Jimmy Van Bramer

Elected officials, with power to regulate land use and real estate development, appear at rally to decry unregulated real estate development

The dozens of rally participants appeared unaware that the Municipal legislature in New York City has power and authority to regulate the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

By Progress New York Staff

Elected officials, ranging from New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), New York State Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D-Long Island City), and New York City Councilmember James Van Bramer (D-Sunnywide), attended a rally in Long Island City on Saturday, March 3, to call for responsibile real estate development.

The purpose of the rally was to nominally bring the community and elected officials together to demand that a “public parcel” on 44th Drive in Long Island City be saved “to create much needed Schools, Open Space, a Recreation Center, Space for the Arts & Job Training now!” according to a Facebook event for the rally.

Once at the rally, each of the three elected officials congratulated the several dozen rally participants for coming together to demand responsible development. Yet, each of the three elected officials overlooked their own roles in failing to prevent either the sale or lease of public lands to private real estate developers or irresponsible real estate development. At a 2015 speech at New York Law School, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara decried the appearance of corruption that subverted regulation by the New York State legislature of some participants in the real estate industry. The Municipal legislature in New York City has power and authority to regulate changes in land use. Moreover, public officials generally owe a duty to provide their constituents with honest services.

The public parcel on 44th Drive is expected to be open to bidding from private real estate developers by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The EDC, as the Municipal Government agency is sometimes referred, is the successor agency to several agencies that were responsible for helping revive the economic fortunes of New York City during its crisis years of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Community activists now view the EDC as being solely focused on spreading gentrification.

During remarks made at the rally, Councilmember Van Bramer appeared to contradict himself, first saying that the EDC’s proposal for the public parcel on 44th Drive would be “dead on arrival,” as proposed, but, later, added that the EDC was going to bid out the public parcel, at which time, he said, the community should make its demands be heard by the EDC. Such a strategy is doomed to failure, in the view of community activists, because Government Agencies generally do not stop lucrative real estate development projects opposed by communities.

The dozens of rally participants appeared unaware that the Municipal legislature in New York City has power and authority to regulate the EDC ; yet, Councilmember Van Bramer has inexplicably refused to exercise such power and authority on behalf of his constituents. Despite their predictable, failed strategy, residents of Long Island City are not the first community to come together to fight gentrification spurred on by the EDC. In the past, the community of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, came together, but lost, in a bid to stop gentrification spurred on by another EDC-backed project, the Brooklyn South Marine Terminal.

As New York City faces relentless gentrification pressures that are brought about by Government policy, the City’s disparate communities have yet to unite to demand either democratic control over land use matters or regulation, or defunding, of the EDC.

Although Councilmember Van Bramer appeared at a rally that was nominally opposed to the disposition of strategic public assets to private real estate developers, he was not held to account by the rally participants for having nonetheless voted in November 2017 to sell the City-owned Bedford-Union Armory to a private real estate developer, providing fodder for some critics, who view Councilmember Van Bramer as unprincipled about democratic control over land use. In a blog post that was published on the same day as the rally, the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project noted Councilmember Van Bramer’s duplicity in his commitment to fighting the disposition of City-owned property to real estate developers. During the rally, some members of QAGP, as the group is known, distributed flyers designed to appear like a mock resume for Councilmember Van Bramer, depicting him as a loyal servant of real estate developers.

Amongst the speakers at the Long Island City rally, organised by the LIC Coalition, were Jenny Dubnau, an artist, who has cultivated a larger following due to her politically-tinged advocacy work.

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