Vacca: Want Safer Streets? Don’t Even Try to Join Your Community Board

Does it get less democratic than this? The City Council Transportation Committee Chair, James Vacca, just told the New York Post that Transportation Alternatives shouldn’t help people join their local community boards.

Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca. Image: CBS 2

For the past few years, TA has held an annual event walking people through the process of applying for community board membership. The event is open to the public. If you go, you don’t get a seat on your community board, but you’ll come away with a better understanding of how to get appointed by your local council member and borough president.

But apparently, if you’ve demonstrated an interest in safer streets for biking and walking and better transit, you’re persona non grata to Vacca:

City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), chair of the Transportation Committee and a bike-lane critic, blasted the pro-biking group’s influence peddling.

“If such a ‘jamboree’ was held by real-estate developers in any neighborhood in the city, I think there would be a hue and cry, and rightfully so,” Vacca said. “We don’t want any board to be dominated by any particular interest.”

Transportation Alternatives spokesman Michael Murphy shot back, “We are empowering residents to get involved in their own communities. I can’t think of anything more democratic than that.”

He also took a jab at Vacca, who was a community-board district manager for 26 years before becoming a councilman.

“It’s pretty ironic that Chairman Vacca, the self-proclaimed champion of community process, is criticizing us for encouraging local residents to participate in community process.”

“We don’t want any board to be dominated by any particular interest.” Agreed. So why do people who speak up in favor of safer streets get booted from their local community boards? And why, in districts where the vast majority of residents don’t own cars, do the interests of the privileged few with free curbside parking so often trump the interests of the many who would benefit from a more democratic use of street space?

  • 538

    Ladies and gentlen, your next City Council speaker.

  • Anonymous

    I hope TA continues to invite him to events like last year’s “Stop Speeding Summit,” where he talked a good game.  Let him keep coming to events like that, so that either his brain overheats on cognitive dissonance/integrity fission, or he actually learns a thing or two.

  • @5027edf7db5aaa302a54b57c43c87f6c:disqus oh i hope not, what a tool

  • Just sent an email to him, very polite but also rather puzzled. I remember meeting Mnthn BP Scott Stringer as one of these jamborees and wish other electeds were on board too. It’s up to the local Councilmember and Boro BP to appoint a fair and balanced board, but EVERYONE should be encouraged to apply.

  • Bolwerk

    I’m glad that competence isn’t a criterion for the chairmanship of the NYC Council Transportation Committee.

  • J

    Vacca is right, we don’t want the Real Estate industry represented on Community Boards. Why? Because they are not acting in the public interest. Similarly, we don’t want the oil lobby, or big pharma, or the NRA on community boards. The reason is that all of these entities are motivated by profit.

    The livable streets movement, however, is not motivated by profit. I gain zero dollars when a new bike lane or public plaza goes in. DOT gains zero dollars. Aaron Naparstek, Streetsblog, and the entire radical bike lobby gain zero dollars. The motivation for livable streets is safety and quality of life. These are part of the public interest. Public participation by people with the public interest in mind is precisely what community boards were created for. Does Vacca not want people with the public interest in mind to participate in government? His statement sure sounds like that.  Hey Vacca, is that too difficult to understand?

  • 539

    Bikers and walkers, meet Mark Weprin, your next Council Speaker.  What pedigree: Son of Queens Democratic organization, Son of  Saul Weprin, Brother of Other Weprin, appreciator of bicycle survey.

  • J

    This is beyond stupid. I’ve sent Vacca the message below, and I am calling his office now.

    Councilman Vacca,

    I was very disturbed to read an article in the New York Post, where you
    oppose the idea that Transportation Alternatives encourages
    participation in local government by citizens who are interested in
    their neighborhoods. I am very puzzled and disturbed by this stance. Do
    you not want people who care about their neighborhoods to be part of the
    Democratic process? I also deeply disagree with your comparison of
    livable streets advocates to the Real Estate industry. The Real Estate
    industry has a massive profit motive and there would be a huge conflict
    of interest to them participating in community decision-making.
    Advocates for safer and more livable streets have no profit motive and
    no conflict of interest, as they are advocating for things in the public
    interest. Getting people who care about their area to participate in
    the process is what local government is all about. Please explain,
    because it appears that you are advocating against participation in the
    democratic process by people who have opinions that differ from your
    own. That sounds very undemocratic to me.

  • J

    This is a huge gaaffe by Vacca, and hopefully it is pointed out as such. It doesn’t take a genius to see through his statement, which can easily be read as “If you disagree with me, then you shouldn’t be allowed to participate in government”.

  • Wilma

    This guy is such an asshole it’s beyond belief.

  • CB Guy

    If real estate developers want to train people to get more involved in their Community Boards, they should feel free. Real estate developers don’t need to do this, however, because they already own politicians like Marty Markowitz, who has the power to make lifetime appointments to every Community Board in Brooklyn.

  • Anonymous

    Vacca’s hair transplants must be ingrown. His tickled brain is playing tricks on him, making him think the ernest, honest folks of the safe streets movement are conspiring against sell-out party tools like him. Oh wait! We are! More power to us.

  • Jabir

    The problem is that TA people are now perceived as having “an agenda”.

    The ideal Community Board candidate, by contrast, is a kind of tabula rasa, a blank slate, largely uninformed about social issues.  The better to serve as a rubber stamp and to provide the appearance of community input.

  • Anonymous

    “Vacca said. “We don’t want any board to be dominated by any particular interest.”

    As a member of a community board, I couldn’t agree more with Vacca!

    CBs apps look for well-rounded resumés and members.  The one or two TA agendaists who joined my CB quit after a year or two, because most CB meetings are not devoted to transportation issues, say only 5%. 
    Mostly CB meetings involve long, tedious meetings that affect a broad spectrum of a community’s quality of life, not the myopic agenda of TA; issues like zoning; permits for bars, sidewalk cafes,street fairs; social service questions, housing, seaports and waterfronts, parks, noise, sanitation, etc.

    Once the TA clique see that their pet projects are few and far between, they quit, because they care little for true community issues that affect their neighbor’s well-being.
    Do you think these lobbyists for TA care at all about the rest of the issues and concerns that create a thriving, successful and functioning community?  Of course not.  It’s all about them.

    Most of the “TA activists” are content with visiting this blog, thinking they get something accomplished by typing away on their keyboards. 

    Jimmy knows. CB members and community activists know. Now you know. 

  • That Giant Vacca-uuming Sound

    …is the sound of the last shred of Jimmy Vacca’s credibility being sucked out the window.

  • Fact Check

    @newyorkcity9999:disqus I’ve been involved in civic affairs since I moved to New York 13 years ago, and I have to say that people involved in Transportation Alternatives are some of the most inspiring and civically-engaged people I’ve ever met!  Most people I know who are involved with T.A., especially those who are now on the community boards, very much care for their community and all its issues. And they don’t just “type away at their keyboards” — they go to countless meetings, rallies, planning sessions and other events.  And they give their time and money to many other efforts and organizations.  They are the real deal and any community board should be glad to receive such energy and dedication.  So please don’t insult these people and their hard work.  Don’t mistake your obvious ideological bias for fact.

    The truth is is that Vacca’s comments were cynical, dishonest and immature. He needs to move past his ego and temper tantrums, and engage in these issues in a mature, productive manner.  The people of New York deserve no less.


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