Participatory budgeting gives Sunset Park and Red Hook residents a voice

February 25, 2014 Heather Chin
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Council District 38 has $2 million to spend and Councilmember Carlos Menchaca wants your help in deciding what to spend it on.

This is because the popular democratic process called participatory budgeting (PBNYC) is back and coming for the first time to Sunset Park, Red Hook, South Park Slope, Greenwood Heights, and the Bay Ridge Towers.

It was a packed house on Thursday, February 20, inside Sunset Park environmental nonprofit UPROSE’s community room, where dozens of residents, business owners, students, community leaders and the curious gathered to hear Menchaca, his staff and PBNYC volunteers explain how they could make their own voices heard while improving their communities.

“This project is transformational. This is what gives you power in your community and government. You have $2 million of choice in what happens,” emphasized Menchaca, 33, the freshman councilmember from Red Hook who won his seat in November after a September victory over then-incumbent Sara Gonzalez. “It’s when families step up and begin to participate that we transform our communities.”

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Sunset Park resident Javier Nieves agreed, stating that PBNYC “is a way of getting regular folks involved in a process that traditionally locks them out [and although] we don’t know where it will end, at least there’s now a mechanism for input.”

Friends of Sunset Park founder Maria Roca said she had heard about the process when it started years ago in Brazil and had hoped it would come to her neighborhood one day. “It’s a great civic education tool to get people excited and involved,” she explained. “It’s not conceptual; it’s concrete.”

As for what she hopes to vote for, Roca said “the need is huge for so many things,” but “the Sunset Park library has been so neglected and I would love to see three more stories above it, maybe to provide early childhood center seats.”

Sheryl Braxton of Red Hook also has her eye on education, noting that “Red Hook needs more vocational training programs [that] could bring down crime and help educate people for jobs.”

Thus far, District 38’s PBNYC process is about two-thirds done, with the October, 2013 public brainstorming meetings—jointly presided over by Menchaca and Gonzalez’s staffs—producing 397 ideas from 237 residents.

Those ideas were whittled down by volunteer committees to 46 proposals that will soon be voted on by residents. The proposals with the most votes and that fit within the $2 million budget will get funded.

Thus far, potential projects include new furniture for the Sunset Park Library, trash and recycling stations along the Fifth Avenue shopping corridor, flood lighting and Safe Zone lighting in Red Hook, improved basketball courts in NYCHA’s Red Hook Houses, bathroom and other renovations and dance/computer/music space at several area schools, and more.

The PBNYC process in District 38 continues on Tuesday, March 4 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. with a planned Art/Expo Workshop for residents to gather and create visual displays of the projects nominated for funding. The location is to be determined.

Then, on Saturday, March 15, one or more Project Expos will be held from 12-3 p.m. at an as-yet-determined location, where prospective voters can review the project descriptions and displays created at the Art/Expo and begin considering which projects they will vote for.

Those votes can officially be made during Vote Week—scheduled for Sunday, March 30 through Sunday, April 6 at several poll sites that will be located at community-chosen poll sites across the district.

To find out more about the PBNYC process or to get involved with District 38’s process via volunteering and/or voting, contact Menchaca’s office at 718-439-9012 and “like” its Facebook page at

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