Monday, August 25, 2008

Overstatements from the DEIS hearing: land acquisition, legal challenge, new high schools, housing

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

There were several overstatements and deceptions during the DEIS hearing, notably claims that developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) would pay for the land, that the opponents' legal case was unstoppable, that FCR would build four new high schools, and that affordable housing would be "given" out and guaranteed.

(All emphases are added.)

FCR paying for the site?

Early on, ANN HULKA, Senior Vice President - Real Estate, Empire State Development Corporation, read some boilerplate that was true at the time:
The project developer, Forest City, owns or controls approximately 87 percent of the project site inclusive of land owned by the MTA and City property. It is expected that ESDC will acquire title to the project -- the entire project site exclusive of the parcels to be retained by the MTA -- by condemnation, excuse me. All costs of site acquisition will be born by Forest City.

As we know, the city's initial $100 million contribution goes exclusively for land acquisition. A hint of that emerged in January 2007, when the city added $105 million to its contribution, and it was confirmed in March 2007.

An unstoppable legal case?

Later in the evening came some hubris about the upcoming legal challenge to the project.

DANIEL GOLDSTEIN, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn: If ESDC and Forest City Enterprises insist on the use of eminent domain, owners and renters, including myself, will litigate to save our homes and businesses and no project will be built at this site for years, if ever. It is your choice. That is your decision.

And you --you have no defense against the case we intend to bring....


Well, the new state eminent domain case is still pending, but the federal case was dismissed before trial, at two levels of federal court, and then the U.S. Supreme Court was unwilling to hear it.

Four high schools?

Some project supporters were reading the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) very generously.

DESHAUN TAYLOR, a member of BUILD (Brooklyn United For Innovative Local Development): Now, as a youth activist, I engage in working with at-risk teenagers. I work with under-served teenagers. And I work with the teenage population of the New York City Foster Care System here in New York City.

And what I find is that it is appalling that 88 of 114 SURR
[Schools Under Registration Review] schools in New York City are in Brooklyn and that's something that we can do something about. Now, going into the community benefits agreement, it says that this community benefits agreement with Mr. Ratner has made a legally binding agreement to build four new high schools in Brooklyn, New York. That's what I'm talking about.

Later on, that issue was seconded.

DEBBIE TAMIFOOK, a member of ACORN: Reverend Daughtry, who at one time was against the project... came to the meetings. Everything that was asked for was granted. Everything that he was fighting for was granted. Now we're going to have a senior center included in the project. We're going to have four new schools, high schools.

School promises

The Community Benefits Agreement says nothing about Ratner committing to build four high schools. It states:
The Developers agree to work with BUILD, trade unions, local universities, local community groups and elected officials towards the creation of a High School for Construction Management and Trades to be located preferably within the Neighboring Community, and if not, then within the Surrounding Community and, if not, then elsewhere within the Community somewhere within Brooklyn. The creation of such a High School will be subject to public and/or private funding.


It also states:
SCHOOLS. The Project Developer will work with the DBEC in the creation of educational services, including the development of four (4) schools that will be located in the Surrounding Community, subject to the approval of appropriate governmental authorities. Such schools shall include:
* Cleveland Robinson Academy for Labor Studies, a charter school that will have as its focus construction technology, construction management, and entertainment technology.
* The Jackie Robinson Academy, a charter school that will have as its focus sports, science, and sports management.
* The Lewis Latimer Academy, a new vision school that will have as its focus information technology.
* The Wonder School, a charter school that will focus on music and film, including the study of the business side of the music and film industry.


What does "work with" mean?

Later in the hearing came a response concerning the legitimacy of those promises.

JEFF BAKER, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn attorney: The community benefits agreement has been touted as this wonderful, important agreement. Many people have pointed to the fact that it provides for health care facilities, community centers, day care facilities. Let me be clear, read the agreement - it specifically disavows any financial obligation by Forest City Ratner... to pay for any of those things. There is no money to do it.

Another school promise

Remember, in December 2006, after the project was approved by the Public Authorities Control Board, the Daily News massively overhyped--with the headline "Nets go High Tech: Ratner throws in new home for elite Brooklyn HS in arena deal"--a vague plan by Forest City Ratner to "work with the City, State and the United Federation of Teachers on the creation of a new 21st Century Brooklyn Tech High School, at a yet to be determined location in the borough."

No such plan is part of Atlantic Yards, though a much smaller K-8 school is planned for the project.

"Giving out" affordable housing

There were also some inflated promises about affordable housing.

STATE SENATOR MARTIN GOLDEN: Atlantic Yards will not only be one of the greatest job creators for our borough that it has witnessed in decades, it will also help to address one of the most troubling issues that face Brooklyn and that's affordable housing - giving out 2,200 units of affordable housing.

The project wouldn't "give out" affordable housing; the housing depends on scarce tax-exempt bonds.

PAT BOONE, president of NY ACORN: Therefore, I do believe this project will give me joy and piece of mind for myself, on a more personal note, because I have a son who is paraplegic. And I know now that when I retire should my son decide to stay on here in New York and live on his own, I know that there will be an affordable place that he may look forward to and he can call home in the same borough where he, like his mom, myself was born.

If it does get built, there'd be a lottery for places.

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