Community Board 1 (CB1) has endorsed a bill now under consideration in the State Senate that would require Governor to appoint Lower Manhattan residents to the board of the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA). Currently, only one of that agency’s seven board seats is held by a resident of the community, Martha Gallo.
At the March 28 monthly meeting of CB1, the discussion was led by Ninfa Segarra, chair of that CB1’s Battery Park City Committee. “For 15 years, if not longer, our local elected officials have tried to work with the Governor through the nominating process for the BPCA board, in order to get residents,” Ms. Segarra explained. “They’ve tried and tried. But finally our elected officials gave up, because it was quite clear that Governor was not interested. As a result, last year, and it’s been reintroduced this year, Senator Squadron is leading the charge to actually statutorily require that in appointments to the BPCA board, CB1 residents be given preference, and actually included.”
“Our only concern,” Ms. Segarra continued, “was, we thought that it was broad, and we asked, at least, that something could be given in the legislative history of the bill or possibly included that preference should be given to Battery Park City residents.”
This was a reference to a subtle, but crucial, distinction between Senator Squadron’s bill and the push for local representation that has been spearheaded for years by local activists, and the grassroots organization, Democracy for Battery Park City. The Senator’s bill would require the Governor to appoint residents from anywhere within the jurisdiction of Community Board 1 — which includes Battery Park City, but also stretches as far north as Canal Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, across Lower Manhattan to the East River, and south to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Local leaders have been demanding that these board seats be set aside for residents of Battery Park City itself.
CB1 member Andrew Zelter, who does not live in Battery Park City, said, “I think it’s important to recognize that all the members of CB1, all residents from all corners of our community, use the amenities of Battery Park City. I’m concerned about limiting the scope.”
Ms. Segerra replied, “this doesn’t limit it, the resolution says, ‘preference.’ The total pool would still be from CB1.”
Mr. Zelter, who is president of the Downtown Little League, which is dependent on the use of the Battery Park City ballfields (and are available only through permits issued by the BPCA), pressed, “the optics are that CB1 is suggesting that Battery Park City is for Battery Park City residents.”
Ms. Segarra answered, “that’s because the Authority is our government. As you know from lots of presentations, they are the government in Battery Park City. So we’re asking for representation in our government. Because we’re not really governed by the City Council or the Mayor. We’re governed by BPCA in our day-to-day lives.”
The was a reference to the fact that BPCA is the de facto — but unelected — government for the 10,000-plus people who live on the 92 acres of landfill between West Street and the Hudson River. Within the confines of Battery Park City, the Authority performs many of the traditional functions of government, among them enacting laws (as it in 2015 with the new “Rules and Regulations of Battery Park City Parks”) enforcing the law (as it did with Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, until they were dismissed and replaced by security guards in 2016), collecting taxes, regulating real estate development, building infrastructure, cleaning the streets, maintaining parks, and building schools. Although its board members are not elected by residents of the community and are accountable only to the Governor, the BPCA also wields other forms of power within Battery Park City and beyond. Its collects revenue in excess of $200 million per year. It spends more than $100 million annually. It carries a debt load of more than $1 billion, and has the capacity to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars more. It additionally gives out contracts worth more than $10 million each year. And its staff, who number more than 150 (and who are not unionized or covered by civil service protections) are a rich source of patronage appointments for influential politicians.
“That’s why we asked for the preference,” Ms. Segarra continued, “and that’s really the purpose of why the elected officials initiated this legislation.”
Mr. Zelter countered, “don’t we as a community board think that we can represent our broad community, taking into account the different stakeholders and their views about Battery Park City?”
Ms. Segarra countered, “that’s what the other members of the BPCA board do right now. All of them, except for Martha, represent the entire spectrum of New York State. Some of them are not even New York City residents.”
Rector Place resident Maryanne Braverman noted, “as Battery Park City residents, we pay a lot of money to that board. And we have a a lot of concerns of how that board’s agenda is affecting our neighborhood. They have moved from development mode to managing the community, and we don’t feel they’ve done it well.”
This was a reference to the exotic nature of property ownership in Battery Park City, where homeowners, landlords, and developers do not own outright the land they occupy, but instead lease the space (through the year 2069), in exchange for yearly payments of ground rent, as well as so-called “payments in lieu of taxes.” Concerns about this arrangement have grown acute in recent years, as more residents have come to realize that, under the current terms of the ground lease, their homes will disappear in 52 years, as ownership of all the real estate in Battery Park City reverts to the Authority. For condominium owners, this will mean that their property is effectively confiscated, while renters will face the prospect of eviction. Both owners and tenants will be rendered homeless under this scenario.
When the discussion ended and a vote was called, the resolution endorsing Senator Squadron’s bill (with the caveat that preference should be given to residents of Battery Park City in filling BPCA board seats, as opposed to residents of Lower Manhattan as a whole) was passed by a margin of 31 votes in favor, to one opposed. The single “no” vote was cast by Mr. Zelter.