2016-11-02 / Front Page

Woodside on the Move Meets

By Thomas Cogan

Woodside on the Move is a civic organization that has existed for several years, but it seems to have assumed a new look lately and, since September anyway, has adopted a theme of “jobs-homes-‘hood,” along with an impulse to get beyond the neighborhood and ally with groups all over the city.  Its first meeting was in September and its second was held this past Sunday afternoon, at the WOTM office on 59th Street.  Present at the meeting were local and nearby activists and those from as far away as upper Manhattan and the Bronx.  An activist from that borough, a leader of a group resisting a city plan to transform Jerome Avenue, was the meeting’s most engaging speaker.

The current WOTM appears to have combined with the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce around the Small Business, Jobs Survival Act that is at the moment in the City Council but not yet acted upon.  Speaking first at the meeting and looking like the leader of WOTM was Jenny Dubnau, an artist and Jackson Heights resident who described the small business she wants preserved as a combination of manufacturers, merchants and artists.  She advocated a “basic right to renew” for small business that would allow those manufacturers, merchants and artists to obtain long leases—meaning 10 years---and not be constantly worrying about when their landlords would raise their rents sufficiently to force them out.  She said that commercial rent control was actually in effect between 1945 and 1963, being a late-wartime companion to residential rent control, passed with the support of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in his last year in office.  It lasted nearly two decades until the forces of development got the state government to end it.  These days, that small business legislation idling in the city council has its advocates but does not move forward because too many are reserving commitment, if not opposing it.

Aries Cruz, a Philippine-American active in opposing expansion of the Universal Church at 68-03 Roosevelt Ave. announced that the church had withdrawn its scheduled appearance at the Thursday, November 3 meeting of Community Board 2.  Instead, it will have another meeting with the CB 2’s land use committee, Wednesday, November 16 and an appearance at the CB 2 meeting on Thursday, December 1.

 Melissa Orlando, of Access Queens and 7 Train Blues, said the city works with developers toward a massive restructuring of transit zones, which are housing and businesses located along transit routes, particularly rail.  She said it looks like the proposed route of the Brooklyn-Queens Exchange, or BQX, the light rail system envisioned to run between Astoria in Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn, is a perfect example of this procedure.  Its proponents claim the expense of building it (estimated at the outset to be $2.5 billion, though its actual cost would probably be higher than it is bearable to ponder) would be partially supported by the expected increases in property taxes.  But what that really means, she said, is an upgrade achieved by making everything high-priced and clearing out all the “affordable” folks.  The topic of transportation moved one visitor from Inwood in Manhattan to advance the cause of fare-free subways, something seldom mentioned since the late Theodore Kheel last brought it up.  

The speaker from the Bronx was Fitzroy Christian, head of the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision.  He told the audience that he arrived in the Bronx in 1971, which led him into the decade’s grim years of arson, desertion and ruination.  But, he said, while many left the Bronx, he stayed, becoming an activist.  The current coalition was begun in 2014, Bill De Blasio’s first year as mayor.  He said a friend informed him that a Department of City Planning official was scouting some of the local streets, which made him suspicious.  He soon discovered the Jerome Avenue plan, involving 73 blocks along and off the avenue from 167th to 183rd Streets, most of them industrially and commercially zoned.  The ultimate plan was to change the business zoning to widespread residential zoning, which to him meant plans to erect block-upon-block of apartment towers after the industrial/commercial and residential people were routed and their buildings leveled.  He said he organized protesters of such devotion that on one day in early 2015 when a heavy snowstorm was raging he was able to rally 500 adherents out to a meeting.

He said he has four rezoning principles.  First, there must be anti-harassment and anti-displacement policies for residential and commercial tenants; second, there must be truly affordable housing; third, there must be good jobs and local hire to do them; and fourth, there must be real community participation.  He insists on the fulfillment of all four principles, rejecting compromise.  He said that in his lifetime he has earned high income yet has felt the difficulty of living, so how much worse must it be for those earning only a fraction of what he earned?

He has 27 unions in league with him and two City Council members, though he said the latter go along “even if they don’t like some of our tactics.”  He is used to running meetings till midnight, maybe even dawn, though he said realistically he knows that even the most fervent activists have to sleep and rise for work most mornings.  Normally, he runs monthly meetings in his headquarters on Jerome Avenue.  At last Sunday’s meeting, after listening to another person describe his particular cause he said that he focuses on keeping residents in their houses and all other causes, however worthy, are of lesser concern to him.

How this near and far vision will work out for Woodside on the Move can only be seen over time.  Right now, it looks like there’s plenty of activity and several developments to keep their Sunday meetings going for awhile.

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