Earlier this month, in a highly publicized move, Community Board 3 notified the neighborhood group The L.E.S. Dwellers that it was suspending it as a recognized block association for the remainder of the year.
As The Lo-Down reported on Oct. 7:
In a letter that was sent not only to the Dwellers but to members of CB3′s SLA Committee, Chairperson Gigi Li wrote, "it appears that the group has been working as its own entity” and acting as a 'shadow community board.'"
(Read more about this at BoweryBoogie and DNAinfo, who first reported the story.)
The L.E.S. Dwellers have been active in opposing new liquor licenses on the Lower East Side, including the proposed SoHo House on Ludlow Street ... and the ongoing battle with the DL on Delancey. (CB3 first recognized the L.E.S. Dwellers as a block association in October 2012.)
The group shared the following letter calling for an investigation of CB3 with us.
The recent suspension of our group, L.E.S. Dwellers (“LESD”), by Community Board #3 (“CB3”) is an attempt by a few members of CB3 — without board approval — to limit our participation in the process. The tactics to gerrymander our boundaries and impose an unlawful suspension where we are relegated to speak as individuals not as an organized group before CB3, applicants, existing businesses and the hundreds of residents who have taken various forms of action alongside us, is a blatant suppression of our First Amendment rights of free speech, assembly and to petition the government. Essentially, CB3’s self-determined jurisdiction over the way the LESD can dissent and demonstrate is a community board’s version of a gag order.
The purposeful narrowing by CB3 of free speech rights through sanctioned limitations that purportedly serve to protect the very rights that are being suppressed treads on treacherous First Amendment waters. This sets a standard for what community board’s can demand of neighborhood organizations and constituents. In CB3, or anywhere, the entity charged to hear the concerns of the residents and act as the liaison with government agencies, will now have the tacit authority to determine the propriety and delivery of those concerns.
Through the seemingly arbitrary and capricious nature of decisions made by certain members of CB3, there is a preponderance of evidence to suggest that our rights have been threatened for some time. For six months, CB3 has systematically challenged the legitimacy and representation of the LESD. The 58-minute conversation outlines the exact rationale for the suspension, including a selection of information not reported by Ms. Li in her formal letter. Overall, it reveals the unedited delivery of CB3’s ruling against LESD.
The audio presents an opportunity to understand the ongoing challenges we have endured from the community board, the reasons for the suspension, the manner in which it was decided, and other particularities about the inconsistent operations of the board. CB reps repeatedly overstep their bounds in the conversation and admit that while they may not approve of the manner in which LESD has acted, we have behaved lawfully and within our rights.
If community boards are permitted to impose limitations and suspend community groups absent of procedure and just cause, then the influence over government policy through protest and demonstration is severely hampered if not diminished all together. The result increases government agencies' influence over their own agendas without necessary checks and balances.
This is why, upon our suspension, we submitted a formal complaint to Manhattan Borough President (“MBP”) Scott Stringer. The complaint included an audio recording of the entirety of the conversation between the L.E.S. Dwellers and Board Chair Gigi Li and District Manager Susan Stetzer, in which LESD was told of the suspension and the reasons therefore, as well as the Community Board suspension letter and response letter from the L.E.S. Dwellers, including 81 pages of supporting supplemental material.
We then followed up with written request (CB3 Special Task Force: LESD Suspension Letter) on October 10th to CB3 chair Gigi Li to convene an independent, internal panel (“Special Task Force”) to investigate the facts and events surrounding the suspension of the LESD. We asked that the Special Task Force be charged with investigating two matters. First, did the LESD engage in any unlawful or inappropriate conduct that would warrant a suspension by CB3? Second, did CB3 Chair Gigi Li, CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer or any other member of the CB3 Executive Committee engage in unlawful or inappropriate conduct in suspending LESD?
Further, we requested to maintain independence and neutrality, the Special Task Force should be made up only of rank-and-file members of CB3, not members of the Executive Committee, including any current committee chairs. Additionally, we asked that our letter be distributed to all members of CB3, not just the Executive Committee, and requested during the course of the investigation and until the report is released, the suspension of LESD should be held in abeyance. In return, LESD would agree not to take legal action against CB3 or any of its officers or employees until the report of the Special task force is released.
As to date, CB3 has not responded to our request.
Founder of the LES Dwellers
The group shared the entirety of the nearly 60-minute conversation between them and Board Chair Gigi Li and District Manager Susan Stetzer from Sept. 27. The Timestamp link is suggestion only of particular parts of the conversation that they were concerned by or felt deserved special attention and/or consideration.