Friday, November 16, 2007

CBN's open letter to ESDC: What happened to AY promises?

The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), a coalition set up to respond to the Atlantic Yards environmental review, has sent a sharply-worded open letter to Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Chairman Patrick Foye, asking why the agency has apparently not come through on several promises for greater transparency.

The letter, dated November 13, was released to the press yesterday. ESDC spokesman A.J. Carter, asked for a response, told me, "We haven't received the letter. When we do, we'll decide whether we want to comment."

CBN Co-Chairs Candace Carponter & Therese Urban wrote that, more than six months ago, after the alarming collapse of the Ward Bakery parapet, "the ESDC made five public promises to allay community fears and concerns. To our knowledge, only one of these promises has been addressed, and this one only partially."

Summary of criticisms

Below is a summary of the criticisms in the letter. Until the ESDC responds, I'm not certain of the accuracy of the charges.

1) An ombudsperson to provide the public with information and to enhance the cooperation of various government agencies involved in this project has not yet been appointed. (Last month, the New York Daily News reported on the delay.)

2) The ESDC has contracted with Henningson, Durham and Richardson Architecture and Engineering, to serve as the Environmental Mitigation Monitor for the project, CBN said, but the firm's "responsibilities and activities have not been reported to the public or to elected officials." Nor has there been a public report about the Owner’s Representative for Construction Activities announced by the ESDC.

3) While the ESDC promised the creation of an Interagency Working Group "to review approved and planned work on a monthly basis," CBN said that it assumed the group has not been formed, since it would "hold open meetings to ensure that community interests are served." (It's not clear that such a group was expected to hold open meetings.)

4) The promised Transportation Working Group has met only once, to CBN's knowledge, but neither CBN nor its traffic experts from Community Consulting Services were invited.

5) While the ESDC promised to hold regular meetings with elected officials about overall progress and key project milestones, the schedule is unclear, and City Council Member Letitia James, whose district includes the largest chunk of the project site, was not invited to a recent meeting cited by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries regarding transportation issues.

Going public

CBN said it was issuing the open letter because previous overtures via member organizations have not been acknowledged. (Is ESDC wary of an organization that is a plaintiff in the pending lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the Atlantic Yards environmental review?)

The letter concluded, "While CBN believes that there is much more that ESDC can and should do for the community affected by the proposed project, if ESDC is to retain oversight of this development, it must first keep these publicly announced promises."

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