Monday, February 26, 2007

Brooklyn Bridge + Atlantic Yards CBA = Black History Month?

Let's try to decode the advertisement Forest City Ratner has placed with its favorite Brooklyn weekly, the Courier-Life chain. (The chain was bought last year by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which also owns the New York Post.)

First, even though the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) partners are significantly funded by the developer, and most have no history previous to this CBA, they get credit for honoring Black History Month as well.

And what history is being made? Seemingly the signing of the CBA in June 2005--and also the Brooklyn Bridge. However, the CBA has little to do with the bridge; while the document was signed nearby (on Old Fulton Street), it applies to a very different and oversize project.

And the developer often seems unwilling to show Atlantic Yards to the public, relying instead on drawings of ground-level views, photos of other Brooklyn scenes, and when pressed, 15-story buildings rather than the 20- to 50-story buildings that would make up the project.

Black history in FCR's management?

Forest City Ratner's commitment to Black History Month does not extend to the executive suite, however. Of the top 12 managers on the company web site, 11 are white and one is South Asian.

City role?

What's Mayor Mike Bloomberg doing in that picture above? Yes, a mayoral press release claimed that he "signed" the CBA, but actually, he served as a "legally irrelevant witness," as noted by the Brooklyn Rail's Brian Carreira. Now, perhaps mindful of the flaws in the Brooklyn agreement, his administration is standing back, funding a more formal and democratic process for the CBA under discussion for Columbia University's expansion in Manhattan.

And didn't City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden, on 2/14/07, say bluntly that “Community Benefits are really private agreements, they aren’t between the city and a community"?

When questioned whether the city--beyond the planning commission--should have a role, Burden responded. “I don’t think the city should participate in them. I think what the city has done at Columbia is to try to facilitate a conversation.”

Saluting the Black & Puerto Rican legislators

Forest City Ratner practiced a similar strategy last week with an advertisment in the program for the annual conference of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators. Even though the CBA partners almost surely did not pay for the ad, they get equal credit for the support.

The developer especially thanks Assemblyman Darryl Towns, chairman of the legislative caucus. While it's understandable that someone in a leadership position might be thanked, Forest City Ratner may have a special interest in Towns's success. His father, Rep. Edolphus Towns, won a hard-fought Congressional reelection bid last November, facing City Council Member Charles Barron and Assemblyman Roger Green.

Towns, an Atlantic Yards supporter, was challenged most forcefully by Atlantic Yards opponent Barron. While Green, another project supporter, was initially a legitimate candidate, he ultimately played more of a spoiler role. Darryl Towns may be his father's anointed successor, setting up a race against Barron, who has pledged to run again. There's little doubt which candidate Forest City would favor.

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