Top Budgeting Items Reach [West Side] Summit | chelseanow.com

Top Budgeting Items Reach [West Side] Summit

BY ZACH WILLIAMS | In the end, a little more than 500 votes each was what it took for seven local improvement projects to receive funding through the participatory budgeting process.

Ballot Item #8 was the #1 winner, securing participatory budgeting funds for a micro park on W. 20th St. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.). Courtesy James Khamsi for Friends of 20th St. Park.

Ballot Item #8 was the #1 winner, securing participatory budgeting funds for a micro park on W. 20th St. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.). Courtesy James Khamsi for Friends of 20th St. Park.

City Councilmember Corey Johnson announced the results at May 9’s inaugural West Side Summit, held at Civic Hall (Fifth Ave. btw. 20th & 21st Sts.). The event began with remarks from local elected officials on issues pertaining to City Council District 3 — one of 24 council districts which held participatory budgeting this year.

Cooperation among residents and elected officials as demonstrated through participatory budgeting — the process of voting on how to allocate $1 million from Johnson’s discretionary budget — gets to the heart of how the democratic process plays out on the West Side, according to State Senator Brad Hoylman.

“It’s back to the fundamentals of what makes us democrats and I don’t mean capital ‘D,’ Democrats but small ‘d,’ democracy — because we have seen in our system of government where people want to make decisions without consulting the people who they are supposedly representing,” he said.

Remarks made throughout the evening suggested who those “people” are. Hoylman took a swipe at Republican legislators in Albany for inaction on climate change. City Comptroller Scott Stringer highlighted his support for a $15 minimum wage.

Congressmen Jerrold Nadler spoke about the need to overcome Congressional opposition to ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The Trans-Pacific Partnership must be stopped from receiving “fast track” support, he added. As Chelsea Now went to press, a Politico.com report (“Senate strikes deal to pass fast-track trade bill) noted “the agreement would give Democrats a chance to vote on two of their own trade priorities as standalone bills.”

A keynote address on the makings of an ideal neighborhood came from Margaret Newman, executive director of The Municipal Art Society of New York.

“There are certain buildings, parks, and intersections that bring meaning to our neighborhoods that provide tangible and intangible benefits. One working definition is that a successful place is one which attracts a diverse set of users, helps spark social, cultural and economic enterprise, and contributes to a sense of community and global citizenship,” said Newman.

At the West Side Summit, residents offered their suggestions for policy priorities on issues such as transportation, housing, and the development of small businesses. Photo by Zach Williams.

At the West Side Summit, residents offered their suggestions for policy priorities on issues such as transportation, housing, and the development of small businesses. Photo by Zach Williams.

An hour into the program, the approximately 200 people in the audience were eager to hear the results of the participatory budgeting election. But first they would have to listen to one more speaker, who Johnson described as “always on the right side of every issue in Albany.”

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal took the praise of Johnson to a new level, following the three other elected officials who had already complimented the freshman councilmember. She even noted that their cats are friends.

Between April 11 and 19 — in locations including The LGBT Community Center on W. 13th St., Hartley House on W. 46th St. and Hudson Guild on W. 26th St. — approximately 2,500 District 3 residents of at least 14 years of age cast ballots in the participatory budgeting election, which allowed voting for five out of the 17 items.

Although the turnout equaled only 10 percent of that for the last round of City Council elections, Johnson struck an upbeat note as he announced the projects, which will receive funding of $1 million through his office’s discretionary budget upon approval of the city budget in early summer. The big winner was an effort to create a park at 136 W. 20th St. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.), which received 1,342 votes — nearly 600 votes more than its closest competitor.

The money ($200,000) will pay for the demolition of a former Department of Sanitation building as well as environmental cleanup. The Parks Department backs the idea, but additional funding remains to be secured to realize the longstanding effort led by Friends of 20th Street Park (20thstreetpark.org). A project such as this generally requires about two to four years to complete once funding is secured, according to a Parks Department spokesperson.

“NYC Parks supports this acquisition, and we are beginning the process to identify the amount of funding needed to build a park here,” Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro said in an email statement to Chelsea Now.

New parks require a three-part process: design, procurement and construction, according to the department. A project becomes official when it has secured full funding and has a designer assigned.

West Side Summit audience member (and longtime Chelsea resident) Pamela Wolff was nonetheless pleased that the proposal prevailed in voting, though the ultimate success of the effort remains undetermined. She said in an interview that the 20th St. effort is progressing at a pace far faster than the three-decade campaign to create another prominent local park.

“This is not long given how long it took to get Chelsea Waterside Park to get off the ground,” she noted. An $85,000 idea to create an interactive garden to teach children about ethnobotany and native fauna at Chelsea Waterside Park (11th Ave. at W. 23rd St.) received the 758 votes — the second highest tally once the participatory budgeting ballots were counted.

The call of nature was what ultimately determined the extent to which multiple projects could receive funding.

Teenager Liam Buckley was one example of the “delegates” who backed each proposal during the months of preparation before voting began. He said in an interview that about 25 hours of work included meetings with Johnson’s staff as well as people within the LAB School community. The proposal to get money for a new public address system fell short, but a concerted effort to rally support through the PTA and among students pushed the bathroom idea over the top in voting — though city funding will ultimately come through another channel.

An ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act]-compliant bathroom for Jefferson Market Library in the West Village (648 votes) and restroom improvements at the LAB School in Chelsea (594 votes) each had a $500,000 price tag. Johnson said before voting that there was a chance that his office would fund projects beyond the $1 million earmarked for participatory budgeting. These two projects, however, came in at third and fourth place — making the top four projects require nearly $1.3 million in funding.

Three more items on the ballot won, after the city School Construction Authority (SCA) agreed to fund new bathrooms at the school, according to Johnson. A proposal to allocate $500,000 for a cooling system at Muhlenberg Library was a top-seven vote recipient (571 votes) — but allowing it to secure the funding would have brought the total too far beyond the $1 million target, according to Matt Green, legislative aide to Johnson and participatory budget director for his office.

Liam Buckley (standing) met with Councilmember Johnson’s staff as well as people within the LAB School community to advocate for a public address system and bathroom facility upgrades. Photo by Zach Williams.

Liam Buckley (standing) met with Councilmember Johnson’s staff as well as people within the LAB School community to advocate for a public address system and bathroom facility upgrades. Photo by Zach Williams.

As a result of SCA funding for the LAB project and the deletion of Muhlenberg’s cooling system, three other ballot items received funding: sidewalk repairs on W. 26th St. at the Elliot-Chelsea Houses ($50,000, 578 votes), library modernization at PS3 ($35,000, 533 votes) and the $250,000 pilot of a raised pedestrian crosswalk at W. 45th St. and Ninth Ave., which received 532 votes.