On June 12, 2023, HAND and the BAC jointly hosted a Stakeholder Discussion at the Aladdin Theater with representatives of the Mayor’s office, Hank Smith and Skyler Brocker-Knapp. Attendees got a short summary of the Good Neighbor Agreement which included maps of the zones for enhanced city services defined in an included table. I hope you’ll read it, and the penultimate draft that it derives from.
This GNA is historic in a number of ways.
First, as we transition to apportioned districts and direct election of an expanded city council, it’s probably one of the last times neighborhood associations will be accorded deference in a matter like this.
One criticism leveled at the GNA since we started working on it is that it’s not “legally binding”. That is a valid criticism, but a “legally binding document” isn’t the magic solution that many think it is. As a person who’s had to enforce “legally binding” contracts through threatened legal action, myself, I know that what you’re doing as a claimant is throwing yourself into the machinery of the court system to resolve a dispute, trusting in that machinery to solve your problems.
In the case of the GNA, we made the explicit, measured decision to have the GNA be a political document, mainly because we didn’t have much choice. We understand that we aren’t elected officials; the City has the power in this relationship because they’ve been given that power by the voters. That means the court of public opinion and the ballot box must help resolve any future disputes we may have. We had our eyes on the most effective way such disputes would be resolved in a world where neighborhood associations no longer have any power.
Second, this is the first time a document such as this implicitly recognizes the resource limitations that all parties operate under. It helps the City establish priorities for policy enforcement and services, rather than just mandating that problems be fixed, regardless. It establishes clear lines of communication and escalation, with clear political accountability, using established structures.
Third, this document relies on freely-accessible data to judge the success of the site and its impact on the neighborhood. This agreement we’ve set up will mean nothing if you, our neighbors, don’t report issues you see promptly and escalate them when they don’t get solved. I know that it’s been difficult to justify reporting items like trash, graffiti, drug deals, etc. when it doesn’t seem like they’re being addressed. This agreement holds the City politically accountable to those issues. Help us make the neighborhood better, and report everything you see that impacts your quality of life as a Brooklyn neighbor.
Fourth, this document is dedicated to making things better for both our unhoused and housed neighbors. There are a few who wanted more control over what happens inside the camp, wanting to mandate items like curfew hours. As an unhoused member of the Working Group pointed out last week, if you turn the site into a prison, no one will want to use it. (She had already pointed out that the proposed campsites had a bad reputation, pre-opening, as “FEMA camps”.) We had to avoid restrictions that might seem to reduce risk for some of our housed neighbors to increase the desirability of the camps as a solution for our unhoused neighbors. In that case, the city has said that Urban Alchemy will have a checkin/checkout system which will allow us to help correlate complaints over late-night illegal and nuisance activity, if necessary. I think compromises such as that are how we have achieved good balance.
We still have a few issues to work through in getting to a final draft. Last week’s Working Group meeting outlined a number of minor corrections that need to be made as well as the substantive issues that remain.
We presented the draft agreement to the BAC Board at the meeting on June 14, and it passed overwhelmingly. We hope to present the final agreement to the board at the July meeting.
I’ll keep you updated on the outstanding issues as the month goes on. Our primary City contacts, Hank Smith and Eric Zimmerman, are fulfilling their USAF reserve obligations right now, but we’re working with Skyler Brocker-Knapp while they’re away.