The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association kicked off 2014 on Saturday with new leadership and a full agenda.
Topping that list of items was participatory budgeting, the process by which members of the public pick capital projects in the community to be funded in the city budget.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), one of the first Council members to conduct participatory budgeting in the city, is opening up the process to a second part of his district.
“In past years, I’ve made these decisions on my own,” Ulrich said. “I’ve made those decisions based upon what I think is right, or what I wanted to do or what I wanted to see in the community, but you may have ideas or you may have priorities that aren’t mine and I want to know what they are.”
Last year, he held the process in Community District 14, which includes Broad Channel and the Rockaways, and this year he is bringing it to the communities in Community District 9 for the first time, which includes all of the Woodhaven portion of his district, as well as Richmond Hill and Ozone Park north of 103rd Avenue.
After a short presentation and explanation from Ulrich’s chief of staff, Rudy S. Giuliani, the several dozen residents broke up into groups to discuss which projects they’d like to see funded.
According to the rules of the city’s participatory budgeting process, only capital projects qualify and they must cost at least $35,000 each and $1 million collectively.
Once in groups, residents made a list of the most desired items, including better street lighting on Jamaica Avenue, elevators at the Woodhaven Boulevard J-train station, more public trash cans and pothole repairs on residential streets. There was even a request for maintenance along the abandoned Rockaway Beach LIRR line, which is at the center of a debate over its future development, which many Woodhaven residents have taken a strong stance against.
The process opened last month in Ozone Park and will also include Richmond Hill residents. The lists will be combined and whittled down to choices that fit the price tag and qualify, which will be determined during meetings between city agencies and community members who volunteer to be “budget delegates.” The final choices will be put on a ballot and voted on by Ulrich’s constituents living in CB 9.
“We’re going to have to get to the vote by April and we’re going to have to squeeze in all the steps,” Giuliani said.
Although projects outside the district or community board area can be considered, only those who live in the councilmanic and community district can vote. That means a small section of Woodhaven — east of Forest Parkway, north of Jamaica Avenue and east of 80th Street south of Jamaica — cannot vote, though they can take part in the project selection process. Those areas of the neighborhood are in the district of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who has not taken part in the participatory budgeting process.
WRBA board member Alexander Blenkinsopp said the civic would meet with representatives from Crowley’s office to discuss the possibility of bringing participatory budgeting to her district, which also includes Glendale, Middle Village, Ridgewood and Maspeth.
This year, Ulrich is one of three Queens members — 12 citywide — to conduct participatory budgeting, along with Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton). Last year, Ulrich and former Republican Councilman Dan Halloran conducted it. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) also conducts participatory budgeting in her district and was one of the first four members, along with Ulrich, Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), to do it in 2011.
Also during the WRBA meeting, Ulrich and Woodhaven’s other elected officials — Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens), state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) — all spoke about their agendas in Washington and Albany respectively in 2014.
Miller said he would be introducing legislation to combat cars with out-of-state plates parking overnight, a common complaint among residents in the area.
“I know that a lot of people are going to be upset with me, but we have to do something,” he said.
Miller said his bill would ban parking overnight on the street for cars with out-of-state plates, but he was working on drafting it with some exceptions for residents who own a home in another state and wants to hear from constituents about the idea.
The WRBA’s new leadership was introduced at the meeting. Martin Colberg was elected to take over as president of the civic group last month, succeeding Ed Wendell, who had served for three years.
“You’ve got big shoes to fill,” Ulrich told Colberg.