The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association said it will meet with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) to encourage her to adopt participatory budgeting, a process in which public input is sought on some spending items from money allocated to a specific member of the City Council.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who was one of the first members to adopt participatory budgeting a few years ago, in the Rockaways, has brought it to the parts of his district in Community District 9 this year, including Woodhaven. Though geographically most of the neighborhood is in Ulrich’s district, the western part is represented by Crowley.
That means that although projects there can be considered and residents living in that part of the district can suggest items, they cannot vote on the final list of projects.
In a statement, Crowley expressed some reservations about the program.
“Participatory budgeting is a novel idea in getting residents involved with the City’s budget process, but in its current form, it can become decisive and pit communities against each other,” the statement said. “I welcome all community input on budget ideas, and I will closely review the Woodhaven proposals from Councilman Ulrich’s participatory budgeting process in determining the best ideas for funding to improve all the communities I represent.”
About 62 percent of Woodhaven residents live in Ulrich’s district, while another 38 percent, including those in the Forest Park Co-Ops and the densely populated section of the neighborhood west of Forest Parkway and 80th Street, live in Crowley’s. Some of Woodhaven’s key sites, including Oak Ridge, the Forest Park Carousel, the Seuffert Bandshell, Franklin K. Lane High School and the 75th Street-Elderts Lane subway station, are all located in Crowley’s district.
WRBA member Alexander Blenkinsopp said at the civic’s meeting Jan. 18 that members would meet with Crowley to ask her if she would also conduct participatory budgeting in the district, specifically the Woodhaven portion, to allow residents the ability to vote on projects.
“We want all of Woodhaven to be treated the same way,” he said. “We don’t want people living across the street from the library to be barred from voting on projects having to do with it, for example.”
Crowley further noted that she had allocated nearly $3 million in capital money for Woodhaven projects since taking office in 2009. That includes $537,500 for the library, $1 million for Mary Whalen Park, $900,000 for Forest Park, and several school improvements. Before redistricting, Crowley represented the eastern two-thirds of Woodhaven, but had only about 32 percent of its population, less than she has now.
Woodhaven is the only neighborhood south of Forest Park represented by Crowley and makes up less than 10 percent of the district. Some are concerned that if she brought the project to her entire district, residents in the northern part of the district, which includes Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth and Middle Village, would outvote Woodhaven residents and eliminate their neighborhood projects.
Blenkinsopp said Woodhaven had the same concerns about Ulrich’s process, which also includes parts of Ozone Park and Richmond Hill that are in both the district and Community District 9. He suggested that Crowley can institute it in some way in which she splits Woodhaven from the other neighborhoods or dedicate a certain amount of her funds to the neighborhood.
That is not unprecedented. Ulrich is conducting participatory budgeting in two different parts of his district, separated by community boards; one in Woodhaven and other neighborhoods served by CB 9 and the other covered by Community Board 14, including Broad Channel and the Rockaways.