Progressive Pols and Advocates Oppose Budget Cut

Critics say budget doesn’t need 15 percent cuts

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]


Lefty politicians and advocates gathered outside City Hall last week to denounce the Mayor’s proposed 15 percent budget cuts across all city agencies next year.

Hizzoner has said that the cuts are necessary due to the lack of total support from the feds and Albany in addition to COVID aid funds are running out of steam.

While Adams believes the across the board cuts are necessary to deal with the city’s finances, electeds at Tuesday’s press conference said they believed there were a range of options to stave off the cuts.

Specifically, they proposed implementing a package of reforms to the CityFHEPS program, a rental assistance program, which the mayor vetoed and the city council overrode back in July. The proposed reforms would make a series of changes to the voucher program including eligibility by changing the requirement to qualify for the program from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent the area median income. The package of legislation, which includes four bills, is estimated to cost $17 billion over the next five years, which was the Mayor’s reasoning for vetoing the package.

(Adams axed a rule that required people to stay in homeless shelters for 90 days in order to qualify for the vouchers, which was one of the four pieces of reforms proposed by the council.)

“There’s one thing we have learned in 20 months of an Eric Adams mayoralty, it’s that this man says crazy stuff every damn day. But let’s ignore the crazy stuff he says and focus on the crazy stuff that he’s doing,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair and Greenpoint Councilman Lincoln Restler said at the rally.

“He has already cut billions of dollars from the city budget. Our services have been obliterated. People can’t access federally funded food stamps. People can’t access cash assistance. People with housing vouchers placed in apartments can’t actually get into their homes, because we don’t have the staff. And what does the Mayor want to do? Cut. And cut. And cut,” Restler continued.

Attendee from last week’s rally against the Mayor’s proposed budget cuts. Credit: Gerardo Romo NYC Council Media Unit


Additionally, state legislators and members of the council’s Progressive Caucus who attended the rally also advocated for increasing state taxes on the wealthy, getting additional funding from the state and federal government and expedited federal work authorizations. (Gov. Hochul has been reportedly considering state work permits for migrants while federal work permit authorization has stalled in Washington.)

“Eric Adams should be looking towards other opportunities in terms of how New York should increase its revenue instead of looking toward budget cuts. Year in and year out, for the past two years that Mayor Adams has been in office, he’s looked towards budget cuts prior to the migrants being here and prior to this being a crisis. Mayor Adams should be looking towards solutions of increasing the amount of money that we could be raising,” Bed-Stuy Councilman Chi Ossé said at the rally.

Ossé raised the idea of establishing a pied-à-terre tax on the ultra wealthy, which is a tax on rental properties that aren’t the primary residence of the owner. New York State Senator Brad Holyman originally sponsored a pied-à-terre tax in Albany back in 2014.

A May study from the Comptroller’s office estimates that a combined policy that would repeal Madison Square Garden’s tax free status, a partial repeal of coop-condo abatements and a luxury pied-à-terre tax could increase city revenue by an approximate $400 million per year. Within the same report, the Comptroller’s office estimates that a luxury pied-à-terre surcharge could net up to $277 million within the first year and $239 million within its third year of implementation.

Ossé also suggested that the mayor could hire more auditors to better collect revenue as a possible solution to the problem that doesn’t require austerity measures.

Attendees at the rally also casted doubt on the projected cost of migrant arrivals being the driving factor behind the mayor’s austerity measures.

“Lastly, with these cuts, I want to be clear, the mayor’s administration has proposed cuts to the budget long before the migrants got here. So to pretend the migrants are the reason to propose cuts is disingenuous at best,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said at the rally.

Some groups such as the non-partisan Fiscal Policy Institute have estimated that the proposed budget impact from the mayor’s office is overblown.

Bed-Stuy Councilman Chi Ossé speaking about potential tax revenues like the pied-à-terre

“The City estimates the total cost for asylum seekers over 2024 and 2025 is $10.9 billion — however, the City’s portion of the cost for asylum seekers over 2024 and 2025 is $8.9 billion, of which $2.4 billion was already budgeted for in the adopted budget. This puts the City’s new funding need at $6.5 billion over the next two years: $2.3 billion in 2024 and $4.1 billion in 2025. The proposed budget cuts of $10 billion per year are billions of dollars higher than the increased cost estimates for asylum seekers,” Executive Director Nathan Gusdorf said in a statement.

The rally also coincided with the recently established 60-day deadline for single adult migrants without children to vacate city shelters. If a migrant wants to stay in the shelter after that time period they must reapply.

“This mayor has attempted to eliminate the right to shelter, has broken our promise of ensuring that New York City is not run with street homelessness by adding directing like the 60 day rule,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair and chair of the Immigration Committee Shahana Hanif said at the rally.

Hanif continued to criticize the possible implementation of a 30 day rule, which would cut the stay time for single adult migrants to 30 days rather than 60. The Adams administration is currently considering the possible rule, according to the New York Post.

“Those policies are terrible, unjust and violent,” said the Park Slope councilwoman.

City agencies will submit plans to cut an initial five percent of costs in the coming November budget update and will be required to find additional five percent cuts by the time the preliminary report comes out in January and an additional five percent in cuts submitted by the release of the executive budget in April. The final adopted budget must be reached before July 1 after negotiating with the council throughout May and June.

Three Potential Brooklyn Cannabis Stores Showcase the Uncertainty of Marijuana in New York State and City

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Brooklyn’s Community Board for District 2 made local weed history in their meeting on Wednesday Sept. 13 by bringing three marijuana stores up for approval and passing them all without any contest. However, despite the support from the community, there is still not a clear path toward licensing for any of the stores in front of the council due to a state-wide restraining order on all licenses pending a lawsuit against the Office of Cannabis Enforcement. Still, the hearings were indicative of one truth: legal marijuana is coming to New York, even though the specifics of how is not quite clear yet. In the community board, chairperson Lenny Singletary emphasized the importance of understanding how to deal with the new applications and predicted that there would be much more to come.

“The reason I wanted Mr. Smith [Health, Environment & Social Services Chair] to go through these is that these are the first cannabis applications that have come in and it’s important for us to understand how we process this,” Singletary said. “I would imagine that we’re going to see an increase in cannabis applications, especially given the state regulations where they’re going to heavily fine illegal applications, as well as passing monetary fines along to the owners of the buildings that are allowing this to take place.”

The Office of Cannabis Management is currently being sued due to OCM’s Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary program, a program that only permits licenses to those who fulfill two requirements: a prior cannabis conviction, or that of a close family member, and having owned a legitimate business for at least two years. With the lawsuit pending, New York Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant declared a temporary restraining order on all CAURD licenses in New York City in Aug. 2023. The three proposed locations, Pura Vita Enterprises Inc at 288 Flushing Avenue, Are We Good Enterprises Inc at 154 Vanderbilt, as well as YRM Dispensary LLC at 436 Albee Square W, are now in limbo. The owners are unable to continue moving forward with establishing their businesses, despite starting the process of working towards a license. According to Andrew Cooper, professor of the business and law of cannabis at Hofstra University, as well as a practicing cannabis, psychedelics and healthcare attorney, this leaves the owners of these stores in a deeply uncertain situation.

“These people committed everything. I mean, built teams, and they got people around them who could help them. They spent their time and days going around looking at space, talking to landlords, and negotiating with a lot of predatory lenders. We got plenty of those,” Cooper said.

“Now they’re just stuck in this weird abyss.”

The production, distribution and recreational use of cannabis was legalized in New York State in 2021, with the passing of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act. Later on, the OCM established the CAURD in order to prioritize those who had been harmed by the prohibition of cannabis in the state — now, four service-disabled veterans, represented by law firm Feuerstein Kulick, are suing the OCM because they believe that the conditions are too narrow and therefore unconstitutional.

According to a similar lawsuit filed against the marijuana legislative agency in March 2023, the original MRTA law passed in 2021 outlines that licenses should be open for all and that the CAURD program is in violation of that. That lawsuit was filed by the Coalition for Access to Regulated and Safe Cannabis, a group that seeks to expand access to all applicants and does not agree with the priority afforded to CAURD applicants.

“Rather than perform the tasks required by the MRTA – which would promote a safe and regulated cannabis industry for medical patients and adult-use consumers alike – CCB and OCM have improperly assumed the role of the Legislature to impose their own policies over those of New York’s elected officials and, by extension, their constituents. This unconstitutional overreach violates the separation of powers doctrine,” lawyers for CARSC wrote. “New York’s Legislature required CCB and OCM to open ‘the initial adult-use retail dispensary license application period. . . for all applicants at the same time.’”

All of the applicants under review by the community board had gone through the initial stages of the OCM’s CAURD application process. During the community board meeting for District 2, Brendan Smith, Health, Environment & Social Services committee chair, walked the board through the various steps that the applicants had to go through before coming in front of CB2, and are different from the unlicensed smoke shops that have exploded around the NYC area. Cannabis shop owners must have security details at their locations, and they must check the identification of anyone who enters the premises of their stores, according to information shared by Smith during the CB2 meeting. Furthermore, Smith said that the stores have already gone through stages of community discussion prior via the OCM application process.

“There has been an awareness at our committee about the prevalence of smoke shops about unlicensed illegal cannabis businesses throughout the community. What was important for this conversation was to focus the conversation on the applicants in front of us and their circumstances,” Smith said during the meeting. “Keeping in mind, these three applicants went through significant licensing processes with the Office of Cannabis Management to ensure that the protocols were adhered to and to ensure that they comply with different levels of compliance from the Office of Cannabis Management.”

Despite MRTA passing in 2021, the city has only managed to pass a handful of legal cannabis stores, though illegal ones have popped up like weeds on the corners of New York City. Currently, there are four legal marijuana dispensaries in New York City, and an estimated 2,500 illegal ones, though the number might be higher, according to numbers released by the state in April. Cooper said the reason that the cannabis rollout has taken so long is the stringent requirements that OCM has outlined in order to prioritize justice-involved individuals.

With pending lawsuits, the path forward for these three stores is uncertain, regardless of whether or not they have been approved by the community board or not. Until they receive a final walk-through from the OCM, the stores are unable to sell any of the marijuana that is piling up in warehouses in the state, according to Cooper. Since the identity of marijuana license applicants is kept private, none of the store owners were able to be reached for comment.

Internet Geoguessers Come Together to Comb Brooklyn Parks

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Social media personality Trevor Rainbolt, known by his handle @rainbolt, has a knack for finding things. He has racked up over four million followers across TikTok, Twitter and Instagram by using Google Maps, public data, and even archival pictures to find locations of pictures and videos. However, rainbolt recently got stumped by an image a woman sent of her and her mother during her childhood and shared the image with his Twitter followers to see if someone might be able to find out where it was taken. From there, people pointed out that the New York City Parks Department might know more. Ian Lefkowitz, NYC Parks Deputy Director of New Media, said the picture was brought to their attention by interested community members.

“Essentially, we found out because we were tapped in by interested citizens,” Lefkowitz said. “There were a couple of comments saying ‘Maybe NYC parks knows.’ Obviously, it was already gaining a lot of momentum on social media, and came to our attention and as with every question we get on social media, we do our best to answer.”

Originally, some Twitter users believed that the picture might have been taken in Trinity Park, such as Art Seabra (handle @_artseabra)

who used  NYC’s Trees Map to narrow down all the parks in the city to a particular species, the London planetree. In a video posted online, Seabra then attempted to use Google Maps to match the cityscape in the background of the photo to the area surrounding Trinity Park.

However, other people disagree. According to Lefkowitz, the park is now thought to be Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge, and have checked their records to confirm. Lefkowitz said one of the reasons that the area was so hard to find is because the park was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and no longer looks like how it used to in 2009, when the picture was taken.

“There were a couple of people who said, ‘No, I believe this is Owl’s Head Park.’ One one of them actually pinged us and said, ‘Hey, can you check your records?’” Lefkowitz said. “I actually think those benches [in Owl’s Head Park] are exactly that area. The reason why it is so hard to find was that the area was impacted pretty heavily by Hurricane Sandy. It no longer looks like this.”

Ryan C., @RhinozzCode, an open-source investigator who declined to share their last name, said that the trees in the original picture were definitely not all London planetrees, and therefore could not match the location in Trinity Park. Ryan C. was one of the people who messaged the NYC Parks to dig a little deeper into the origins of the story. Over Twitter direct messages, Ryan C. said the little details of Trinity Park did not quite match up with the original photo, even though the big picture might.

“i’m an open-source investigator by trade, so i use the principles that i learned years ago often, and one of those is a two-part observation step…where you observe ‘big-picture details’ for easily ruling out locations and “fine details” for confirming them,” Ryan C. wrote via Twitter. “my major issue with rainbolt’s initial investigation was his reliance on the fact that the trees were london planetrees, and i concluded two of them were not.”

Lefkowitz said he was glad that people were getting involved in NYC park history.

“There are a couple of things that are very, really profound about this. One is that it’s just a demonstration of the impact that parks make in people’s lives, from the original photo to the chase, that hundreds of people were doing to track it down,” Lefkowitz said. “The photo shows that parks are these moments that last a lifetime. When your loved one is gone, you remember the time you spent in parks. It sounds corny, but you can see that the proof is in the photo.”

The identity of the woman and her mother in the original picture remains anonymous, and rainbolt declined to comment on the story.

DEC Air Pollution Initiative Committee Updates Community

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

The NYC Department of Environmental Conversation held an update on their Statewide Community Air Monitoring Initiative via Zoom on Sept. 6 to let Brooklyn community members know how the agency’s data collection was going. The Zoom included a presentation held by DEC as well as a question and answer portion to field any questions from the public.

This will be the last meeting held as all data has been gathered and will now be analyzed by Aclima, the company that provided the technology for measuring air pollutants on the project. As this portion of the project is completed, the DEC is set to announce the beginning of their remediation efforts after the analysis of the data is finished during the spring of 2024, according to the DEC website.

Randi Walker, researcher and a part of the Division of Air Resources for the DEC, said Brooklyn has particular concerns in terms of air pollution, including reducing emissions from cars and other automated road vehicles as well as monitoring potentially hazardous sites such as oil storage facilities, dry cleaning locales and raw material processing plants. The program focuses especially on disadvantaged communities within the city, as is the case in Brooklyn, according to Adriana Espinoza, DEC Deputy Commissioner for Equity and Justice.

“I would just say that the Climate Act requires that disadvantaged communities are prioritized for greenhouse gas emission and coal pollution reductions in New York state,” Espinoza said during the presentation. “So I think that will be carried out through all of our sort of programs and processes as the law requires.”

Katherine Walsh, Transportation Chair for Community Board 7 and Sunset Park resident,  said she appreciated the DEC’s meetings, as it allowed the community to get involved and have their concerns heard.

“It’s critical that we take as many aggressive steps as we can on climate action and air quality, specifically, right, because that affects so many, so many of us and our neighbors,” Walsh said in an interview. “What they’ve been doing along the way, where they’ve been hosting these community, public wide meetings has been really important and really helpful to get the word out.”

Walsh expressed frustration that the Department of Transportation had not come to any of the meetings, and voiced her concern in how this would affect the remediation efforts in reducing air pollution from trucks and cars.

“Here in Brooklyn, the State Department of Transportation has a huge role, if not the most important role in making sure that we can mitigate the impacts of all this air quality work from transportation and from trucking,” Walsh said. “The fact that they have not come to any of the community mediators is a huge concern to community members and to community groups, because we have, we never see the State Department of Transportation, at any of the important meetings that we’ve had.”

Community member Jeffry Sanoff said he was disappointed that there were large areas of the map left blank, shown in swaths of white, that were not included in the study. Most of the area covered by the DEC data collection initiative were in North Brooklyn and along the water in the southern part of the borough, and Sanoff pointed out that there were large portions of Eastern Brooklyn left out of the study.

“We’re all one Brooklyn. We’re all one Brooklyn, like the borough president said,” Sanoff said. “So this study should include areas that are in the white area, too.”

In response to Sanoff’s remark, Espinoza said there were 12 factors in determining the area of study. According to Walker, some of those factors include high levels of benzene and particle pollutants from fine particles above PM 2.5, when air is deemed unhealthy, as well as proximity to a highway such as the Bronx Queens Expressway, which starts in the central part of Northern Brooklyn and then moves closer to the water as it heads South.

The Brooklyn Borough President’s Office has supplemented the meetings by creating a quarterly community advisory committee open to the public, and Espinoza urged all attendees of the Zoom to sign up for those meetings if they were interested in learning more.

Residents Launch Last Minute Effort to Save Park Church

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

An abandoned notice board in front of Park Church. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

The fight to keep Park Church on 129 Russell Street in Greenpoint alive has been ongoing for years ever since the Metropolitan New York Synod, a chapter of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, announced Dec. 2021 that it would pull funding for the church due to declining membership. Currently, MNYS is in the process of selling the building, originally built in 1907, to GW Equities LLC, led by developers Avraham Garbo and Berish Wagschal. On Thursday Aug. 31, activists and community members gathered in a Zoom public hearing in front of Judge Richard Latin to halt the sale and attempt to repurpose the building for community use. In a statement from MNYS, Robert Lara, Assistant to the Bishop and Officer of Communications for the synod, said that the decision came after considerate deliberation.

“The Metropolitan New York Synod Council approved the sale of the former Messiah Lutheran Church building, where Park Church Co-op operated, following careful evaluation,” Lara said in an email. “This decision was made due to declining worship attendance and safety concerns with the building’s structure. The sale proceeds will support the growth of viable congregations, particularly those serving marginalized communities, in alignment with the synod’s commitment to anti-racism. ”

Other community members disagree. Jeremy Hook, a long-time Greenpoint resident working to keep the church in place, said that the sale of the church would be incredibly detrimental to the community, and that the synod is behaving like a developer rather than a religious organization.

“It’s ironic that they identify as Lutherans when you recall where Lutherans come from, what the 101 Lutheran theses actually were about, which was Martin Luther saying, ‘Hey, the Catholic Church is just kind of acting a whole lot like a business here and just about making money,’” Hook said. “And I would say that there’s a bit of a similar thing going on with the ELCA.”

According to Hook, the Church was not just a spot for religious worship, but a place for Greenpoint residents to gather, organize events and create a community space. Community members at the hearing gathered and shared their favorite stories and events over the years, including dance parties, Drag Queen Reading Hour, drives to give out free food and shelter as well as birthday parties for children.

Kaki King, a Greenpoint resident and the creator of a silent disco event at McGolrick Park, said at the hearing that there were many spaces for adults to hangout in the area, such as bars and restaurants, but almost none for children. According to King, the church was a place for her family to hangout in.

“Some of my happiest memories of raising my children are definitely from the inside of the park church and I truly hope that our words are heard and that something can be done to help the sale or in future events, you know, preserve the community spirit that is very strong in this in this community,” King said.

As the sale moves forward, this is a last-ditch effort to halt the process, according to Hook. Community members submitted a request for a hearing to the Attorney General’s office, and were approved by Assistant Attorney General Colleen McGrath, who wrote in a letter that Attorney General Letitia James had no objections to the sale but was open to hearing the dissenting voices of the community. According to McGrath, the sale is valid according to New York state law, so there could be no objection to the transaction on that front, but still wanted to raise the concerns of Greenpoint residents.

However, the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau has received a number of complaints objecting to the proposed sale of the Property due to its perceived negative impact on the Greenpoint, Brooklyn community, where the Property is located,” McGrath wrote.

GW Equities have not announced their plans for the church, but have several large-scale projects under their belts, including 13-story residential and commercial development in Downtown Brooklyn. Greenpoint Assemblymember Emily Gallagher said at the hearing that the church was affordable and accessible for all types of community members, and that Greenpoint had enough large developmental projects.

“We have quite a lot of luxury and high end housing that is being developed in this community that is not providing for the same number and diversity of people. So I’m here to ask you to think about justice, rather than nearly law, and see if we can preserve something that is such a vital space for our wonderful community,” Gallagher said. “We really do not have many free spaces in this community where people can meet and gather and have important discussions, especially in the long winter months.”

Other community members do not see the church sale as a loss. Stefan Rysek, a longtime Polish resident of Greenpoint, said that churches were valuable to the community, but did not oppose the residential project.

“People need some kind of mental help from the churches, for example, the Polish churches,” Rysek said. “You know what? I’m not against the apartments being built.”

Park Church had a declining congregation for years, a national trend as Gallup reported that church membership in the United States dipped below majority for the first time in 2021. Churches across the country are closing their doors because there are not enough people to create a significant congregation. Hook, who describes himself as allergic to religion, said that he understood the difficulties MNYS must have faced in keeping their parish open, but advocated for keeping the church as a secular community space.

“In fact, the problem that I will address tomorrow is that, you know, I acknowledge that the congregation itself was shrinking, at the end of the day they probably only had about 15-20 tiding congregations,” Hook said. “So I understand that it must have been a lot of trouble from that end. But the building simultaneously was thriving as a community center.”


Jeremy Hook speaking at the Park Church Hearing

Katie Denny Horowitz, Executive Director of North Brooklyn Park Alliance, speaking at the hearing.

Council member Lincoln Restler.

Fifth generation Greenpoint resident and community activist Kevin LaCherra.

Small Haitian Restaurant in Park Slope Continues to Beat the Odds

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Edgina Desormeau, owner of Bonbon Lakay, a Haitian restaurant in Park Slope, said her business started as a side hustle in 2018 that she ran out of her apartment. Since then, Bonbon Lakay, which means “Homemade Treats,” in Haitian Creole opened in Park Slope in 2021 and has survived the COVID Omicron wave of 2022, two rounds of flooding, as well as the usual hurdles that small-business owners face.

Currently, Bonbon Lakay runs a Pay It Forward program to raise money for people who need free meals and to fundraise for other business expenses. Despite the difficulties of owning a small business, Desormeau said that her customers, as well as sharing Haitian food with New York City, means the world to her.

“Our customers continue to be so excited about our business, no matter what our menu looks like, no matter what our product offering looks like,” Desormeau said. “They really truly energize us. I’ll have a bad day, and then a customer will walk in and remind us why we started.”

Desormeau said she originally started selling wholesale Haitian goods like peanut butter, cookies, fudge, soda and crackers because she missed the foods she grew up eating. She was born and raised in Haiti, but moved to the United States when she was 11, and said she always knew that her work would be connected to the place she grew up in. After a trip to Cap-Haitien, often referred to as Okap, she said she was having difficulty finding the treats she loved as a child, and decided that she needed to do something about it. According to Desormeau, she started selling wholesale Haitian goods on top of her advertisement job until it became unfeasible.

“This business was taken over my apartment, like I would be blocking my neighbor’s doors with like 40 cases of peanut butter,” Desormeau said. “We really outgrew the space and it became this thing where it was like, ‘Okay, if I can’t get into a physical brick and mortar to do this right, to do this the way it’s supposed to be done, I don’t want to keep doing it.’”

Desormeau said the Pay It Forward program grew out of people coming in after the Omicron wave and asking for free food. According to Desormeau, Bonbon Lakay did what it could, but the restaurant was already low on resources from paying for the damages caused by floods and the losses incurred by the pandemic and did not always have the bandwidth to give food or goods away.

“As we’re coming out of Omicron, we’re getting this stream of people coming in asking for free food, and we did what we could give them free food, but at the end of the day, we’re a business, you know, we’re not a soup kitchen,” Desormeau said. “I was grabbing lunch with a friend in Manhattan, and this restaurant had a Pay It Forward board where any meal that you purchase, they would match and they would give a meal for free. I see this board, and I’m like, ‘This is an aha moment. Why not create our own Pay It Forward board?’”

Despite launching the board in May of 2020, Desormeau said that Bonbon Lakay did not promote the initiative until the end of 2022 into the beginning of 2023 when a customer suggested that Desormeau put the board online. From then on, Desormeau said the board became about simultaneously helping our neighbors who might need a free meal, but also about helping Bonbon Lakay stay in business.

“In looking at how 2022 unfolded for us and thinking about the year forward, there was a moment at the end of 2022 where I genuinely did not know if we would make it to 2023,” Desormeau said. “I’m like, ‘Okay, we’re finally going to put this on the website, we’re going to encourage people to pay it forward.’ And we’re going to be candid and say, ‘Hey, our pay forward board was initially born out of folks asking us for free food, and now it’s not only now a way for you to sponsor us to pay it forward, but it’s also pumping that much needed cash flow into the business.’”

Desormeau also launched Operation Soup Joumou at the end of 2022 to raise funds. Soup Joumou, a soup associated with Haitian Independence Day on January 1st, is symbolic to Haitian people as it was solely reserved for French slave masters in Haiti, off-limits for enslaved people. When Haitians gained independence in 1804, the soup became a way to celebrate a free Haiti, and the tradition continues to this day. Desormeau said the goal of Operation Soup Joumou and Pay It Forward was to raise $100,000, which Bonbon Lakay has still not managed to do. Still, Desormeau said the two initiatives managed to bring in new business and money, and Bonbon Lakay continues to survive. According to Desormeau, her customers make the struggles of keeping Bonbon Lakay open worth the effort.

“It’s always sweet and motivating to hear [customer’s] stories. We sell a cookie here called Bonbon Amidon. This older gentleman was telling me how he ordered Bonbon Amidon from us, and, this is an older man probably in his 40s 50s, he was telling me how he cried eating Bonbon Amidon,” Desormeau said. “To be completely honest with you, I have moments where I’m absolutely not hopeful and I’m ready to quit. Then a customer walks in and it makes me feel like it’s day one of the business all over again.”

Colorful New Gateway Unveiled at Marsha P. Johnson Park

A group of around 20 people stand in front of a park gateway, posing for a photograph. The gateway is made of black metal with glass flowers and metal sculptures of flowers in different colors. Large trees with green leaves and light gray skies can be seen in the background.

Attendees pose for a photograph in front of the new gateway.

By Carmo Moniz | [email protected]

Williamsburg’s Marsha P. Johnson Park has a new gateway honoring its namesake, complete with colorful metal and glass flowers and the Trans activist’s famous “Pay it No Mind” motto. 

Brooklyn pols, members of Johnson’s family, New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation and local residents attended a celebration of the gateway’s opening on Thursday, what would have been Johnson’s 78th birthday. 

The park has also been outfitted with new landscaping and informational panels highlighting Johnson’s life and community. Greenpoint Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, who spoke at the event, said that many involved in the project had wanted the park to be filled with plants, which influenced the final design.

Gallagher also said that the community fought the original plan for the park, which called for a large plastic walkway to be built across it and for its pathways to be covered in black asphalt, alongside the Strategic Trans Alliance for Radical Reform, which Johnson co-founded.

“This, as you know, had been a garbage dump for a long time, and it had never been treated with the care that the community really wanted when it had become a park,” Gallagher said in an interview. “It was a very basic park, so we wanted something really beautiful, and we were frustrated by that.”

The original plan, which was created under former Governor Andrew Cuomo, stirred controversy among local community members, many of whom felt blindsided and unheard.

The local community was notified that the park would be closed for construction for six months in January 2021, but North Brooklyn residents and activists criticized New York State Parks for lacking public outreach before the design was created. 

A community group called Stop the Plastic Park gathered more than 2,100 signatures in a petition opposing the plastic walkway design, noting that the community was only given a few days’ notice of the plan. After pushback from the North Brooklyn community, the Black Trans community, Johnson’s family and local politicians, Cuomo halted construction on the site in early March. 

James Carey, Johnson’s cousin and President of the Marsha P. Johnson Family Foundation, said the park’s current design is the result of years of community activism.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the community,” Carey said in an interview. “We kept coming up here during COVID-19, looking at plans and going through walkthroughs, and as a result this is the fruit of our labor.”

Ryan Kuonen, a member of Stop the Plastic Park, said that pressure from the local community helped lead to more public input in the plan for the park.

“It didn’t feel respectful, it didn’t feel in the spirit, it felt gimmicky, and the one thing this neighborhood wanted, because activists had built this park, they wanted it to be a tribute to the activist that honored her truly,” Kuonen said in an interview. “Then all the groups came together, the family, the Black trans community, our community, and it was a trinity of superpowers that couldn’t be stopped.”

Councilmember from North Brooklyn Lincoln Restler, who spoke at the celebration, said he was pleased New York State Parks listened to concerns from the local community and Johnson’s family over the original design in an interview. 

“I was so happy when the state designated this park as Marsha P. Johnson Park, I cannot think of an activist and champion for trans rights and human rights who deserves this recognition more,” Restler said in the interview. “This entrance is breathtakingly beautiful, and the cobblestones and historic nature of the park have been preserved, and Marsha P. Johnson Park looks better than ever.”

New York State Parks New York City regional director Leslie Wright said that the planning and construction of the park have led to a greater focus on public engagement for larger-scale parks projects.

“Every park community acts and feels and behaves a little bit differently,” Wright said in an interview. “This one is home to many, many, many super passionate, extraordinarily dedicated community members, folks who’ve been working to make this particular property a public park for decades. So the feelings, the passions, that commitment runs really, really strong. And we completely respect that and embrace that and this park, and the way it looks today is proof of exactly that.”

Gutiérrez joins BetaNYC and North Brooklyn Parks Alliance in Mapping Equity Project

A digital map of a housing complex in Brooklyn in light green, grey and different shades of white. Small black spots marking different amenities are spread throughout the map.

Cooper Park Houses, which a group of attendees learned to map during the event, as mapped on OpenStreetMap.

By Carmo Moniz | [email protected]

A program run by BetaNYC, the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance and councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez’s office is looking to make data on public resources in the city more equitable across communities, making it easier for communities to advocate for their needs.

The program, called Mapping for Equity, focuses on areas that have been mapped in the least detail. The program uses OpenStreetMap, a mapping software that allows the public to contribute to its features, to map amenities like benches, trash cans, playgrounds and more in public spaces. 

BetaNYC, NBPA and Gutiérrez’s office held a launch event for the program last Monday, where they presented the results of their mapping efforts thus far.

Karrie Witkin, a representative for the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, said that the mapping tool could be useful for the organization as it is focused on the maintenance of public amenities in parks. 

“We’re very interested in this tool from a planning perspective and figuring out where we need to be and how to get our services equitably distributed throughout the district,” Witkin said at the event. “This is an exciting tool, it makes visible so much that’s invisible in our maps.”

On OpenStreetMap, wealthier areas are often mapped in greater detail than low-income neighborhoods, which can make using data based arguments for better resources in those neighborhoods difficult, according to the BetaNYC website.

Attendees were able to try mapping for themselves during a field section of the event, and were encouraged to later add their findings to OpenStreetMap. Reverend Dr. Katie Cumiskey, a professor at the College of Staten Island who attended the event, said she hopes to replicate the mapping process on Staten Island.

“It’s really important that citizens of our city feel empowered to be involved in how the city comes to understand the neighborhoods that they live in, especially for those folks who live in public housing or neighborhoods that have been historically excluded or underserved by the city,” Cumiskey said in an interview. “BetaNYC has a really fun and cool way for folks to feel like they can engage with how the city interprets and views their neighborhoods.”

BetaNYC has had two cohorts of Civic Innovation Fellows, all City University of New York students who were matched with the fellowship through a university program, participate in the Mapping for Equity program. Together, the two cohorts mapped over 5,100 features in OpenStreetMap, according to BetaNYC fellowship manager Jazzy Smith.

Kinji Donald, one of the fellows who worked on the project, said that once features are uploaded to OpenStreetMap, they take around a week to be visible to the public.

“I feel like I’m actually making a change and helping the public,” Donald said in an interview. “Hopefully we can see certain patterns that will allow us to see areas that may need more amenities, or may have a lot of damaged amenities that need fixing, and we can take care of.” 

Noel Hidalgo, BetaNYC’s executive director and a Technology & Democracy fellow at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, said he hopes to work with nonprofit organizations and other community groups to use the mapping data for advocacy purposes.

“The fight for open data is about getting the opportunity for everyone, not just government, take the information and use it for analytical purposes,” Hidalgo said in the interview. “Something that we’re very, very passionate about is figuring out how communities and individuals can take that information and use it for their local advocacy purposes.”

Anya Lehr, Gutiérrez’s senior adviser, said that as chair of the New York City Council’s Technology Committee, the councilmember has seen the inequalities caused by technological infrastructure, and that it can be difficult to make arguments for addressing issues in a community without quantitative data to back them. 

“When she started thinking about all the other inequalities, which there are a lot from a long time of not having investments, the thing that we would always do is go ‘well where’s the data?’” Lehr said at the event. “Super excited to be working on this project with everyone, as soon as we saw this, as soon as Jazzy showed us what came out of this, it was like ‘this is awesome.’” 

Hidalgo said BetaNYC began working with Councilmember Gutiérrez around a year ago, and that she had continued the work of her predecessor, now Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, in providing funding for the organization’s data literacy work. 

BetaNYC has been running literacy classes for OpenData, a government platform that includes public datasets ranging from crime statistics to film permit data, since former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed the “Open Data Law” in 2012. The law required that by the end of 2018,  all public datasets be accessible on a single portal online.

Hidalgo said that the organization uses mapping to teach how to use OpenData, an idea that arose when gathering in office spaces for literacy programs became difficult due to the pandemic. He also said that the next step in the project is working with BetaNYC’s community partners, such as NBPA, and teaching them to run data collecting events, data entry and how to maintain the data.

“This project is just one rung in the ladder of a very long ladder of data literacy,” Hidalgo said in the interview. “We now have a nuts-to-soup perspective of how to teach and how to collect data, and walk you as the general public into the context of collecting data.”

Curbside Composting to Arrive in Brooklyn in October

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Curbside Composting is coming to Brooklyn stoops Oct. 2, according to a schedule released by the Mayor’s Office. The program, which includes free bins for all Brooklynites who sign up before Oct. 13, is a part of a larger rollout to make composting mandatory across all five boroughs. 

Gil Lopez, an urban ecologist, compost applicator and educator for Big Reuse, said the program is important in making composting accessible to all New York residents. 

“The great thing about the brown bin, and the reason that I’ve been wanting to mandate compost forever, is until everyone in New York City, undocumented or documented, has access [to composting] and they don’t have to do anything special to get it, there is inequity built into our system,” Lopez said. 

Informational sticker on acceptable forms of waste to be disposed in the brown bins. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

The program began Oct. 2022 in Queens and resumed services in the borough in March after a winter hiatus. In 2024, brown bins will start to appear regularly in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. The Curbside Composting initiative, sponsored by Park Slope Councilmember Shahana Hanif, is just one part of the Zero Waste Act initiative passed by the City Council in June of this year. 

The Zero Waste Act is a five-bill initiative that also includes annual reporting measures on the 11,000 tons of waste created in New York daily, community food scrap collecting centers, new construction of recycling facilities, as well as the city’s general efforts to withstand climate change. Under the new legislation, composting will be compulsory by the year 2025, when fines will be imposed on NYC residents who decline to sort out their organic waste. The fines will increase after each violation, starting at $25, then $50, and finally $100 for every following fine. According to Michael Whitesides, the communications director for Councilmember Hanif, the plan is to reduce the carbon footprint of the city and expand composting access to a broader range of people. 

“We’ve also really been focusing on getting multilingual outreach. A lot of the areas that we have composting right now tend to be white, wealthier, mostly English speaking communities,” Whitesides said. “The Councilmember has been really involved in trying to get some translated materials, not only about what is composting but also how to sign up for brown bin. We’re not just going to communities that already have access to curbside compost but really doing our work to expand it citywide.” 

The composting collection will be handled by the Department of Sanitation of New York and will be picked up on the same day that recycling is gathered. According to Whitesides, DSNY is putting in the work to let Brooklanites know about the brown bin rollout, including putting up flyers, doing social media outreach, and knocking on people’s doors. On Twitter, DSNY shared that more than 23,000 people have signed up for a brown bin in Brooklyn, and urged more people to participate in the program. 

According to an email response by Vincent Gragnagi, the DSNY press secretary, the compost will be sent to one of five locations across the city: the DSNY’s Staten Island composting facility, the Department of Environmental Protection’s waste management location in Newton Creek, an organic processing facility in Massachusetts, and Nature’s Choice composting plant in New Jersey. Gragnagi said the curbside composting initiative makes it easier for residents in the city to do their part in combating climate change, and in turn, also allows the city to reuse the organic material collected from community members. 

“We all share the goal of making it easy for New Yorkers to do the right thing and compost — and that is exactly what universal curbside composting does,” Gragnagi said in an email. “The goal of the procurement is to ensure that material collected in our curbside composting program goes to a variety of facilities, each of which will process the material and turn it into something beneficial, either renewable energy and fertilizer, or compost for parks and gardens” 

Whitesides said that composting organic material alone can reduce the city’s environmental impact by a third of its current carbon footprint. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, composting will reduce t

Gil Lopez speaking at an worm composting educational event for Big Reuse at the Park Slope Public Library. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

he amount of organic waste going to landfills, which produce a significant amount of harmful methane gas. Pilot composting programs in cities such as San Francisco have managed to reduce the amount of trash going to landfills by 80 percent, where the municipality has managed to compost 255,500 tons of organic waste each year, according to the Public Interest Network. According to Lopez, though the fight to increase composting has been active amongst grass-roots environmental circles in the area since the 1990s, this is NYC’s first large-scale initiative to enact mandatory food waste processing. 

Katie Cunningham, a Park Slope resident, said she wanted her neighbors to do their part to reduce methane gas from landfills by composting their organic material, and hopes that the brown bin program will increase the number of people who take the time to do so. After 15 years of living in the area, she said she has just started composting because of the readily available service, and in part, she said because the sign-up process to get a brown bin delivered to her home

 was so simple. 

“I’ve only been composting recently, I hate to admit. I’m excited that they’re invested in expanding this program and bringing it to Brooklyn,” Cunningham said. “The sign-up process is straightforward, you just go online and order the bin that you need. I’m hoping it will motivate more people in the neighborhood and more people in Brooklyn to start composting.” 

Lopez said many residents in cities assume that they are far away from the harm occurring to forests, oceans and other ecosystems and that New Yorkers should do anything they can to reduce their environmental impact. According to Lopez, composting is a big part of that. 

“We are part of the ecosystem. Period. We never separated from the ecosystem,” Lopez said. “People assume that they are not a part of the natural world. If that were true, we wouldn’t be experiencing the tripartite climate catastrophe that we’re in right now … We live in a world where everything is connected, and there’s no way you can sever that connection, no matter how big, bad, rich or elected you are.”

Thomas Leeser, a Park Slope resident, said he is glad that composting is coming to Brooklyn, and that he has been composting since he moved to the area three years ago. Leeser said that he had no issue with the program being mandatory, as composting is good for the environment. 

“It’s a good thing, you know, I’m happy that it’s happening,” Leeser said. “We should all do our part for the environment.”

On the Record: Halil Kaya

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Despite the gray weather in Downtown Brooklyn, Halil Kaya was smiling inside the ice cream truck parked outside Albee Square. After selling five strawberry smoothies to a large family and one rainbow sprinkled cone to a mother-daughter duo, Kaya stopped serving and said he loves selling ice cream because of how happy it makes people. 

“I just love to make people happy, you know? To see the kids happy. That’s the best job I want to do,” Kaya said. 

Kaya, whose favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate vanilla twist, said it can sometimes be hard to stay positive in such a hectic area. According to Kaya, Albee Square is bustling with people from all over Brooklyn, and people can be rude and abrasive when he’s working the window. 

“Sometimes people like to give you a hard time about the ice cream, or the prices, but otherwise I like it,” Kaya said. 

Because of this, Kaya said he wanted people to spread positivity, and remind people to stay polite during ice cream rush hours. 

“Just be polite to others with whatever you do. You should just try to make people happy everyday. Yeah, just be polite,” Kaya said. “Share the happiness.”

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