in LTCP, Politics and Plans

Planning Together: Part VII

One Take…Subcommittee on Capital Budget  and Committee on Land Use 

The underlying theme in the February 23, 2021 hearing on the proposed legislation examined one point.  Where and how can long-term planning fit into the city’s policies regarding the budget, land use, and zoning? Best comment heard… if the city could fix the digital divide first, you might get your ducks in a row to cross that pond.

The Department of City Planning’s (DCP) special districts and zoning customizations have developed into a finely honed contractual practice that resists the legislative exercise.  The 2019 Charter Revision produced a symptom of this problem but not a cure for its cause. There is a legislative desire to do more.

The 2019 Charter was asked to incorporate long-term planning but would not take it up, the DCP did not want to do it, and so the City Council facing all the heat from their constituents, decided to develop a concept that would give them something to work with at the grassroots.

Councilmembers are always responding to or looking for capital investment opportunities. Much of it occurs outside of the zoning process, and rightfully so.  The difficulty of attracting investors’ confidence from within the community is a fundamental problem further exacerbated when a rezoning is announced at the behest of what appears to be (and in many cases are) major outside investors.

The city’s capital and expense budget will not support an expansive community engagement process designed to sustain the community-based power only to be politically advisory.  Politically the city will not go any further than to accept the community’s counseling. The Mayor’s negotiating control of the budget as approved through 2021 suggests the opportunity for balance in the short term, but it has produced a long list of serious fiscal challenges through 2025, (overview from IBO is here and from the CBC here).

The Takeaway

  1. The cash and justice question with the capital budget has the code name “equity.” As a nation, we have failed, but we have not fallen. The DCP has developed many relationships with the city’s agencies such as HPD and Health and citywide nonprofits with data to define issues and develop consensus where it is achieved. The DCP points to specific citywide topics.
    • The implementation of “Where We Live”  under the heading of a plan for “fair housing” is the example to follow.  Districts cannot speak with one voice, but on issues, a plan can get consensus accomplished.
    • DCP’s contribution to the Food Metrics Reporting (pdf here) as an issue affecting the city’s quality of life with a focus on food security since 2009 is another example to follow.
  2. The writers of the legislation did not reach out or conduct any pre-plan planning.
    •  If they had, they would have realized a strong sense of need, but not the social infrastructure or skilled resources required to succeed.  The legislation is top-down by default.
    • Expense budget cuts to Community Boards do not recognize the LTCP as a priority, and all agencies are affected “across the board” through FY 2024/5
  3. City Councilmembers do the official budget “ask” in response to community capital budget needs. Many entered politics as leaders on Community Boards but,
    • They feel separated from the process, but are they? They see poor agency coordination in their districts and CBs, and want back in to help with that and be more responsive to their constituents.
    • The Ten-Year Capital Strategy has goals and strategies in the front of “the book” and per agency funding in the back, and the connections between them are weak.  The budget office says it will release a new strategy in April that may look better.
  4. NYC  has a robust report production regime. 
    1. Legislation by the City Council should determine which of them add value and when that value is achieved and discard the function if no value occurs. That is the legislation needed.
    1. The implication is there is no reason to read or seriously work through the reports. For example, the fair housing plan has a laundry list of accomplishments, but they are not measured against something as simple as defining the problem.  For example, 1,000 homeless families in permanent housing (yea!), but measured against what and when?  Such terms should all be measured annually by FY and by place.

Other Observations

Complex information such as injecting racial equity into the process cannot be presented in a complicated way. A citywide education campaign helpful to all parties on this generational question is needed, what we all need to do about it from year-to-year, decade-to-decade. The “where we live” plan is a document full of facts that may be accurate. Nevertheless, a mechanism is not presented for understanding if any progress is being made against the problems the city is facing in housing affordability.

The word piecemeal was used a lot, and it can mean “step by step,” which is how DCP sees it or “in pieces” as the way Councilmembers and residents feel it.  Tooth and nail, lot-by-lot, 197a plans have value, and they are educational for writers, researchers, and participants.  Apparently, the DCP cannot meet residents halfway or at all. No one seems to be getting at the why other than it will cost too much.  The slipperiness of 59 cities with budgets to enforce co-terminality and resist change appears to DCP like disorderly and unpredictable fragmentation, a true Balkanization.  

There are CBs that are far stronger than the lower-income districts.  The (SoHo/NoHo) report is an example. — it is transit-rich and needs a push into affordability and fair-housing, job retention, and so on. Communities do not speak with one voice, but you can get them to focus on single issues and agree to terms project-by-project in places such as SoHo/NoHo.

The ULURP process has only turned down one application in Brooklyn.  What was that one, and why? Was it the Brooklyn Heights Association and a bevy of lawyers? The community can be at the center of the process, and the LTCP as an idea could help, but not this legislation if the testimony is the measure. It offers little hope of balanced growth citywide, notwithstanding that capitalism still runs NYC. It requires imbalances to function. 

The LTCP suggests a GEIS for the city would suffice, but DCP sees the city as far too complex to be stuffed into it with too many litigation opportunities. The DCPs own the manual sees comprehensive plans as a good candidate for a GEIS on projects such as the Hudson Yards, but not the entire city.   

The government knows what to do. It is the how that is difficult.  It is challenging to build new and preserved affordable rental housing and prevent displacement in private markets. It is hard to sustain long-term investments that eliminate the concentration of poverty, expand rental assistance, and establish permanent supportive housing for the most vulnerable.

I am predicting this legislation will get twenty-six votes just because that is how pissed some Councilmembers sound. It will pass with amendments that require more resources for district residents, local nonprofits, and Community Boards. Section 20 of the New York City Charter will be given a chance at a life with a creep-along budget.  Amendments could set the clock back to 2024, perhaps 2025. 

RLC – OCCUPY

Step Three — Amendments

In this space and the hundreds of other blogs that might be read on this issue. What are they talking about, and how do they stand on this issue.

The proof that communication has been successful when aimed at anyone is if there has been a persuasion to act. I was persuaded to write up my impressions. Corrections with added perceptions are requested, cross-linked, from ANHD, CHPC, MAS. the OBP, PN member of the university elite in planning and the Grizzly in the room, the REBNY regarding changes to the law.

Strategic Plans

I have already invested in a few strategies that might offer the quality of change in community based development.

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