Standing directly in the stifling sunlight on a recent morning, Community Board 3 Chair Gigi Li described her four-point plan to improve Battery Park City.
Li is a Democrat running for the state assembly’s 65th district, which covers Lower Manhattan and parts of the Lower East Side. Li is the first candidate, though not the first elected official, to campaign on a platform of increasing community representation in the Battery Park City Authority. “We stand here today to say enough is enough,” she said. “Residents of Battery Park City built this neighborhood and should have material input into planning processes and decisions. Plans moving forward must be community-driven and that includes guaranteeing at least three residents on the Battery Park City Authority.”
Since the beginning of the year, the BPCA has come under fire from several offices because all of its members save one do not live in the area they represent. In January, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick introduced legislation in each of their houses requiring the majority of board members to be drawn from within Community Board 1. “Battery Park City has changed; the Battery Park City Authority should change with it,” Squadron said at the time. “It’s a fundamental value that communities should have a say in the decisions affecting them.” At the BPCA’s meeting last month, he again urged them to allow for direct comment from the public instead of the written statements from community members that are currently accepted until up to 24 hours after a meeting takes place.
At Li’s press conference last week, held at the northwest corner of South End Avenue and Albany Street, several community members echoed Li’s call for more transparency from the BPCA. “This year, BPCA initiated a process with a flawed survey resulting in minimal input compared to the prior process with DOT; rushed presentation meetings with only days notice, proposals presented with incorrect data as to the sizes of the streets and sidewalks and the recommendations lack clarity detailing all of the BPCA objectives and rationale behind the scale of the project,” said resident Tammy Meltzer. “We need more residents on the board and we need this process to stop and start anew with the community fully incorporated as a driving force.”
In a statement, BPCA spokesman Nick Sbardone emphasized the diversity of the current board members’ backgrounds. “The choice of candidates for the board is entirely within the purview of the governor with a confirmation process in the Senate,” he said. “We have complete confidence that Governor [Andrew] Cuomo will continue to select members of the highest caliber.”
He added that the possible renovation of South End Avenue is just that: a possibility. “We are encouraged by Ms. Li’s engagement in our community-driven process to explore potential improvements to the South End Avenue/West Thames Street combined corridor,” he said. “And right now, that’s all we’re doing – exploring.” The revamp has been under consideration since 2015, when concerns were raised about pedestrian safety. The new designs that have been proposed would feature some combination of widened sidewalks, a narrower, more bike friendly street and different storefront looks.
At Li’s press conference, resident Justine Cuccia acknowledged the BPCA’s recent efforts to save St. Joseph’s Chapel but was not satisfied with their vision for South End Avenue. “What each option has in common is what they don’t say: What will this project cost, how long will it take, and exactly what is broken about South End Avenue that needs fixing?” she said.
As chair of CB 3 Li has worked closely with CB 1, and has witnessed their “continued struggles with their issues being heard as a community board” by the BPCA. After attending a BPCA visioning session for South End Avenue and speaking to board members and residents, Li concluded that the process was “just another glaring example of how the [BPCA] is trying to move forward with a very aggressive timeline without residential and small business input.” Since then, she felt it was important to include improving the BPCA in her platform as a candidate. Ideally, as outlined in her four-point plan, she would like to see at least three community members be included in the eight-member board, and wants the BPCA to make room for open public comment sessions at every meeting. “I think there needs to be a really concerted effort as all of the elected officials together to really express to the governor that there needs to be change, and it needs to happen very quickly,” she said.
The election for the 65th district’s next assemblymember will take place on Sept. 13, and the BPCA’s next meeting is set to take place on Sept. 20.