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There was a time in this city when all kinds of land use deals were being made between politicians and real estate developers without the involved community and its residents having a say in the matter — indeed, even knowing beforehand what was going on.
To accomplish transparency, the concept of community boards came into being during the administration of former Mayor John Lindsay. There were some negative aspects — to wit, members were appointed by the borough presidents and City Council members, not local civic associations; while they worked on purely small, local land use matters, when the issue involved large real estate developers with political clout, the ugly hand of sordid politics became a force; and the community boards did not have the last and binding say matters.
Nevertheless, and while I have not been a fan of all community boards, some of which deal in politics and not the interests of communities, they are far better than that which existed previously because there had to be a public hearing before a community board with the public having the right to be heard and a vote taken. If the board and elected officials decided to ignore the will of the community and approve a deal, there would at least be transparency.
Community boards are now under siege by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and some Council members talking about budget cuts for the boards. A diminution of community boards would make the mayor and his fat cat real estate friends happy and return the city to the old ways in which real estate interests and their money got what they wanted and often the public would not know what was going on until it was a done deal.
Bloomberg has made it clear he has little or no interest in the poor, the middle class and small businesses. Several years ago, Daniel Doctoroff, then a high official in the Bloomberg administration, bragged before a group of real estate interests that under Bloomberg 90 percent of all variances requested were granted. The mayor is no friend of local communities.
Notwithstanding some negative aspects of community boards, their destruction or significant downgrading would reinstate the world of secret done deals and that would be unacceptable. Council members should be told that if that is allowed to happen, they should start looking for other employment.
Benjamin M. Haber
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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