Monday, October 15, 2007

Will Atlantic Yards security get a state hearing (and would streets close)?

Atlantic Yards opponents and critics yesterday called for a state-level hearing to address security at the planned Atlantic Yards arena, citing the announcement last week that the city of Newark would partially close streets during events at the Prudential Center arena, scheduled to open October 25.

"Study security issues through a public process before construction," declared Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) spokesman Daniel Goldstein (right), at a press conference held before DDDB's third annual Walk Don't Destroy walkathon. "Common sense dictates" that the unique location, use, and density of the project "makes for an attractive terror target." (DDDB points to multiple scenarios.)

"We don't know what the setbacks are" along Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, where the glass-walled arena will connect with the glass-walled Miss Brooklyn tower, Goldstein said outside Freddy's Bar & Backroom, at the corner Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, scheduled to be demolished for the project, at the southeast corner of the planned arena block.

At the press conference, Jim Vogel of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) said a hearing should reveal the impacts a security plan would have on: public access to streets and other public areas during arena events; the people in the residential towers planned around the arena; the people across the street from the arena; and the cost and funding of security plans.

Reasonable scenario?

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), in its environmental review, said that state law does not consider a terrorist incident a "reasonable worst-case scenario." Additionally, in response to a pending lawsuit challenging the environmental review, the ESDC has said that revealing security plans would not only go beyond the scope required in other environmental reviews, but also could compromise security.

City Council Member Letitia James (right) asked rhetorically whether the Newark arena is that much different from the one planned in Brooklyn. "The answer is yes," she said. "The proposed Brooklyn arena is much more susceptible to a terrorist attack."
(James photo and Vogel photo, below, by Jonathan Barkey.)

Indeed, a terrorist attack surely meets a common-sense understanding of "reasonable worst-case scenario," given the history of attacks on the World Trade Center and the thwarted 1997 plot to blow up the adjacent Atlantic Avenue subway station.

FCR, Marty respond

Forest City Ratner spokesman Bruce Bender told the Associated Press, "From the start, Forest City Ratner has worked very closely with security experts on Atlantic Yards, and the top police, fire and security experts in the City have reviewed and approved our comprehensive plan. Anyone who has any experience in security knows that you do not discuss sensitive security matters in public for very obvious reasons."

(A version of the AP article headlined Foes of Brooklyn arena raise security issue ran on the web sites of WCBS, Newsday, amNY, and the New York Daily News, and in the print Daily News, New York Sun, and Metro today.)

But Bender's answer didn't address whether streets--or parts of them--might need to be blocked to ensure security at Atlantic Yards, surely a tactic that can't be kept secret. Earlier, James had scoffed, "How could closing the streets... be confidential?"

Later that afternoon, I ran into Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz at a stop on the Prospect Heights House Tour. I pointed out that the ESDC didn't consider a terrorist attack a "reasonable worst-case scenario" but the Newark police director did so.

"I happen to agree with the Newark police director," Markowitz said, offering a commonsense interpretation of the phrase, rather than the ESDC's more legalistic one. "That's why I'm confident Forest City Ratner has taken into the construction of the new arena the issues of security."

Should these issues be discussed publicly? "As the plan moves forward," he said, "we'll be informed."

When?

"Way before two weeks."

Would or should streets be closed?

"I don't know," he responded.

When will we know?

"At the appropriate time."

Earlier, Goldstein had said, "Let's not wait until the arena opens in 2000-whatever," alluding to the widespread doubt that the stated 2009 opening date would not be met. "Let's see if the project is feasible now."

CBN criticisms

Vogel (right) of CBN, which is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the environmental review, added, "The ESDC's response to the community was basically, 'trust us.' We see in Newark what that kind of 'trust can bring."

He noted that CBN had sent legislators a list of issues regarding security, including insurability charges. "The state is attempting to duck the security disclosure issues and pass all responsibility from the ESDC back to the city," he said. If the city does have the responsibility, then the project should've gone through the city's more stringent land use review process, he said.

"We cannot allow our tax dollars to pay for this security based on the state owning the 'public' arena, when Forest City Ratner is leasing it from 'the public' for $1 and collecting all the rent," he added.

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