub” proposal, stating that the University was adhering to environmental standards.

As the architectural plans evolve, the Local Development Corporation is working to complete a proposal for a community benefits agreement.

“We have not officially submitted our proposal, but we’ve put a deadline on ourselves for by the end of this month,” LDC officer Maritta Dunn said. “We’re meeting with the University on a regular basis to try to finish this up.”

The community benefits agreement would allocate $150 million from the University to the neighborhood for a variety of purposes, including affordable housing in the expansion zone.
Dunn said the LDC has been meeting every week for the last two years to discuss the community benefits agreement.

Dunn expressed hope that the LDC proposal would be approved quickly. The delay in its release “has been a roadblock to them [the University], so we would hope and I don’t expect them to take very long in responding,” she said.

Along with the community benefits agreement proposal, the LDC, which operates on a volunteer basis, has requested advance cash funding for a permanent staff.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Locals Concerned About Economy at Harlem Town Hall

Locals Concerned About Economy at Harlem Town Hall
By Christine Choi

At a town hall meeting Wednesday night, West Harlem residents expressed concern that evictions and rent hikes would continue to worsen in the face of economic downturn and Columbia’s expansion into Manhattanville.

About 100 locals packed into the Harlem School of the Arts to address a panel that included Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilman Robert Jackson, and CB9 chair Pat Jones. Questions ranged from traffic flow to after-school programs, but tenant issues, gentrification, and the economy dominated the conversation, occasionally making for tense exchanges between residents and officials.

Locals criticized the bailout plan and government as failing to hold Wall Street accountable and instead punishing locals.

“How will we benefit from Mike Bloomberg dealing with affordable housing that’s now trapped by predatory lending and mortgage fraud?” local resident Delois Blakely asked.Still more residents cited development of the area, including Columbia’s construction of its Manhattanville campus, as the key factor in rent hikes and evictions. Nellie Hester Bailey, co-founder of the Harlem Tenants Council, detailed the recent eviction of 22 tenants from an apartment complex due to rent increases as one of many similar experiences sweeping the neighborhood.

“Columbia University admitted over 5,000 tenants would be evicted as a result of their expansion,” she said, combined with other evictions that “are private investor driven. How are you looking at this shift that is going to bring in thousands of high-rise, high-rent tenants? How are you looking at it in terms of the economic meltdown?”

While Stringer reminded residents that he did not vote for the 125th Street rezoning project, which will bring in commercial development and which many fear will raise area rent prices, he defended Columbia’s expansion. Development of the area “would have happened anyway,” he said, but the project includes “millions of dollars in givebacks,” including more than $20 million in affordable housing that could be “leveraged for a lot more money.”

Furthermore, he said after the meeting, his office was attempting to further address the issue of rent hikes “by taking big landlords to court,” including Pinnacle Group International, many of whom now operate on a “business model based on the number of evictions that would result in increase in rent.”

But Jackson said, it is “up to tenants to organize in a building that has been threatened with MCI rent increases and strategize and identify an attorney that can represent your interests.”
For many residents, the conversation was not enough. Tom DeMott, CC ’80 and active member of Voices of the Everyday People, asked, “When you gut the 197-a plan, what kind of hope do we have that a back and forth like this has any value?” Another West Harlem resident, who identified herself as Cookie, said after the meeting that officials “haven’t been reflective of the community. Their allegiance is somewhere else.”

Andrew Lyubarsky, CC ’09 and member of the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification, said that the panel “left a lot of questions unanswered,” including specifications on a community benefits agreement.

CB9 Debates Bylaws, Historical Preservation

CB9 Debates Bylaws, Historical Preservation
By Daniel Amzallag

Community Board 9 discussed bylaws and approved resolutions concerning historical preservation at its monthly general board meeting Thursday night.

The board, whose district stretches from West 110th to 155th streets, had created a committee to propose revisions and amendments to its bylaws. Board member Tamara Gayer presented the committee’s suggestions Thursday, which were discussed for approximately two hours. CB9 will vote on the bylaw amendments at next month’s general board meeting.

Among changes to absence policy and officer elections, the bylaw amendments allow an attendee to be removed from a meeting for “using profanity, threats, and/or engaging in physical confrontation with another member.”

The board also discussed historical preservation in Morningside Heights. It approved a resolution to University President Lee Bollinger expressing admonishment for Columbia’s alleged plans to demolish several brownstones on West 115th and 116th streets.

“Columbia has not been forthcoming at all. They have not provided any information,” said Irene Cheng, who represented a committee of residents of 115th and 116th streets.

Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Manhattanville and Central Harlem) spoke of Urban American Management Corporation, the new owner of 3333 Broadway, a 1,190-unit development on West 133rd Street. The building was originally under the Mitchell-Lama program, a state affordable-housing program, until it opted out in May 2005. Since then, the building has seen hundreds of evictions.

Wright charged the complex’s new owner, Urban American, with “trying to knock people out, harass them out to bring in market-rate tenants.”

Urban America—as well as its previous owners—purchased 3333 Broadway for “entirely too much money,” and now need to evict tenants with fixed rents in order to meet costs, he claimed.
The board also approved several letters of support. One letter will be sent to the New York City Department of Transportation expressing conditional support for the “concept of the design” for an expansion of Montefiore Park between West 136th and 138th streets. The letter of support allows Harlem Heritage and Housing to go forward in completing a design, but insists on additional green space and on a replacement of parking spaces that will be eliminated.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

After Dispute, Floridita Owner Resumes Negotiations

After Dispute, Floridita Owner Resumes Negotiations
By Maggie Astor

After months of tumultuous back-and-forth between the owner of Floridita Restaurant and Tapas Bar and Columbia real estate officials, negotiations resumed on Monday regarding the business’ relocation to an area outside the Manhattanville expansion zone.

The reopening of negotiations marks the end of a dispute between Ramon Diaz and the University, which culminated last April when discussion was suspended after Columbia, the building’s owner, alleged that Diaz owed outstanding payments on rent, real estate tax, and water charges.

Spanning three storefronts along Broadway between 125th and 129th streets, Floridita is located in the heart of the expansion zone in which Columbia plans to build its Manhattanville campus.
According to Diaz, Columbia officials acknowledged at the Monday meeting that he had been billed incorrectly for thousands of dollars. Diaz had contested the validity of the charges on the grounds that the water meter in his building was providing inconsistent measurements.

University spokeswoman Victoria Benitez said that the University does not comment on ongoing negotiations.

Last spring, the University insisted that Diaz was missing tens of thousands of dollars in rent. In response, Diaz sent Phil Silverman, Columbia’s vice president of real estate, copies of cancelled checks for each rent and real estate tax payment he had made since assuming ownership of Floridita in 2006. At the time, Silverman and University spokeswoman La-Verna Fountain maintained that all the checks Diaz provided had been accounted for, and that Diaz still owed the initial balance. The University subsequently cut off negotiations, Diaz reported.

At the conference Monday, the officials “didn’t admit the water meters were defective, but they did acquiesce to the discount that I thought was appropriate based on what I thought the meters were misreading,” Diaz said. “We negotiated the open amount to a figure that they were comfortable with and I was comfortable with, and the water is now current.”

The University had first said that Diaz owed $32,000 in water charges. After Monday’s discussion, the final amount was set at $20,000, which Diaz said he paid at the meeting.
“We needed to get those issues off the table, and therefore they made concessions to get them off the table,” Diaz said.

The future of the tapas bar was a major point of conflict this year between Diaz and University officials. Floridita, whose tapas bar is separate from the restaurant, works on two leases. While the lease on the restaurant is good until 2015, Diaz has to renew his tapas bar lease annually. Fearing that the University would terminate the latter, Diaz went so far as to prepare a lawsuit with his attorney.

But after Monday’s meeting, Diaz said, a new lease has been signed and “the lawsuit—even the potential for the lawsuit—is off the table.”

If everything goes according to plan, Floridita will move to another location within the expansion zone, an agreement to be reached mutually by Diaz and Columbia real estate officials. According to Diaz, Phil Silverman said no space was currently available. In all likelihood, Diaz will eventually relocate to a building that still has not been constructed.

In the meantime, he will remain in his current location. Silverman also promised to work to resolve the problem of reduced business, Diaz said, which came about due to construction outside the eatery.

“They have agreed to begin negotiations to start working with me insofar as how the construction is affecting my business,” Diaz said. “He [Silverman] did mention that if the construction ... starts hurting you, we will help you in any way, shape, or form we can to offset losses and business being affected in a negative way.”

Diaz has recently complained to Columbia and to city officials about the setup of barriers and the closing of a lane on Broadway, which resulted in eight traffic accidents outside Floridita in a month. In reaction to Diaz’s reports, the barriers were taken down and new traffic signals installed. He said that no more accidents have occurred since those modifications were made.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Latino Heritage: Our Stories

Latino Heritage: Our Stories
By Ivette Sanchez

In 1947, seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Orange County affirmed the decision of Mendez v. Westminster School District, which stated that the segregation of Mexican and Mexican-American students into separate “Mexican schools” was unconstitutional. The case had arisen two years earlier in Los Angeles when five Mexican-American fathers—Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Gonzalo Mendez, Frank Palomino, and Lorenzo Ramirez—with the help of civil rights organizations, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 5,000 Mexican-American families, challenging the practice of school segregation in the Orange County district of California. The plaintiffs claimed that children of Mexican ancestry, because of their national origin, were being discriminated against by being forced to attend separate “Mexican” schools in Orange County.

As discussed on the WGBH Educational Foundation Web site, Mexican Americans living in the Western territory of the United States had been engaging in a century-long struggle for equality far before Mendez. Educational codes in California had directly, and indirectly, worked to deny students not only of Mexican, but African-American, Asian-American, and Native American decent, the right to equal education. Conditions in Mexican-American schools were vastly inferior to those in white schools, often as a result of little state funding.

The senior district judge in Los Angeles ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 1946, finding segregated schools to be a denial of the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment pertaining to access to education. As the first successful challenge to the “separate but equal” doctrine, Mendez v. Westminster set an important precedent for the arguments upheld in the Brown decision. Furthermore, Governor Earl Warren of California, who would later preside over Brown v. Board of Education as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, signed legislation repealing the remaining segregationist provisions in the California state educational statutes.

One can see how this case served as an important turning point not only for the status of the Latino community in California, but for people of all ancestries and skin colors across the nation.
The stories of individuals, such as Thomas Estrada and William Guzman impacting groups like those 5,000 Mexican families, are the kind of stories upon which Latino heritage and history are built. Latino history is unique in that it is the story of people who are linked very immediately to two cultures, two lands, and two narratives. More often than not, however, this dual identity allows us, as Latinos, to fall between the cracks of the historical narratives told by both cultures, leaving us with a truly minority voice. Latino stories, built out of elements from many sources, but not wholly belonging to one country, are often left untold, absent, and invisible.
On Oct. 1, 2008, in her keynote address at the opening ceremony for Latino Heritage Month, award-winning journalist and author Maria Hinojosa addressed this absence, speaking of her desire, even as an undergraduate at Barnard College, to “tell the stories of invisible people, stories that need to be told.” Indeed, throughout her accomplished career, Hinojosa has sought to tell the social and personal stories of the Latino community that are too often ignored and left untold by even modern media outlets. These stories range from the sociological issues of the prison system and gang culture to developing a Latino identity as a family and as a child.
Hinojosa received the Robert F. Kennedy award in 1995 for “Manhood Behind Bars,” a story for NPR, which documented how jail has become a rite of passage for some men of all races. In 2000, she published her second book, Raising Raul: Adventures Raising Myself and My Son, a motherhood memoir about raising a Latino child in a multicultural society. Hinojosa’s significance is in her devoted efforts to raise awareness of the voices and stories of the Latino community.

As Meylin Mota, BC ’09 and co-chair of the Latino Heritage Month committee, noted at the opening reception, this month-long celebration of Latino heritage aims to promote an awareness of Latino issues, struggles, and triumphs, bringing together individual and collective histories in order to form a deeper understanding of who we are today. The Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, once wrote, “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar,” which translates, “Traveler, there is no path, you make it as you are walking.” The Latino identity by its very definition is one of a traveler, making paths across culture, time, and geography that are not easily recorded by traditional sources. It is essential that we trace these innumerable paths, if only to discover how it is we got to where we are today.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore. She is an associate editorial page editor.
TAGS: Latino Heritage, Mendez v. Westminister

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Here go again! The perpetuation of the myth of a Latino identity.

The fact is that that there are many historic differences between the Mexican Experience and of the non-White people from Spanish America in the Western USA and in the Eastern USA.
While in fact Mexicans of native heritage were obstracized and segregated in the West. that was not the experience of the Spanish settlers of Florida and Louisiana who in fact were part of the power structure and have always been part of the Southestern US civil society.

The largest number of new Spanish speaking arrivals were the Cubans in several weaves starting in the 1820's, then the 1850's and again in the 1880-90's as exiles, the children of European Spaniards and other European natiionals, Cuba a Spanish colony and at times province, suffered the oppression of the Spanish Colonial system. Many exiles returned to Cuba but many more remained and assimilated into the American Melting Pot. The latest weave in the late 1950's and early 1960's and in 1980's again has been very successful and many have assimilated into American society.

The same being true for many other arrivals from Central and South America that have settled in Florida and New York.

Puerto Ricans became part of the US after the Spanish American War and many have successfully assimilated but those from the lower socio-economic levels have had difficulties and and have been obstracized, descriminated and even gehttoized to a great degree but seem to begin to prosper and move on.

Non-Whites such as the Dominicans and from other countries, particular those of African ancestry, are still struggling to make a place for themselves but being inventive and hard working they are also beginning to make their mark in NYC.

So the Myth of a Latino Heritage is just that a MYTH.

Each country in Spanish America have its own history, folklore, music, culture although all speak more or less the same Spanish language sometimes they need to translate their ideas to each other.

The Real Heritage is those of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezula, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile, Peru, etc. Each one is a beautiful and glorious and at times sad Heritage but each is an individual Spanish American National Heritage - somewhat similar but not the same.

It is a shame that Spanish American peoples are being brain washed, pasteurized and homogenized by the ignorance of the general US tendency to create an artificial "Third Race" between the White and Black, basically to attempt to diminish the African American ambitions and just desiires for total equality.

Perpetuation of the Latino Myth does a tremendous diservice to the Spanish American peoples as well as to the US in genral general population.

If Europeans are whatever national origins they are, even if speaking the same language, why is it alright to homogenze Spanish American countries of origin? After all Germans are Germans, Austirans are Austrians, Swiss ae Swiss etc. and they all speak a form of German.

It is time to stop the stupidity of the homogenization of Spansih Americans.

Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 11th, 2008 @ 12:32pm