Resistance to Clean Streets

On February 21 the LCBA had its second meeting of the year. Several issues came up. Ken Marable spoke about Black History Month referring to posters of Black luminaries on the wall. There was a financial report about the last month telling how there had been income from renters and people paying their dues but also various expenses. However, there was still no budget for the year, which there should have been because in tabling a proposal to clean the area, Israel Mirsky had called for a budget so that the membership of the Association could sensibly discuss whether whether the LCBA could afford to pay for cleaning the streets. The membership voted for this proposal, but no budget was forthcoming. However, this standard operating procedure – ignore what you aren't interested in and bend the rules so the things you are interested in come to the fore. Eytan Kurshan gave a membership report. Twenty-five people had paid dues representing 17 families. There was discussion of making a deal with Disney to film the outside of the Block Association building. The LCBA could make as much as $25,000 from this deal. There was a lot of worry expressed about the disruption of the parking from as many as 80 people who would make up the the crew. Sometimes the city cancels parking to support such undertakings. There was tentative interest expressed in making a deal. Ken Marable called for the creation of various committees; there was a underwhelming response. There was a report on the By-Laws Committee, and despite Ken's insistence on a confidentiality agreement to be signed by all members of the committee, he revealed that membership dues would be increased. There was a depressing report about the situation with 615 Eastern Parkway. The owner had gone to the Landmarks Preservation Committee and got through a proposal with features that had been rejected by Community Board 8.

My particular interest had to do with cleaning the six blocks which LCBA takes as its area. As someone sitting on the By-Laws Committee, I had discovered that there is a mandate in the By Laws. It is point 2 in article 2 which states that the LCBA shall “see that the neighborhood is kept clean.” As the Director of the Nostrand Avenue Improvement Association, I already have interns who pick up litter. I proposed in January that the Association pay to have the streets cleaned three times a week by my interns. The work would be done at a cost of $13.50/hour for the interns and I would work as a volunteer. The proposal was tabled as there was no way of telling whether the Association could afford the service. In February there was still no way of telling without a budget.

However, on both occasions and during the month, I was told by many residents that they wanted the service. Someone gave me $80 at the January meeting and by February I had raised $360 from various residents, and many more had pledged more money. So in February I told the meeting this and said that at the least the LCBA should put in some money even if it didn't pay for the entire service. There was a fair amount of resistance to this idea, and that is what I would like to try to understand here.

There were six people who did not want the LCBA to pay for the cleaning service.. All of them were older and several had served on the executive committee as appointees. Several were on the current executive committee. One man objected that homeowners should keep their own yards and sidewalks free of litter and this is how the problem should be solved. I pointed out that only about 80 places are occupied by members of LCBA and not all of these are homeowners. For example the owner of my place lives in Maryland. I do keep my sidewalk clean but I am not sure one can expect every tenant to do this. Furthermore there are roughly 270 buildings in the six blocks. So even if the 80 members kept their sidewalks clean that would leave 190 buildings outside the LCBA. An older woman commented that homeowners should encourage others to keep their homes clean as well. She said leaflets should be printed up to do this encouragement. My wife whispered to me that those leaflets would soon be added to the litter on the street. As someone who has done of this kind of “encouragement,” I know the response might be positive, but just as well could be, “Mind your own business.” In fact on another occasion this woman had revealed that her neighbor was dumping garbage in her front year, but said that she would not confront him because she is an older woman on her own and would not want to get into a fight with a man. So much for “encouragement.” Another woman said it was fine for people to give money but the LCBA should not. I suppose the rationale would be that those who want clean streets should pay for it. Various other elderly people said similar things. One said what the By Laws called for was just this sort of thing, that homeowners by cleaning their own sidewalks would end up cleaning the whole neighborhood by doing their own and then encouraging others to do the same. At that point Marable read the relevant By Law. The LCBA shall “see that the neighborhood is kept clean.” That brought about silence and the discussion came to an end.

Whey do these older residents not want to see to it that the area is kept clean as is mandated in the By Laws? I can't really say except that I found their arguments to be not compelling. Eighty homeowners cleaning their sidewalks and telling their neighbors to do the same will obviously not work. It has not worked in the past; it will not work in the future, so why advocate this? Indeed, none of these older residents have volunteered to promote such a program. They tend to use the word “should.” I believe the fact that the people who object are older is key.

First, they have a vision of how things were done in the past. Did these ideas work twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. I can't say, but I feel sure there is a large element of nostalgia underlying what they say. They are feeling we did not do this in the past; let's not do it now. Second, I don't think they liked me, a relative newcomer, pointing out that the LCBA had not been fulfilling its mandate. Thus they “interpreted” the By Law and said it meant what they said it meant. When Marable read the By Law, it clearly said something else. However, I doubt any of the objectors were convinced. Third, for the older people, the purpose of the LCBA has more and more been focused on the building at 284 New York Avenue. They take a proprietary interest in it and are reluctant to spend money on other projects. This has led to a division between the executive committee and the membership of the LCBA who are focused on the events on Lincoln Place. During the last year there were the following events – the Greenest Block in Brooklyn, followed by Sip and Celebrate to acknowledge the second place finish, the Block Party organized by Oshun Layne, the Halloween Party to trick or treat on the block and then have a party in the meeting room and finally the Christmas Party. Most of the money for these events was put up by residents and the residents did most of the work. This is where the energy of the Block Association is. These events are successful and well attended; they get people involved.

The LCBA could to more, but in 2010 it lost its non-profit status. Marable says it is a non-profit without tax exempt status. My accountant is mystified by this distinction which has no legal meaning. He says a non-profit is a non-profit because it is tax exempt. Without tax exemption the LCBA has no way of raising large sums of money. It has rents and dues and that is about it. It has about $40,000 in the bank but the building needs a new roof and other repairs. The older people seem focused on that and they are not thinking of getting other moneys to do other things. That means that the LCBA doesn't really have the resources to expand. No new people in the neighborhood are going to want to join an organization devoted to repairing a building. To complete the transition that is going on, the organization is going to have fund things people want – just one of them is clean streets, there are many other things as well. Otherwise the LCBA will languish in doldrums.

UpdatesJonathan Judge