Opinion: Roosevelt Ave. BID Highlights Latino Leadership Void

The Latino community in Queens is learning to organize itself around a goal or idea and not with the backing of a political party, and that’s a step forward. (Photo via Queens Latino)

The Latino community in Queens is learning to organize itself around a goal or idea and not with the backing of a political party, and that’s a step forward. (Photo via Queens Latino)

The lack of vision and leadership within the Latino community in Queens is reflected in the misguided proposal to expand the Business Improvement District (BID) along Roosevelt Avenue, which would run from 82nd to 114th Streets. No one has done grassroots work to win over the area’s Latino merchants. BIDs typically impose fees on small merchants to cover the cost of sanitation, security or other services that “standardize” storefronts in the community – such as holiday lighting. Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras – who said she thought of the project on her own without help from Mayor Bloomberg – hasn’t done anything but manipulate information and politicize the process.

Ferreras formed a committee to implement the BID that doesn’t have support from the affected merchants, uses the names of people who don’t agree with the BID, and schedules community meetings that aren’t anything except public relations events. Seth Taylor, executive director of the other BID on Roosevelt Avenue, the 82nd Street Partnership, is her pawn. In previous editions, QueensLatino has shown how Ferreras and Taylor have altered reality. They take advantage of the lack of organization and information in the Queens Latino community.

But Ferreras now has another problem that will impact the Roosevelt Avenue BID. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whom she supported as candidate for mayor, lost in the primaries and will be out of a job starting Jan. 1, 2014. It will be different if Bill de Blasio wins, as expected, the November general elections because he has said he won’t favor corporations. That is to say, Ferreras’ plans have backfired.

Ferreras experienced another mishap when some business owners and activists switched sides. Freddy Castiblanco, who owns Terraza 7, a bar and live music venue, came out to advocate for merchants who pay excessive rent on Roosevelt Avenue. He strives to preserve the thoroughfare’s cultural and culinary authenticity and supports street vendors.

Castiblanco was the architect of the Roosevelt Avenue Community Alliance (RACA), whose motto is “revitalization without gentrification.” Activists such as Rubén Peña, Eduardo Giraldo, and Jorge Hernández decided to join his cause, but they are losing strength due to a lack of strategy and rallying power. In addition, they have received verbal threats and intimidating letters. They were ready to protest in front of Ferreras’ office, but later canceled the demonstrations. They wrote various press releases that they never circulated. RACA’s members began to abandon the cause. Iván Contreras of Catholic Migration Services distanced himself after pressure from Ferreras’ office.

Still, with strategies like those used by RACA, the Latino community in Queens is beginning to understand and manage its power in the city. These are important grassroots movements. And they have had some small victories. The opposition managed to reduce the area the Roosevelt Avenue BID would cover by a number of blocks and to lower its budget to $860,000 a year, which will come out of the merchant’s pockets.

Ferreras and Taylor assert that the BID will beautify Roosevelt Avenue, reduce crime, and bring in more business. Opponents don’t want the rent for commercial establishments to keep rising. They long to maintain the area’s gastronomic uniqueness, are ready to fight against big corporations moving in, and want street vendors’ presence to be respected.

There is a thin connection between the Roosevelt Avenue BID, the construction of the shopping mall at CitiField, and the displacement of auto body shops in Willets Point.

It is impossible to argue in favor of the BID and against the shopping mall. Both proposals leave out immigrants. But one thing is clear: the Latino community in Queens is learning to unify and respond in order to confront abuses of power. The community’s future depends on its connection to these social processes.

What roles are Councilwoman Ferreras, Assemblyman Francisco Moya, and state Sen. José Peralta playing in this process? Up until now they have stood by corporations, although they say they defend immigrants and small businesses. And what is the role of chambers of commerce and nonprofit organizations? So far they have been on the side of those who write out the checks.

One Comment

  1. whatever1000 says:

    As a resident and homeowner in Jackson Heights, I challenge you to come up with a solution to the abomination that is Roosevelt Avenue instead of simply declaring the merchants victims. My immigrant family has roots in Corona going back to the Great Depression and I feel that my interests in a safe, clean and pleasant Jackson Heights are as authentic as anyone elses. The plan for the BID hasn’t backfired, the merchants are sabatoging it in the name of stagnation and well, you said, it, lack of vision. What is “revitalization” to these merchants, more of the same, ugly, loud, unoriginal and dirty and unsafe? I’d like to see some action, instead of just claims of foul playagainst an organization that is trying to genuinely rehabilitate a blighted area. It’s unreal.

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