ENDORSEMENT: Vote Yes on Ballot Proposal 3

Queens community boards are on average older than the borough itself. Image: Dietrich VanVlissingen
Queens community boards are on average older than the borough itself. Image: Dietrich VanVlissingen

A group of power-hungry politicians is trying to sell you a bill of goods on Tuesday — and voters need to take a stand to strengthen our very democracy.

Four borough presidents are opposing Ballot Proposal 3, which proposes eight-year term limits for community board members before allowing members to reapply after a two-year hiatus. We urge you to defy the pols and vote Yes.

We know. The last thing you want to think about right now is New York City’s 59 community boards. But do so for a moment: Community boards may be the lowest rung of democracy, but they remain one of the most important. Before city agencies unveil major land-use changes, street-safety improvements, or other civic plans in a given neighborhood, they present them to volunteer-staffed boards, which propose changes that can often improve projects.

But there’s one major problem: The only constant in New York City life is change — except on community boards. Over time, demographics in all neighborhoods change — and those changing demographics reflect the shifting desires, needs, perspectives and values of growing segments of the population.

This is what makes our city great. Whatever your metaphor — melting pot or gorgeous mosaic — New York is at its best when all its voices are being heard. New York is living up to its values when newcomers are given a chance to work the same levers of power as the old-timers.

Community boards could be true laboratories of democracy, but instead, many are lockboxes of backwardness, bigotry and pettiness. As demographic research shows, many community boards are far whiter and older than the diversifying neighborhoods they supposedly represent.

Here's how community board demographics play out in Queens. Image: Dietrich VanVlissingen
Here’s a snapshot of community board demographics in Queens. Image: Dietrich VanVlissingen

How does that play out? Horrifically. Last year, in fact, a member of a disproportionately white community board in Queens suggested that bike lanes were unnecessary because no one would use them once President Trump deported all the “illegals.” And plenty of worthy projects get voted down by the “Not in My Backyard” crowd that dominates community boards.

Indeed, as David Meyer reported last week, community boards often — defiantly so, even! — defend the interests of the car-owning minority over basic street-safety improvements for all their residents. That’s why StreetsPAC, Reinvent Albany, Transportation Alternatives, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and livable streets champion Council Member Brad Lander (D-Park Slope) support the term-limit proposal. The four borough presidents who oppose the term limit proposal do so to retain their control of the boards, whose members they appoint and whose loyalty they crave.

This is not to say that community board members don’t work hard; they do. But New York’s democracy thrives best when new voices are given a space at the table (a table that none of us owns, by the way). We’ve seen the positive effect that term limits has had for the City Council, which is a far more aggressive, responsive and, yes, demographically diverse body than it was two decades ago.

Several future mayors are likely sitting there right now. The same will one day be said about community boards — once the old guard is forced to give way.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. In addition to races for governor and the state legislature, three ballot proposals are on the back side of the ballot. Don’t forget to flip your ballot!


Hunter Planners: Expand the Bike Program, Beat the Bikelash

DOT needs to accelerate the build-out of the city’s bike network in working-class neighborhoods outside the center city, say graduate students in the Hunter College urban planning department. They argue that expanding the geographic focus of the bike program would not only improve access to safe cycling for underserved neighborhoods, it might just help overcome […]

Melinda Katz Tries to Kill Queens Blvd Bike Lane in the Name of “Community”

This was the community’s reaction to the @NYC_DOT proposal @MelindaKatz @StreetsblogNYC pic.twitter.com/JyyXFroWwK — Jaime Andrés (@jaimeamonc) May 12, 2016 Tuesday night’s meeting on the redesign of Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst was one of the uglier exercises in petty community board obstructionism in recent memory. Queens Community Board 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol said the safety of cyclists […]

Queens Community Board Chairs Care About Parking More Than Housing

Give it up for Queens community board chairs. Thanks to a vote last night, we now have a crystal clear expression of their priorities. Nothing is more important than parking. In a city without enough housing to go around, where rising rents are squeezing people in more neighborhoods every year, the community board chairs have taken a bold […]

De Blasio Gives DOT Permission to Put Safety Above Community Board Whims

When DOT allows community boards to veto street safety projects, streets aren’t as safe for walking and biking as they could be. This year, for instance, when facing opposition or anticipating blowback from community boards, DOT watered down a road diet and other safety measures planned for Riverside Drive; proposed disjointed bike lanes for Kingston and Brooklyn […]

Empire Blvd Safety Fixes Run Up Against Parking and Gentrification Politics

A federally-funded redesign and reconstruction of two dangerous Empire Boulevard intersections is in jeopardy, running up against a combination of parking politics and gentrification fears. The plan would add sidewalk space by simplifying two complex intersections where several streets converge [PDF]. On the western end of Empire, a slip lane would be closed at the intersection of Washington Avenue […]