Thursday, November 08, 2007

Officials demand independent arena security study; NYPD says no street closings

Eight elected officials representing neighborhoods around the planned Atlantic Yards site yesterday demanded from Governor Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg an independent security study for the project, citing the recent street closures around the Prudential Center in Newark.

In response, the New York Police Department (NYPD) issued a statement to the New York Times indicating that they had worked cooperatively with those planning the project, and that NYPD did not recommend street closings. NYPD declined to elaborate.

On one sense, that's not news--no security-related street closings were announced in the Atlantic Yards environmental review--but this is the first time since the Newark controversy flared that officials have responded beyond a general "trust us" statement.

Direct comparisons?

Still somewhat unclear, however, remain comparisons between the Atlantic Yards arena and the Prudential Center. The Times attempted an assessment, under the headline Security Study Urged for Atlantic Yards:
Plans for the Brooklyn arena, though preliminary, seem to show it set back farther from the street than the Newark arena, the Prudential Center. The Prudential Center is about 25 feet from both Edison Place and Mulberry Street in downtown Newark, while renderings of Atlantic Yards show the arena about 75 feet back from Atlantic Avenue and about 150 feet from Flatbush Avenue.

No source of that data was provided, and it's not clear whether "seem" is based on direct information from an official source or an eyeball of renderings.This is from the General Project Plan.

The group of eight

The eight officials sending the letter were Assemblymembers Jim Brennan (who issued the press release), Joan Millman, and Hakeem Jeffries, State Senators Eric Adams and Velmanette Montgomery, and City Council Members Bill de Blasio, Letitia James, and David Yassky.

While de Blasio is the only clear supporter of the project, he has expressed concern about its transportation and construction impacts. James and Montgomery are the only clear opponents, while the others have offered a variety of views, but have wound up under the “mend it, don’t end it” BrooklynSpeaks platform.

Independence needed

The letter expressed an absence of trust in statements by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner, which have said that, while disclosure of details is unsafe, appropriate safeguards have been taken.

The ESDC has stated:
Emergency scenarios such as a large-scale terrorist attack similar to the World Trade Center attack, a biological or chemical attack, or a bomb are not considered a reasonable worst-case scenario and are therefore outside of the scope of the EIS. However, as indicated in Chapter 1, “Project Description,” the proposed project would implement its own site security plan, which includes measures such as the deployment of security staff and monitoring and screening procedures…. Consultation with NYPD and FDNY has been taking place and would continue should the project move forward. Disclosing detailed security plans is not appropriate for an EIS.

Neither the officials' letter nor the Times article, however, got to the flaws in the laws governing state and city environmental reviews. Written before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the laws do not consider such attacks a "reasonable worst-case scenario," while critics have pointed to the common-sense notion of term.

After all, the project has a prominent location and there's a history of terrorism threats near the arena site--the Atlantic Avenue transit hub was the target of a 1997 plot by Palestinian militants. (Here's the white paper released by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.)

Still, the officials in the letter pointed to the issue of trust:
In the public interest, we urge you to commission an independent study of the security issues and project design of the Atlantic Yards project. Ideally, this study should be conducted by the State and City police in conjunction with the office of Homeland Security, and it should be strictly independent of the project sponsor and Empire State Development Corporation to avoid any semblance of conflict of interest. And it needs to be undertaken as soon as possible, so that any necessary changes can be incorporated into the project’s design before significant construction begins.

Past effort

In December 2005, James, Montgomery, Brennan, Millman, and then-Congressional Rep. Major Owens wrote a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly requesting information on terrorism and security planning for the project. They got no response. The recent decisions in Newark, said the officials, “validate previous calls for an Atlantic Yards security study.”

The letter from the eight elected officials was also sent to New York State Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Michael Balboni and Empire State Development Corporation President and CEO Avi Schick.

Arena, 2009?

The Times reported that the arena "is scheduled to open in 2009." They didn't get the memo that explained it's impossible.

1 comment:

  1. Norman,

    While the following point doesn't address the issue of whether or not the Nets arena should be built at this location in the first place, it does seem to me to address the issue of the practicality (ahem!) of the planned Gehry design, possible street closings as a result of that design, and the need for an independent review of the situation.

    It seems to me that even if the planned Nets arena is further back from the street than other arenas, the basic Gehry CONCEPT for the arena seems to be one of a structure that is entirely encased in glass walls. So it seems to me that such an arena would need a much further setback from the street than most modern day arenas (whose concepts are not so dependent on being entirely encased with glass walls).

    Therefore, it would seem to me that, given Gehry's design concept (which has been used as a major selling point of the arena), there is more reason for an independent security review, even if the proposed Nets arena might be further back from the street than other modern day arenas.