'Tis the Season for Resistance
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Mi Gente,

It is the holiday season -- but a season like we have not seen in recent memory. We were hoping to provide you a year in review to highlight the milestones, celebrations, memories, and achievements that 2016 has brought. But we find ourselves in a troubling political climate, not just nationally, but locally as well. In the midst of all our work to address climate change and advance a Just Transition, we are again forced to focus on local proposals that threaten to undermine our community's stability and well-being.

Fortunately, our community understands the threat, and s kepticism and criticism are mounting about Mayor de Blasio's proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX). The BQX is an imagined $2.5 billion streetcar that navigates a 16-mile waterfront route between Sunset Park and Astoria at 11 miles per hour. Throughout the corridor, questions are being raised about a number of the proposal's features: 1) the fact that major waterfront developers are its foremost advocates; 2) its financing depends on inflating property taxes along its corridor; 3) there is no guarantee of free transfers between the streetcar and MTA buses and subways; 4) the route is nearly entirely in flood zones; and 5) the city has so far failed to incorporate serious community concerns into their plans.

There are already attempts to portray opponents of the BQX as somehow anti-business or na├»ve about transportation.  These are strawman arguments and should be dismissed. This line of thinking is found throughout the recent opinion piece by Rudy Giuliani's former first deputy mayor, and not surprisingly, a supporter of th e BQX. To be clear, we do not believe that the interests of private industry and the public good are necessarily opposed. We have long advocated for local economic development that leverages the Sunset Park industrial area to create blue-collar jobs that address local and regional climate adaptation needs. This would be a coming together of  private interests and public good. Moreover, we understand that the city's proposed method of funding the  BQX -- called tax increment financing, or TIF -- may in some cases be an appropriate way to pay for new infrastructure. A TIF, however, does not make sense when we are considering working-class communities already facing  dramatic levels of displacement, and industrial areas that require low property values to survive. A financing model that by definition encourages and requires rising property values in working-class and industrial communities is cruel public policy and bad economics. And when policy is little but a cold shadow cast by private interests over the public, we will oppose it.

UPROSE has a long  history of working with transit advocates, planners, local businesses and residents, economists, and others to advance just transportation policy. Central to this work is the recognition that low-income communities and communities of color are typically deprived of adequate public transportation amenities on one hand, while shouldering the environmental burdens of vehicular infrastructure on the other. Further, as forefront advocates of climate resilience and adaptation, we view just transportation policy as a major column of sustainability. Over the years, we have committed ourselves to numerous campaigns and initiatives from the local to the national level. In Sunset Park, we spearheaded the Restore the B37 Bus coalition, facilitated the first planning process for the Sunset Park Waterfront Greenway, worked with government and local stakeholders to expand the Fourth Avenue median, and collaborate with NYC Department of Transportation on a community-based plan for connector streets between residential Sunset Park and its industrial waterfront. A decade ago, I served as a commissioner on Mayor Bloomberg's Traffic Mitigation
 Congestion Commission. More recently, we were co-founders of
 Move NY. And UPROSE is a member of Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT), a national campaign of the Labor/Community Strategy Center.

As dedicated advocates of transportation justice, UPROSE will support projects  that integrate from thebeginning the priorities, needs, and concerns of low- and working-class communities. We are the first to say that there is an urgent need for emissions-free, resilient mass surface transit. However, for a frontline community, our situation is more complicated. Our community is now stuck between an emerging federal administration bent on dismantling generations of hard-fought progress and a municipal government committed to old-school, corporate-driven development. Our neighborhood, neglected and deprived of basic amenities for decades, finds resources available only when we are experiencing mass displacement. When our communities develop in a way that puts power and privilege in the driver's seat, threatens to accelerate displacement, and dismisses local concerns, we will resist this with one hand and continue to build local models of resiliency and self-determination with the other. 
Community Board 7's Transportation Committee met last Monday evening with representatives of the NYC Mayor's Office and the Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to receive updates on the proposed BQX. 

The NYC Mayor's Office and the NYCEDC made it clear that evening that several of the project's fatal flaws, which the Sunset Park community has been flagging for months, are essentially baked into the proposal. The project's funding mechanism, which relies on tax increment financing, has remained unchanged. This despite local concerns about the dependence on inflated property values for infrastructure that slices through industrial areas and working-class neighborhoods already battling displacement. 

Local community has assiduously done our homework since February, when the details of BQX began to emerge.  And as usual, Sunset Park came out in force to demonstrate their intelligence, organization, and commitment to community-based planning, not top-down development.

See coverage of the community board meeting in Patch below:

Also, don't miss the Village Voice's piece on last Monday night's meeting here:

Brooklyn Paper also covered the community's response to BQX at the meeting...

...as well as the recent revelation that in a promo video for BQX, the NYCEDC knowingly mischaracterized criticism of the streetcar from a longtime friend of UPROSE. See the link below:

And much respect to Errol Louis of NY1's Inside City Hall for giving voice to community and a grassroots analysis of BQX. Click the video below to see the whole clip:

As we prepare for 2017, the historic struggles that it promises to deliver, and the paths of resistance that we are committed to forge, we wish all of you a peaceful and joyful holiday with your family, friends, and loved ones.

Paz y Poder,