Saturday, September 02, 2006

New community forum coming; backlash against hearing "circus" continues

An article in this week's Courier-Life chain, misleadingly headlined New Public Hearing Set, explains that the Empire State Development Corporation has added a second "community forum" on Sept. 18, on top of the one originally scheduled for Sept. 12, to accommodate the hundreds of people who signed up to speak at the Aug. 23 public hearing but never were called.

The Sept. 12 date had been criticized because it coincides with the primary election and many potential attendees might want to spend their day volunteering for a candidate. ESDC spokesperson Jessica Copen said, “We wanted the public to have another opportunity to voice their views about the project.”

The deadline for public comment has been extended from Sept. 22 to Sept. 29. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) notes that the law requires the ESDC to hold written public comment open for ten days after the public hearing, and argues that a letter from DDDB attorney Jeffrey Baker forced ESDC to follow the law and extend the comment period. Baker wrote:
We are not aware of any factual or legal distinction between the “public hearing” held on August 23rd and the “community forums” to be held on September 12th and 18th.

Hearing backlash begins

The Courier-Life also reported that several people had issued strong criticism of unfair procedures at the Aug. 23 hearing:
Shirley McRae, Chair of Community Board 2, who has called on the ESDC to extend the period of time the public has to review and respond to the DEIS and GPP, lambasted the organization of the hearing in a recent letter to the ESDC.
In it she wrote, “The hearing was in my opinion so poorly managed as to negate its purpose, to obtain public comment on the [GPP and [DEIS] for the project.”
McRae went on to say that the ESDC did not rent a large enough venue to accommodate the more than a thousand speakers and would-be speakers who showed up, that the line to get in was not maintained fairly, and that speakers were not called in the order of their arrival.
“I personally observed...gatekeepers allowing people wearing stickers and carrying signs in favor of the project to join others already at the front of the line while unaffiliated attendees were directed to the rear,” she said in reference to supporters waiting to speak.

Carolyn Konheim of Community Consulting Services, which has issued a detailed critique of the DEIS methodology regarding traffic and transit, was also angry:
Asked how she felt about the organization of the hearing, Konheim said, “The hearing wasn’t organized; it was orchestrated.
“The circus was as far as one can get from what should have been a serious consideration of the justification of a major public investment,” she said, adding that the hearing officer, attorney Edward Kramer, should have ruled “inflammatory threats and rallying cries” out of order.
As for whether she will try again next time, Konheim said, “I probably won’t attempt to speak at the forum unless they issue a speakers list in advance – and promise to stick to it.”
She continued, “Once inside the auditorium, they were able to perform their ‘street theater’ early in the evening, allowing one side of the issue to dominate the television news broadcasts.”

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