Volume 75, Number 45 | March 29 -April 04 2006

C.B. 2 challenges pier kids to be on best behavior

By Lincoln Anderson

Village residents again called for an earlier curfew on the Christopher St. Pier. FIERCE! — the gay-youth organization — again called for a later one. But the end result was the same as reached at a community board Waterfront and Parks Committee meeting earlier this month: The curfew of the Christopher St. Pier will remain at 1 a.m. for this coming park season.

Last Thursday night’s full Community Board 2 meeting, at which the board’s final vote was held on the “pier kids” issue, saw 150 determined members of FIERCE! toting an array of colorful signs and about 20 concerned neighborhood residents turn out.

“In my 15 years on the board, this is one of the most difficult issues I’ve ever had to deal with,” said Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of the board’s Waterfront and Parks Committee, speaking before he read the revised resolution. “There are legitimate, righteous reasons on both sides. There is a noise problem. I don’t care if was Girls Scouts. If you have 1,000 Girl Scouts leaving the pier, that causes noise.”

Schwartz noted he’s caught flak from both sides.

“It wasn’t easy to get called names by [FIERCE! and advocates for the gay youth] and to get called names by the neighbors who live on Christopher and 10th Sts.”

The revised resolution removed any mention of the gay youth who come to the Christopher St. Pier being predominantly African-American or Latino, which had been in the previous resolution considered by the committee earlier this month and which some of the youth had branded racist — much to the chagrin of Schwartz, a committed civil rights lawyer.

In addition to the pier’s curfew remaining 1 a.m., the resolution calls for social services and food and nonalcoholic beverage vendors to be provided on the pier; for the pier’s bathrooms to stay open till 1 a.m., instead of closing at 8 p.m., and, if feasible, for Portosan portable toilets to be made available; for the police commissioner and Sixth Precinct to provide additional police to “maintain order” on Christopher St. on Friday and Saturday evenings; for FIERCE! to create teams to patrol Christopher St. to discourage noise-making and “self-police;” and for a joint task force composed of C.B. 2 members and the area’s elected officials to monitor the situation during the “trial period,” which is to end June 30.

“We’re challenging FIERCE! We’ll give you till June 30, and if it doesn’t improve, it moves,” Schwartz said, threatening to recommend moving the curfew up, if necessary.

But the resolution didn’t pass without a challenge. Phil Mouquinho, a Board 2 member, proposed a substitute resolution: that the Christopher St. Pier close instead at midnight. Brad Hoylman, the board’s first vice chairperson and past president of the political club Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, seconded Mouquinho’s motion, saying it was “in the spirit of compromise.”

“The status quo, with a lot of great services [added on the pier], isn’t the solution,” Hoylman said. “You’ll get the same results.”

However, Ed Gold, a veteran member of the board, countered that the timing of the substitute resolution made it seem like FIERCE! was being “penalized.”

While garnering a fair amount of support, the substitute resolution failed to pass.

The vote marked the end of a process that began last October, when The Villager first reported on a plan being hatched by the Hudson River Park Trust — with the approval of local block associations — to stem the droves of youth streaming onto Christopher St. after the park’s curfew during the spring and summer. The scheme called for the park’s Christopher St. exit to be gated early, with the youth then being directed to exit the Village park segment at its north and south ends at 14th and Houston Sts. Dubbed the “barricades” plan, it was subsequently scuttled in the face of intense opposition from FIERCE!

The Trust then tossed the hot-potato issue to Community Board 2, leaving it up to the board to find a solution. Earlier this month, the C.B. 2 Waterfront and Parks Committee proposed that Pier 45, the Christopher St. Pier, close an hour earlier on Friday and Saturday nights during the warm weather, and that the youth then walk up to Pier 54 at W. 13th St., which would stay open till 2 a.m. and which would have food and beverage vendors and Portosans added. But FIERCE! again rejected the proposal, saying that gay youth feel safe at Christopher St., a historically gay gathering area.

After the Village segment of Hudson River Park opened in the summer of 2003 — with a beautifully renovated Christopher St. Pier complete with lights as a magnet — the influx of gay youth has risen to even higher levels. Residents have been asking for an 11 p.m. curfew for the pier, in vain.

Speaking at last Thursday’s full C.B. 2 meeting, Dave Poster, president of the Christopher St. Patrol, a volunteer anticrime group, said the problem remains the young park users funneling out of the park onto Christopher St., “many yelling and screaming, many with radios blaring. The sidewalks are narrow and we are forced onto the street. Even though the pier closes at 1 a.m., this activity often continues to 3 or 4 a.m. Residents have not had a good night’s sleep since the pier reopened. We shouldn’t have to take it anymore.”

As he spoke, FIERCE! members held up signs saying, “My Home Too!” and “Where Is Safe?” Another sign bore the names of four local youth who have died in gay bashings.

However, residents said it’s they who feel threatened. Terri Howell, vice president of the Christopher St. Patrol, said there’s recently been more violence associated with the Village youth scene.

“We all know what the problem is: gangs — gangs selling drugs to undisciplined kids is a volatile mix,” she said. “Up to a year ago, we never had this level of aggression.”

Jay Jeffries, a Village resident who identified himself as gay, said the youth should have taken the Pier 54 option.

“Greenwich Village is no longer the gay mecca it was,” Jeffries pointed out. “New York is in constant flux and no one can hold back the clock. Pier 54 is close to Chelsea, which is now the gay capital of New York.”

Melissa Sklarz, former chairperson of the C.B. 2 L.G.B.T. Committee who resigned from the board earlier this month, also touted the Pier 54 plan.

“The true revolutionary idea was to move to 14th St.,” she said. “It was the bomb. But it didn’t get accepted.”

But Rickke Mananzala, campaign coordinator of FIERCE!, said the gay youth won’t be dislodged from their beloved stomping ground, and that they want to work with the community to reach a solution.

“I promise you, L.G.B.T. youth of color will always come to the Village because of its historic importance,” he said. “The pier is the solution, not the problem. The 4 a.m. [curfew] can work.” He said FIERCE! is ready and willing to take on the board’s challenge to reduce noise and rowdy behavior.

Added Carl Siciliano of the Ali Forney Center, a drop-in shelter for homeless gay youth, “Christopher St. has been like a haven of safety for kids who are in danger in other parts of the city. I look for the community board for ways to lessen this divide [between the gay youth and residents].”

After the vote, the FIERCE! group convened outside on the corner for a “debriefing.”

“We just had a huge victory,” Mananzala told them. “We completely shot down the 13th St. Pier proposal. We completely shot down the 11 p.m. pier curfew proposal. We will say that L.G.B.T. youth of color are policy makers. We will win 4 a.m. with your support,” he said of their push for a later curfew on the Christopher St. Pier.

He then led them in a rousing chant: “To win we must love each other and protect each other! We have nothing to lose but our chains!”

Back in front of the meeting venue at 75 Morton St., residents grumbled over the outcome.

“Of course we’re disappointed. We wanted an earlier closing time,” said Elaine Goldman of the Christopher St. Residents and Merchants Association.

“I just think it was an insult to the community,” added Kathy Christel, president of the Far W. 10th St. Block Association.

“Now they’ve got food, more amenities [on the pier]. It’s going to escalate,” predicted Kathy Donaldson, president of the Bedford Barrow Commerce Block Association.

Poster dismissed the joint task force that is to be set up and FIERCE!’s claim that it will self-police. He said the local politicians have been — and will continue to be — hands off.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to monitor this down here,” Poster said. “I don’t think anyone has the nerve. They’ve turned their back on this. It’s rewarding bad behavior. The only one who’s done anything is [Assemblymember] Deborah Glick, who said bring in mounted police. They turn their back. It’s too political.”

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