Volume 17, Number 52 | May 20 - 26, 2005

Letters to the editor

Fueled with outrage

To The Editor:
  As your editorial in the last issue of Downtown Express pointed out, it is outrageous that the Department of Buildings is working in secret to grant a variance that would allow the owners of 60 Hudson St. to store amounts of diesel fuel in excess of those permitted by the current building code (Editorial, May 13 –19, “City must open diesel negotiations at Tribeca building”). After 9/11, many of us had hoped that the Department of Buildings’ first priority would have been to revise the building code to incorporate the lessons of this tragedy. While it could not have been prevented, better regulations might have saved lives and the total destruction of 7 World Trade, which collapsed from fires fueled by the 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel stored in that building.

  We now know that safety experts have concluded that the new “Freedom Tower” should be located at least 100 feet from the street to deter any serious threat. Given that 60 Hudson St. has been identified as a potential terrorist target and is exposed to streets on all four sides of the building, it is clear that neither the jersey barriers that are now placed haphazardly around the building nor the concrete planters and bollards that have been proposed to replace them would provide any meaningful security to the building or to those who live and work nearby.

  It is unbelievable that 60 Hudson St. continues to house more than 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The Department of Buildings should deny 60 Hudson St.’s attempts to avoid the current — and inadequate — building code and instead focus on updating and strengthening the building and fire codes to recognize current realities and emerging technologies. New York City’s first and foremost obligation should be to ensure the safety and security of those who make this great city their home.

  We commend the Downtown Express for its ongoing coverage of this issue and for calling for a transparent, public process and independent scrutiny before any variances are approved. 

Tim Lannan, Bruce Ehrmann, Lori Stone
Leaders of Neighbors Against NOISE

Southbridge views

To The Editor:
Re “Southbridge Towers elects directors to the board” (News Article, May 13 - 19):

We were pleased to see Downtown Express’ coverage of our co-op’s recent board of directors election, and wish to make your readers aware that we have an organization here at Southbridge Towers devoted to ending state regulations and becoming a normal apartment co-op—a process that we think is somewhat mischaracterized by the term “privatization,” and is more accurately described as “normalization.”

Unfortunately, as your article suggests, our board and our voting shareholders never quite seem to be in sync on this issue. In addition to last year’s referendum mentioned in your article, back in the 1990s there was another referendum, which passed, authorizing up to $250,000 to finance a study. Shortly after this vote, and before the money was spent, new state regulations limited expenditures for an initial study to just $50,000, and our board refused to spend the smaller amount, even though a majority of shareholders had already approved spending five times as much!

We’re glad the board members your reporter spoke with indicated an interest in getting more information. The way to learn more is to go ahead with a study — we estimate $25,000 would cover it, currently. Numerous other previously government-regulated co-ops in our area have converted to normal co-ops, including Chatham Green, Chatham Towers, and Seward Park. Each began this process with a study.

On a linguistic note, the word “privatization” implies that public-owned property will convert to private hands. But Southbridge Towers is not publicly-owned. We are a co-op, and our co-operators already own their shares — we each invested thousands of dollars for these shares, that’s why we’re called “shareholders.” Ending our special state-regulated status to become a normal co-op is not so much “leaving” the Mitchell-Lama program, as fulfilling the destiny that Mitchell and Lama envisioned back when they wrote the state law that enabled our co-op’s construction. The right to reconstitute the co-op without state regulations, after 20 years, is the final chapter of the Mitchell-Lama plan.

We feel strongly that Southbridge shareholders are entitled to know the unbiased facts about conversion without fear of intimidation. We will continue to advocate for the rights of shareholders, and to expect our board to act on their stated willingness to examine the issue by commissioning a factual study.

Jared Brown
President of SouthBridge Owners Rights Committee

To The Editor:
  Two legislators, MacNeil Mitchell and Alfred Lama (one a state Senator and one an Assemblyman — one a Republican, the other a Democrat) had the foresight back in the late sixties to sense the need of the people and of the city. That need was to keep the middle class here and in comfort, the word “comfort” meaning “affordable.” As a result, the Mitchell-Lama cooperative was developed.

  The real estate industry, insisting on having their say, resolved to get this prize away from the people with the promise of greater monetary benefits if they left the protection of state housing and allowed it to fall into the hands of speculators. Their contribution was that after 20 years it would be possible — only possible — to opt out of the State’s protection if a majority of cooperators showed they favored that.

  Now the real estate entrepreneurs are hard at work propagandizing the 20-year limit. To the unsuspecting, it would mean that after 20 years there could no longer be a Mitchell-Lama, and it would be replaced by the impossible dream of becoming a very rich person overnight. That dream, they say, will be possible with the state out of the way. It will also bring about a new category: “Urban Nomads!” In other words, more and more homeless trying to find a place to pitch their tents.

  Albany must be on the side of the people and strengthen and revitalize the Mitchell-Lama program to show that the state government believes in us.  The middle-income citizen is becoming an endangered species in the city.

  Elected officials express in words, “The need is for more affordable housing.” All of you in Albany should practice what you preach. By saving Mitchell-Lama you can do that. Save what we have. Protect the unsuspecting victims. Don’t let them be taken in by the “get-rich-off-the-backs-of-the-people” crowd.

 Geraldine Lipschutz

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