Sunday, July 15, 2007

City Council member items and the work of the CBA

The Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) was set up, advocates said, to provide worker training for locals and to support minority-owned businesses.

Those may be worthy goals, though CBAs are coming in for criticism, in part because the benefits they provide might better come from a more accountable and transparent source: government.


City Council funds job training

The budget passed this year by the New York City Council includes several items touching on issues raised in the CBA and the City Council, which has not been the most transparent agency in the past, more clearly spells out who's funding what.


The budget includes $1.5 million for the MWBE Leadership Association--an organization I couldn't find on the web--to provide "entrepreneurial training on the process and procedures for doing business with the City and/or on the major public works projects."

It also will provide $150,000 for Non-Traditional Employment for Women (which has supported Atlantic Yards), which provides "training and access to jobs in New York City's construction, utilities and facilities maintenance and repair trades" for "disadvantaged, mainly minority women."

The budget provides $3,284,000 for the Consortium for Worker Education (CWE) to work with "community based organizations to provide job training to union workers to improve their employment skills and also provide citizenship classes, ESL, GED, computer literacy and work readiness preparation to immigrant, minority and long-term unemployed workers."

There's no funding for BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) , as City Council Member David Yassky last year sought as he ran for Congress. Indeed, as Bonnie Potter of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition told the New York Observer in 2005, BUILD was an odd choice to handle private or government job-training funds, given its lack of a track record.


The politics of member items


Some other interesting earmarks come directly from specific Council members. Gotham Gazette recently found that newer members of the council got far less funding than some veterans (full list) for their individual initiatives.

Another factor, Council Member Tony Avella told Gotham Gazette, is loyalty to Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The black-oriented Our Time Press, in the July 1 issue, published a chart suggesting that minority Council members in Brooklyn who voted for the renaming of a street in honor of the late activist Sonny Carson--which Quinn opposed because of Carson's self-described anti-white stance--got less funding. (Letitia James, by the way, abstained.)

The numbers are stark, with Council Members David I. Weprin, Leroy G. Comrie, Jr., Lewis A. Fidler, and Peter F. Vallone, Jr. getting more then ten times as much money to dole out as Avella, Hiram Monserrate, Alan J. Gerson, Darlene Mealy, and Mathieu Eugene.

More funding

Women members of the council, plus a few men, provided another $25,000 to Non-Traditional Employment for Women to add two classes to meet the citywide demand for construction and utility workers.

The budget includes $75,000 for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an Atlantic Yards CBA signatory, to provide income tax preparation assistance and homebuyers seminars. Among the six sponsors were Council Members James and Bill de Blasio.

Ten members, including de Blasio and James, provided $55,000 to the Pratt Center for Community Development for community planning and development assistance to communities throughout the city.

The 17-member Brooklyn delegation provided $132,000 to the Prospect Park Alliance to fund youth and educational programs, Playground Associates, and other programs.

The delegation also directed a hefty $555,250 to the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council for legal services for poor and working class residents, and youth programs. The council is the home base for Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic leader.

The Brooklyn delegation directed $40,000 to the HOPE Program to help New Yorkers with criminal records get living wage jobs, and to supply job retention services.

Nine Council members, including Yassky and de Blasio, directed $362,607 to the Doe Fund, to support support Ready Willing & Able, the fund's "holistic residential work and job skills training program which helps homeless individuals achieve lives of self-sufficiency."

Other smaller grants go to arts groups, tenant associations, and community groups. Yassky, for example, directed $10,000 to the Boerum Hill Association and $5000 to the Metrotech Business Improvement District.


Monitoring development


Yassky also directed $10,000 to Neighbors Allied For Good Growth, a Williamsburg-based group aiming to monitor the rezoning and its effects. (In the Atlantic Yards context, would that go to BrooklynSpeaks or Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn--or some yet-to-emerge group?)

One of the most intriguing: James and her colleague Al Vann directed $23,500 to Brooklyn Community Board 8 to support a zoning study and an urban planner. That sum could only pay for a part-time consultant, but it's a sign of the deep deficits in expertise faced by many community boards.

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