State Senator Daniel Squadron held his third annual Community Convention Sunday at St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street. The previous two had been in the Manhattan portion of his district; this was the first in Brooklyn. At the close of the proceedings, he said attendance was estimated at about 250.
The Senator got things going by introducing Robert Oliva, Director of Special Events at St. Francis, who he thanked for hosting the Convention. Mr. Oliva reminded us that the College is named for one of the top ten, maybe top five, nice guys of all time, who loved birds and other creatures, and was unfailingly kind to the less fortunate. He was, Oliva concluded, perhaps the first “green”. Next, Squadron called on Representative Jerrold Nadler, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan in the U.S. Congress. Nadler gave a short talk emphasizing national and international issues. Proponents of severe budgetary austerity at this time, he said, should keep an eye on Britain and Germany, which have both instituted austerity budgets and which, he predicted, will see their economic recoveries stall as a result.
Squadron then gave a short speech in which he emphasized the importance of citizen involvement in and support of the legislative process. The first piece of legislation he proposed, he said, was to require sellers of vehicles to provide gallons per mile (“GPM”) as well as miles per gallon (“MPG”) statistics. While the latter tells you how many miles you can go on a tankful of fuel, the former tells you how much fuel you’ll need to go a particular distance, which is useful in evaluating whether it’s more economical to drive or take public transit. However, this bill failed to arouse any substantial public interest (“No one cared”, in the Senator’s words), and went nowhere. By contrast, his bill to federalize certain developments by the New York City Housing Authority, which would provide substantial funds for public housing in the City, generated support, was passed, and has proved very beneficial.
We were then invited to go to breakout groups to discuss topics of interest. I chose to attend “Parks and Open Space”. As might be expected, Brooklyn Bridge Park was the principal topic of discussion, although Gowanus Canal was also on the agenda, which was created by polling attendees. Among the concerns raised were (1) the need to revisit the Park’s maintenance budget, which local resident Kenn Lowy said has been inflated to justify the need for luxury housing for funding; (2) provision of more active recreational space, some of which could be used to generate funds for the Park’s upkeep, instead of “passive” areas like the artificial wetland proposed for Pier 6: (3) opening up the “threshold parameters” that limited what could be considered as alternatives to housing in the Park; and (4) more consideration of the Jehovah’s Witness properties as potential funding sources. Sandy Balboza, of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, suggested careful consideration of a Park Improvement District that would raise funds from assessments on properties benefiting from the Park.
Another topic considered was the effect of the forthcoming rehabilitation of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on Brooklyn Bridge Park, as well as on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Cobble Hill Association President Roy Sloane noted that, whatever course of action (which could be rebuilding the BQE in place or re-routing part of it through a tunnel) is taken, it will result in a tremendous diversion of traffic, including a very large amount of truck traffic, onto local streets. Alex Delisi, the Squadron staffer who moderated the session, promised to bring all these concerns to the Senator’s attention.
After the breakout sessions, food and drinks provided by local restaurants were served in the College’s cafeteria. Senator squadron gave a parting address, thanking all for their attendance and contributions to the discussion of issues affecting his district.