Letters, Week of March 19, 2015

‘Quiet crisis’ is deafening

To The Editor:
Re “Let the S.B.J.S.A. finally come up for a vote!” (editorial, March 12):

Kudos to The Villager for running this timely and important editorial. Any reasonable New Yorker who is not a billionaire and who cares about the future of our city will agree that the Small Business Jobs Survival Act must be passed.

Small business (and, I may add, the art community) is being strangled by unsustainably high rents. Chipping away at the edges with little tax breaks for landlords and reducing fines can never address the severity of the problem, which everyone knows is high rents.

Hundreds of small businesses go under every month in New York City, taking with them the life’s savings of families, as well as neighborhood jobs and a way in to the middle class for many immigrant families.

Meanwhile, artists, dancers, musicians and other artisans and makers are simply fleeing the city. I know, because I am a lifelong artist and native New Yorker, and many of my mid-career artist friends, many of them with respectable careers and galleries, are leaving: They simply cannot make a life here anymore with no affordable workspaces.

This is a quiet crisis, and the S.B.J.S.A. is the only legislation on the table that will even begin to address this. We need lots more pressure on our City Council — and our mayor — to step up and save commercial renters in NYC.
Jenny Dubnau
Dubnau is co-founder, Artist Studio Affordability Project

Help mom-and-pop shops

To The Editor:
Re “Forum on small businesses offers a solution within reach” (news article, March 12):

We should be urging the City Council to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.

There should be some form of rent control on the leases of small businesses, plus a means of negotiating a new lease when the old lease expires. 

The city is losing too many of our small businesses to giant chain stores. Soon there will be no shoe-repair stores, no cleaners, no small bakeries, no Avignone pharmacies, no small liquor stores, no services that residents need in our neighborhoods. 

It’s time for us all to support the small mom-and-pop stores that have served our communities for decades.
Sylvia Rackow
Rackow is chairperson, Committee to Preserve Our Neighborhood

Sorry, still in blast zone

To The Editor:
Re “Gas pipeline protests no longer burn, but could problems flare in future?” (news article, March 12):

Thank you, Ms. Stukane and The Villager for steadfastly following the story of the Spectra pipeline from the early moments of the review process through now, when the Whitney Museum is about to open on top of it.

We are eager when any new showcase for art opens, and support the cultural and economic boost the Whitney will bring to the West Village; and we are cognizant of the lack of real estate to build museums in Manhattan.

However, the choice to site anything so close to the Spectra pipeline is a choice we find utterly lacking in judgment. We wonder how this decision came to be.

Building the Whitney on top of the pipeline puts visitors, workers and irreplaceable art, not to mention a Renzo Piano creation, at risk. The museum’s spokesperson appears to express no worry, saying that the art will be stored five stories above the pipeline and that they are “trusting that the appropriate government agencies will stay on top of it.” Such trust is misplaced.

In the event of an explosion at the site of the vault, a crater at least the size of the museum itself is likely, and would affect an area about a block and a half in radius; with smoke, broken glass, closed streets and secondary fires affecting a much larger radius.

When a pipeline of similar size and pressure exploded in San Bruno, California, in 2010, it blew a crater four stories deep, and destroyed 38 suburban houses. Being five stories higher will do little to save the art or anyone viewing it. One wonders if the museum is adequately insured.

As for protection from the agencies charged with oversight, the federal regulations that Spectra’s spokesperson, Ms. Hanley, is so fond of referring to require internal inspection for corrosion only once every seven years. The 24-hour monitoring she refers to is done by remote computers in Texas. Such remote monitoring has been shown to fail on many occasions.

Secondary monitoring may be done by someone walking the route of the pipeline looking for dead grass or plants. (Gas leaks kill the roots of plants.) One may notice that most of the area stretching from Gansevoort Peninsula to the Whitney consists of the West Side Highway and sidewalks. In other words, it’s paved.

The Whitney is hardly the only institution that looked at the risks of the pipeline and shrugged. There are many businesses in close proximity to the route of the pipeline, including the Standard Hotel. The Friends of the High Line declined to take a stance against it when the pipeline was under review. One wonders what motivated them to put their own interests at risk the way they did.

In fairness, shouldn’t businesses and institutions be able to trust when regulatory agencies declare a project safe? The reality is they can’t, and they shouldn’t. The reality is that such agencies review projects with the interests of corporations in mind, not the interests of the public.

The Hudson River Park Trust, under the leadership of then-Mayor Bloomberg’s companion, Diana Taylor, saw to it that the easement for the pipeline was approved in a disgraceful display of influence over intelligence and for a pittance.

Bloomberg, with close ties to fracking founder George Mitchell, wanted the city to convert to shale gas and made sure this pipeline was built, over the objections of thousands of New Yorkers.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that approves (and they always approve) pipeline projects, reviewed an environmental impact statement that was paid for by Spectra Energy. FERC declared, in the final environmental impact statement that not to approve the pipeline was impossible because to do so “would not meet the needs of the Applicant” (Spectra).

I am quoted as saying, “At this point, there isn’t anything more we [Sane Energy Project] can do,” as far as legal action to stop Spectra from operating this particular pipeline. However, there is plenty we can do — and continue to do — to educate the public and elected officials about the dangers and climate impact of pipelines and the use of shale (“natural”) gas, which contributes to climate change and sea level rise with an effect that is 86 times worse than carbon dioxide.

Sane Energy Project and our many allies continue to advocate for the city to halt the building of any additional fossil fuel infrastructure, and advocate for this city to build only renewable-energy infrastructure. We continue to advocate for an energy system that is democratically decided and takes the public’s input seriously. We remain hopeful that Mayor De Blasio is truly committed to his “80 by 50 plan” — to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050 — and that he will discontinue the shale gas build-out that his Republican predecessor began.
Clare Donohue
Donohue is program director, Sane Energy Project

Spring fling the meat

To The Editor:
After a month of persistent and crippling snowstorms, I do look forward to spring weather, green grass and flowers in bloom.

The advent of spring is also a great opportunity to turn over a new leaf in our dietary habits. In fact, hundreds of communities welcome spring on March 20 with an observance of the Great American Meatout. Participants are asked to go vegan, at least for the day, and to explore a healthy diet of vegetables, fresh fruits, legumes and grains.

This year’s 30th anniversary celebration of Meatout is particularly significant because of the massive shift in America’s eating habits.

“Meatless Monday” has been making huge advances in public schools, universities, institutional cafeterias and restaurants. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is recommending reduced meat consumption. Stock market analysts are warning clients about the potential “death of meat.”

Almost 50 percent of the respondents in a special GlobalMeatNews poll said they had actively reduced their meat consumption. Accordingly, per capita U.S. meat consumption has dropped by more than 10 percent since 2005.

Each of us can celebrate our own advent of spring on March 20 by checking out vegan foods in our local supermarket and vegan recipes on the Internet.
Nico Young

Airbnb irony is heavy

To The Editor:
Re “Airbnb helped me get my startup off the ground” (talking point, by Michael Radparvar, March 5):

There is a lot of information missing here, as well as one troubling assumption, and a clear, ironic lack of understanding of the core issue by these obviously well-intentioned young men. 

The irony, as well as the disingenuousness, is in the phrase “but we could not scale the sheer wall of affording the rent for our apartment.”

First of all, why did you rent an apartment you couldn’t afford? And second, don’t you see through your pro-Airbnb blinders that the issue affecting all young entrepreneurs is overpriced rents? Are you seriously suggesting that the way to overcome skyrocketing rents is to require the assistance of a commercial online partner? 

Why not just add Airbnb to your lease? 

That is even more troubling when you open the door to the idea that Airbnb ought to be considered a crowdfund source for entrepreneurship. Failing to separate the idea of entrepreneurship from the core civic need of affordable housing, or even unaffordable, overpriced housing — an issue that affects every city resident — is naive at best, politically false at worst. 

Finally, using the emotionally charged facts of fleeing oppression to prop up an argument on behalf of a strictly for-profit entity is not just wrong, it is insulting to any New Yorker who fights for both affordable housing and for peace and justice. 

And how about some facts? For example, did you have a rent-regulated lease? Did you occupy the apartment when you rented through Airbnb, as your lease required? Or did you rent it out and stay with your parents or partners, for instance? In other words, did you have a legal right to rent your apartment? Were you capitalizing on taxpayer subsidy? 

These facts are crucial to your argument, yet you conspicuously omitted them entirely from your column. Why? 

How can you make the argument for turning rental real estate into a “brokers as concierges” transient zone, with the potential to evict longtime tenants and neighbors, and eviscerate neighborhoods, and then tell us that your online entrepreneurship is aimed at building “community”?

I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but your generation has a lot to learn about how things work in the real world, in real communities.
Patrick Shields

E-mail letters, not longer than 250 words in length, to [email protected] or fax to 212-229-2790 or mail to The Villager, Letters to the Editor, 1 Metrotech North, 10th floor, Brooklyn, NY, NY 11201. Please include phone number for confirmation purposes. The Villager reserves the right to edit letters for space, grammar, clarity and libel. Anonymous letters will not be published.

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