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Monday, December 21, 2015

Miho's Attempt to Speak Before the City Planning Commission about the need to build schools along with more housing

The following was written by Miho Watabe, Class Size Matters' research and outreach consultant.  The testimony she would have given on this issue follows her account of  how she was prevented from testifying in person. If you'd like to submit comments to the City Planning Commission, you can do so by emailing them at ; please copy Carl Weisbrod, chair of the Commission at as well as the Mayor at

According to the Department City of Planning website, written comments will be taken until Monday, December 28th.

At 8:45 AM on Wednesday December 16th, I arrived at the National Museum of the American Indian for the City Planning Commission hearings on the Mayor's rezoning proposals. I was struck by how much blue I saw. Signs with the logo of HTC (the NY Hotel and Motel Trades Council Union) were waved by people with union ID badges around their neck. These HTC staffers were aggressively searching for other Union members in the crowd, so they could usher them into the massive line of people waiting to get into the hearings, that were supposed to start at 9 AM.

There were so many HTC members shepherding people around and into the line that my first instinct was that I was at the wrong place. My second instinct was to get back on the train because I realized that this line rivaled a movie line for Star Wars. But thinking of my mission to deliver Class Size Matters’ testimony on school overcrowding, I braved on, despite the dthat the line to get into the museum wrapped around the building from the front entrance all the way down the side of the block.

 This photo was taken as I was leaving; these individuals have not yet heard that the room is full to capacity. The line to get inside the hearing still wrapped around the corner of the museum building. 

On closer inspection I saw many glints of blue on the people waiting to get in. The union staffers had plastered stickers and pins on their members, and I soon realized that HTC members dominated the line. When I finally reached the end of the line, sure enough the woman directly in front of me had a HTC button on her collar. An HTC staffer waving a sign asked her, “Do you know why we’re here?” The woman replied that a co-worker had said something vague about housing. This is when I became suspicious that I really was at the wrong place. Why would someone decide to stand in this long line if they were't already informed about the issue?

After 15 minutes of waiting I realized that the HTC staffers were making rounds in the line, talking to the blue-pinned people and shaking hands. The woman in front of me kept getting pressured about a co-worker of hers, and if she was also going to come out and support HTC. Her co-worker never showed up, but another one did…and proceeded to cut into the line in front of me. At this point, other people were cutting in line so I brushed it off and remained hopeful that perhaps I could still get in. A few minutes before 9 AM, the line started to move fast and I managed to get around the corner.

The line for the hearing extended past the front entrance stairs. Even with everyone's back turned, can you spot the NY HTC logo?

The woman ahead of me and her friend were encouraged by a HTC staffer to stay in line until officials told everyone that there was no more room inside but to wait close by because HTC members might rally outside. This was discouraging, but I stayed waiting in limbo until around 10:15 AM. That’s when an older gentleman informed everyone that the room had been filled to capacity, and that he was collecting written testimonies because those already signed up to speak would go on until 5:30 PM.

He also explained that the only way we would be able to enter the auditorium was if enough people  inside left. I submitted two copies of our testimony (which can be found below) on why the zoning changes should not be approved without a concomitant plan to build enough schools, and I left as other people in line started to disperse.

The line starting the disperse as people near the front of the line hear that the room is full and the speaking list goes on until 5:30 PM.

Later I came across this article describing HTC as one of “Five Families” which have aggressively backed Mayor De Blasio's rezoning proposals. With this in mind, all the unusual interactions I had around HTC's participation suddenly made sense.

I have been delivering testimonies and presentations for Class Size Matters at various public meetings only for a few months now, so I’m very new to this process. While my personal belief is that public meetings should be accessible to everyone—even if attendees don’t know what’s happening or have no testimony to give— it’s only too easy to conclude that the union asked their members to flood the Assembly hall early to keep other stakeholders from expressing their views on these controversial zoning changes. The brief testimony I attempted to present at the hearing is below; please read it and let us know what you think!    -- Miho Watabe

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