After experiencing Community Board 1’s collective wisdom firsthand in several votes last year, Williamsburg resident Rob Solano wanted to influence the group from the inside. Now he can, as a new member.
On January 12, Solano will be officially sworn in as a member of CB 1. A lifelong Williamsburg resident and executive director of Churches United for Fair Housing, a nonprofit that organizes North Brooklyn religious groups, Solano, 29, becomes the youngest member on the board. He was appointed by Council member Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg) in December to replace one of two vacancies (the vacancy left by outgoing Transportation Chair Teresa Toro has not yet been filled).
In an interview with this paper, Solano stressed that his desire to join the board came from his experiences lobbying members on land use issues, particularly the Broadway Triangle, and an intensely personal urge to give back to a community where he grew up.
“I’m a lifelong resident and I can speak about issues from personal experience,” said Solano. “These are my friends, family members, and extended friends that are affected by our decisions. It has hard for me to understand (some decisions the board has made), but it will easier for me to understand them when I’m there.”
Solano wants to make the Land Use Committee, his top priority, and the Public Safety Committee, which is where he believes he will have the most impact. He cites the community’s improving relationship with the police, particularly Williamsburg’s South Side and the 90th Precinct, but cautions that community members should get complacent in the drop in crime levels and must work more closely with at risk youth in the coming year.
“I fear a resurgence of gang violence this summer, and there’s a lack of education for youth that there are things to do. The neighborhood is changing so rapidly around them, they feel isolated, they feel they have to be in these gangs to have an identity. Public Safety has an opportunity to make an impact,” said Solano.
Tackling affordable housing issues and a bevy of zoning requests will be equally complicated, but Solano, like his community board colleagues, relishes the challenge. As a board member, Solano believes he can provide a voice for low-income residents who work multiple jobs and do not have time to attend community board meetings but are passionate about the need for affordable housing in Williamsburg.
“The more (affordable housing) you build, the more you recognize that you have to continue to build thee to five years down the road,” said Solano. “They’re having kids and sometimes there are two to three generations living in the same apartment and they need more. We’re building identity. You need to continue to build and continue to provide for them.”
Solano said he is most looking forward to working with Land Use Chair Ward Dennis, who he describes as “the best guy I know that I disagree with” and learning from Chairman Chris Olechowski. Solano believes that the board is ready to begin healing after the divisive projects of the past year, such as the Broadway Triangle and Rose Plaza, which he staunchly supported and he hopes to play a role.
“I do want to apologize to anyone who felt personally offended of what I said. It wasn’t personal and I hope to work with everyone and find common ground where we can all be happy,” said Solano. “I’m willing to put my ego aside for that. Maybe we’ll get lunch at Gottlieb or dinner at Cono’s first. I want to be their friend.”