Election Day isn’t the only day of the year during which New Yorkers can have a say in what’s going on in their country and hometowns. That’s what Community Boards and Precinct Community Councils are for.
Have you ever wanted to complain about the loud noise coming from the bar next door in the middle of the night, or that an intersection is getting really dangerous with speeding cars, or that sidewalk trash cans are overflowing and someone has got to do something about this and countless other things? Then attending your local Community Board meeting is for you.
If you heard that local businesses were getting robbed or someone had gotten assaulted the other night and you want to find out exactly what’s going on? Or you have a request for more police presence at a certain time of day/night to check on things? Then your local Precinct Community Council meeting is the place to be.
The most local form of representation in government, Community Boards (CBs) serve as the voice of the neighborhood to local politicians and city agencies – making recommendations on things like installing a bike lane or speed bump – and also as a way to support projects that improve quality of life on the street level – such as helping with permits for block parties, reviewing liquor license applications, organizing tenants associations, and coordinating trash cleanups.
There are 59 community boards in the five boroughs – 18 in Brooklyn – and each of them hold monthly general meetings – as well as a range of monthly committee meetings on specific topics like transportation, education, and public safety – that are open to the public. Common meeting places include the local senior center, community center, hospital conference room, and the neighborhood CB office. The central location allows as many people as possible to participate – including local politicians and city representatives, who always take a few minutes to explain their projects and get feedback.
“All we want is increased dialogue and increased discourse in the community, and to make sure there is a concerted effort at engaging the community,” said Wilfredo Florentino, board member and chairperson of the Transportation Committee on CB 1, which represents Williamsburg and Greenpoint. “Even before you get to the electeds [officials], this is the most grassroots approach of dealing with the community [issues].”
At the December Transportation Committee meeting, where board members and residents watched a presentation from the Department of Transportation (DOT) on proposed bike lanes and traffic changes, Greenpoint homeowner André Daparma got a taste of that civic engagement. It was his first CB1 meeting.
“I heard about [this meeting] from Transportation Alternatives and I came because I live [nearby] and am very interested in what happens to that area, and as a bike rider, I’m interested in protected lanes,” explained Daparma, who was pleased that CB1 approved the proposed changes, but then wondered what would have happened if the board had voted no.
CBs can only issue recommendations. So even if they reject a proposal, the city agency in charge – such as the DOT – can still go ahead with their plan or liquor license. However, approval and collaboration is necessary for the city to continue building strong community relations.
“The three main charter-mandated purposes for CBs are local review of (1) land use, (2) city services, and (3) the municipal budget,” explained Robert Perris, district manager of CB2 – which includes Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Clinton Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Vinegar Hill.
“Increasingly, CBs are also the first reviewers of a wide range of applications before a variety of state and city agencies, such as liquor licenses, sidewalk cafes, and things as mundane as benches on the sidewalk,” Perris added. Another recent change? He answered: “the use of digital media, email, and social media, so more people are able to stay in touch with what’s going on.”
Precinct Community Councils
These are essentially monthly town hall-style meetings between you and your local police precinct. Typically held in a conference room inside the precinct, these meetings are an opportunity to meet face-to-face with law enforcement whose job it is to make your family safe.
The meetings are largely informal, starting with a summary of the past month’s crime statistics, arrests, and any problematic trends that people should look out for. This is delivered by the precinct’s commanding officer – the person in charge of organizing officers and distributing resources allocated to the community by the NYPD. The Captain’s Report (or Deputy Inspector’s Report, depending on his/her rank), is then usually followed by a brief ceremony honoring the Cop(s) of the Month, and then the question-and-answer session.
“People should attend because then they can get up-to-date crime bulletins, current events within the precinct and neighborhood, and bring forth any communication problems and information that they don’t want to reveal over the phone,” said a police source who regularly attends such meetings. “You know, some people have issues but don’t know how to go about [getting help], so here, you come in person and it’s a lot easier and more effective.”
Jennifer Bischoff and Sara Houchins, the owners of Sugar Shop, a recent arrival at 254 Baltic Street in Carroll Gardens, came to the 76th Precinct’s council meeting with that in mind. They had been the target of repeated robberies and intimidation by a steadily growing crowd of teenagers and after a “flash robbery” by around 40 kids in late August, they decided to do more than just file police reports – so they came and spoke directly to Captain Jeffrey Schiff during the meeting.
“Initially, we were unhappy with the support [of the NYPD], but after the meeting, the captain and the president of the Community Board came by. It helps just to know that we have the support of the community,” said Bischoff. “We want to make sure our employees are safe. We also want to send a message that this is not a place to come steal.”
There haven’t been any incidents since, which is great news for the candy-lovers who come in and discover bowls full of nostalgia in the form of chocolate, fruit, nuts, marshmallows, and sugar.
“Rather than speaking to someone on the phone, it’s more familiar, speaking to someone directly,” he added. “You also meet them and become more comfortable with a person. It’s a good way to get to know people in your community – the police department as well as local officials.”
Community Board Meetings
- Brooklyn CB1 (Williamsburg/Greenpoint)
435 Graham Avenue
CB1 meets every second Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., except holidays.
- Brooklyn CB2 (Brooklyn Heights, Clinton Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Fort Greene, Navy Yard, Vinegar Hill)
350 Jay Street, 8th Floor
CB2 meets every second Wednesday at 6 p.m.
- Brooklyn CB6 (Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Red Hook)
250 Baltic Street
CB6 meets every second Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Precinct Community Council Meetings
- 76th PRECINCT (Carroll Gardens, Red Hook)
191 Union Street, 11231
Captain Jeffrey Schiff
76 C.C. meetings are every first Tuesday at 7:30 P.M.
76 C.C. President: Jerry Armer
- 78th PRECINCT (Park Slope)
65 Sixth Avenue, 11217
Captain Michael Ameri
78 C.C. meetings are on the last Tuesday of every month at 7:30 P.M.
78 C.C. President: Pauline Blake
- 84th PRECINCT
301 Gold Street, 11201
Captain Maximo Tolentino
84 C.C. President: Leslie Lewis
84 C.C. meetings are every third Tuesday at 7 p.m. at various locations
- 90th PRECINCT (Williamsburg)
211 Union Avenue, 11211
Deputy Inspector Michael M. Kemper
90 C.C. President: Raquel Queme
90 C.C. meetings are every second Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. at 30 Montrose Avenue Community Room
- 94th PRECINCT (Greenpoint)
100 Meserole Avenue, 11222
718-383-3879 (main); C.A. x5298
Deputy Inspector Terence Hurson
94 C.C. President: Elizabeth Hulson
94 C.C. meetings are every first Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Church of the Ascension, 122 Java Street