Thursday, July 30, 2009

At lightly-attended (and sometimes raucous) public hearing, dueling electeds, some déjà vu, and a “sham process for a sham project”

In the end, the first day of the public hearing on the revised Atlantic Yards plan, though hardly uneventful, was less raucous and more lightly attended than many expected. Many, but hardly all, of the arguments recycled those at the epic public hearing held on 8/23/06.

The key new argument for opponents and critics emerged from information--or, more precisely, the lack thereof--from the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and developer Forest City Ratner (FCR).

(Photos by Tracy Collins except as two marked below.)

The absence of a site plan, arena renderings, economic projections, a solid timetable, and a meeting with the cops over security informed a series of arguments, backed by several elected officials, that the approval is premature. They called for either a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement or for the project to be scrapped.

The most telling piece of theater occurred when Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein went up to testify and, before speaking about “a sham process for a sham project,” methodically altered the landscape behind him, placing placards with question marks over the three ESDC-provided panels that offered minimal information about the project as it stands. DDDB had both local elected officials as well as several candidates for two City Council races--in districts near the project site--in its corner.

(Indeed, the New York Daily News, the only one of the three daily newspapers to cover the hearing in print, headlined its story Developer Bruce Ratner doesn't offer renderings of Atlantic Yards plan. The New York Times blog The Local, again deploying former Brooklyn Paper reporter Jess Wisloski as an unpaid "citizen journalist," headlined its coverage Atlantic Yards Hearing Attracts Politicians, though, arguably, it was equally interesting for the politicians who didn't show--such as City Council Member and Public Advocate candidate Bill de Blasio. The Brooklyn Paper's roundup coverage was headlined Atlantic antics! A week of Yards hearings did little to change things. The Brooklyn Paper also published A tale of two Yards at hearing, quoting several individuals.)

Meanwhile, project supporters, notably from the construction unions and the housing advocacy group ACORN (left), reiterated their call for jobs and housing, arguing that the economic situation made it more rather than less important to move ahead. (ACORN has been bailed out by Forest City Ratner.) Along with Borough President Marty Markowitz, the elected officials testifying (or sending representatives) supporting the project mostly came from Southern Brooklyn and other areas more distant from the site.

Calmer than meeting last week

Despite the periodic sound and fury, the event--given that no one official was supposed to answer questions--was far less enlightening than the July 22 informational meeting hosted by three community boards, where representatives of the ESDC and FCR were forced to answer or evade questions from the public. Several ESDC executives (right) were in attendance, but no board members were present.

(From left are attorneys Steve Matlin and Joe Petillo; planner Rachel Shatz; attorney Anita Laremont, in second row; and spokesman Warner Johnston.)

The Klitgord Auditorium at New York City Technical College in Downtown Brooklyn was no more than one-quarter full at peak, with perhaps 100 opponents over the course of the day and easily three times the number of proponents, mainly from the unions and ACORN, who supplied their largest contingents in the second segment of the hearing, from 6-8 pm. (The first was 2-5 pm.)

Though numerous red-shirted representatives of ACORN got up to speak in the second segment, the hearing actually ended 15 minutes early, with no one left to offer testimony.

That suggests that turnout might be light today, the second and final day of the hearing, which again will be held from 2-5 pm and 6-8 pm. (Photo taken at about 2:30 pm.)

(The ESDC, via a statement by former CEO Marisa Lago at the June 23 board meeting, also has committed to another community informational meeting in August, before the comment period concludes, but the date hasn’t been set and it’s not clear if Forest City Ratner will appear.)

Media event

Then again, yesterday was more a media event than a public hearing, given that the ostensible formal changes--a revised deal with the MTA and a delayed plan for eminent domain--are largely expected to be approved without question by the ESDC board in September. Several people signed up to testify, both pro and con, were no longer in the room when their names were finally called.

In fact, some of the big names didn’t bother to testify but instead spoke at dueling press conferences, one by opponents outside the event before it began, and one by proponents, in the auditorium hallway even while testimony continued. That made sense; their presence was more to influence the media than the ESDC.

Given concerns about behavior at the packed, epic 8/23/06 hearing as well as last week’s informational meeting, the ESDC set ostensibly strict rules, with a digital clock counting down a speaker’s allotted three minutes, with a chime announcing that they had 30 seconds left and another indicating that time was up.

Hearing officer Edward Kramer, who endured the 2006 hearing, had a light touch; he did not automatically cut off people’s microphones after three minutes but simply urged people to finish, and most complied. (He only cut off one person, at least while I was in the room.)

With numerous New York Police Department community relations officers in attendance, as well as campus security guards, the situation was mostly under control. At times, they had to remonstrate with hecklers and others arguing, but only a couple of people were ejected, notably Goldstein, who was outraged when Assemblyman Alan Maisel declared that "a small group of people should not be deciding what happens to our borough"--a slam at DDDB and its supporters but, they'd say, exactly a description of the unelected board of the ESDC. Goldstein later returned to the room.

(Last week, Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin set the stage by criticizing "a relentless campaign of a few to deny benefits to the many," somehow leaving out her own company. Maisel has received campaign contributions from FCR executives. More from DDDB and NLG.)

The cops also kept watch on--and, at times, quieted down-- the Forest City Ratner-organized hallway press event, less a press conference than a rally. No representatives of the developer spoke. Featured were State Senator Marty Golden, the Partnership for New York City’s Kathryn Wylde, union leaders Gary LaBarbera and Sal Zarzana, and Community Benefits Agreement signatories Bertha Lewis (of ACORN) and the Rev. Herbert Daughtry (of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance).

Some conflict

It was certainly more calm than last Wednesday’s meeting, where chanting project supporters actually prevented questions from being asked. Yesterday, project opponents had the single rudest moment, notably as Scott Turner of Fans for Fair Play, wearing a DDDB button, bitterly dissed Borough President Marty Markowitz (right) as a “fat fucking slob of a sham.”

Then again, the project supporters probably heckled more. At one point, a group of men chanting about jobs drowned out an outdoor press interview held by Queens City Council Member Tony Avella, a project opponent and mayoral candidate.

Union officials, signing in members, used the flat surface of a police department vehicle. Nearby was a van offering sandwiches to attendees. Walking by, at one moment, I could overhear a union official patiently instructing arrivals on the protocol: cheer for people who support the project, and boo the opponents. (That does not appear on the video below.)


(Photo above and below by Jonathan Barkey; video by Adrian Kinloch)

Some rapprochement

There were some, but relatively few, moments of rapprochement. One project supporter acknowledged that the benefits had declined but the project was still worth it.

One opponent agreed that it was a shame that, as project proponents point out, there are lots of condos built in Downtown Brooklyn with no affordable housing nor union labor. (Then again, some AY opponents did protest the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, aimed at increasing office space but instead leading to a condo boom, and ACORN sat out the opportunity to comment.)

And the recent production by BrooklynSpeaks and the Municipal Art Society of a chart comparing project promises from 2006 to 2009 got respectful attention from at least some proponents. In photo at right, Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association goes over the chart with Delia Hunley-Adossa, chairperson of the AY Community Benefits Agreement coalition.

Con and pro

Among attendees, opponents included City Council member Letitia James, Assemblyman Jim Brennan, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (at podium below, with Siegel), and a host of candidates, including Public Advocate candidate Norman Siegel, longshot Mayoral candidate Rev. Billy Talen, and several candidates for the city council seats in the area around the project--a group that, Goldstein suggested, would not have been with them five years ago.

As at the meetings last month of the ESDC and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), representatives of several groups and institutions in the Downtown Brooklyn area--notably the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Long Island University--spoke in favor of the project.

Among opponents, beyond neighborhood groups such as the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, the major presence was the Municipal Art Society, which has updated its warning of “Atlantic Lots,” featuring indefinite interim surface parking.

Opponents’ press conference

Along with the elected officials mentioned above, 33rd District candidates Ken Baer, Ken Diamondstone, JoAnne Simon, and Evan Thies were present; so too were 39th District candidates Brad Lander, Josh Skaller, and Bob Zuckerman. Given that they had to wait their turn to speak at a fairly brief press conference, several of them seemed to be a bit impatient.

“Let us stipulate that everyone here wants good jobs and truly affordable housing,” Goldstein said, criticizing Governor David Paterson and “his puppets on the ESDC” for pursuing “a public hearing on a phantom project.” (He wore a button on his hat that read "Jobs, Housing, & UNITY," a direct riff on the Jobs, Housing, & Hoops button Forest City Ratner issued early on. The Jobs, Housing, & UNITY slogan also appeared on posters.)



(Video shot by Adrian Kinloch.)

“It’s time to put the proposed Atlantic Yards out of its misery,” James declared, asking, “Mr. Markowitz, Mr. Bloomberg, Governor Paterson, who do you serve?... The Gilded Age is over. The age of Corporate Welfare is over/”

“It’s a racist attempt to divide the community,” James said, referring to the considerable racial tension that has periodically arisen during the conflict.

“Yes,” shouted Beverly Corbin, a tenant activist from the Wyckoff Houses who’s also black.

Brennan addressed opponents as if acknowledging that he had not always been with them, which is true, since he’s more carefully criticized the project without--until recently--standing more with the opposition. “Thank you for your courage,” he declared. “You have been condemned, over and over again. You have only gotten stronger.”

He noted that the MTA deal with Forest City Ratner allows a 22-year payment schedule, which he declared--though the ESDC wouldn’t admit it--stands as the construction timetable for this project and asked, "Does anybody believe it’ll be over in 2031?" 
He predicted that ESDC would rubberstamp the project and people would continue to litigate.

Montgomery called the project a “total subversion of the economic development authority of this state.”

Faye Moore, a union leader from Fort Greene, said she represents people who will be priced out as the development “will move the working class out.” (ACORN contends the opposite.)

Author and former Congressional candidate Kevin Powell said some people thought he was brainwashed for opposing the project. “This is about greed,” he said. “We’re not going to stop until the Nets stay in New Jersey permanently."

Simon, also the 52nd District leader, recalled her testimony at the 2006 hearing and other warnings of lingering blight. “I was not looking to be prophetic, I was hoping there would be changes,” she said. “This project has not been this project for a long time.”

Siegel declared that he was not present as a candidate but “as a New Yorker and a civil rights lawyer.”

Siegel, who formerly represented DDDB and now represents a property owner resisting the use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion, said that New York’s processes were uniquely favorable to the state, given the lack of opportunity to challenge a taking in a trial court. “When Daniel is talking about it being a sham, he’s understating it,” Siegel said.

“In his history as a civil rights lawyer,” he observed, “I have learned, it’s good to be smart, it’s good to be right. But the most important single ingredient I have discovered is stamina—you gotta outlast the bastards.”

In testimony

Later, when testifying, Brennan pointed out that the state is ignoring evidence from the New York City Independent Budget Office that the arena is likely a money-loser for the city. Beyond that, he said, the state is “pretending that the recession does not exist;” rather, he said, the recession has killed the commercial office market and the luxury condo market. The fiscal impact statement in recent ESDC project documents, he said “is just a statement; it has no backup documents” and assumes the presence of a commercial tower that is unlikely to be built.

Later, Assemblywoman Joan Millman testified, acknowledging the difficulty some elected officials have had in taking a firm stand. “When I first testified in Octobe 2005 I recognized that the arena and the affordable housing and the union construction jobs were benefit to Brooklyn but the government subsidies, use of eminent domain. and size of proposed project was too high a price to pay,” she said.

Now, she argued, the benefits have all but disappeared. “It’s impossible for me as an elected official to be against affordable housing, to be against construction jobs that pay a living wage,” she said. “The sad irony is that if project had gone through ULURP”--the city’s land use review procedure-- “and if ESDC had respected democratic process, the project would be long along the way to completion.”

Maybe, maybe not--a lot of people still would’ve protested the arena.

Markowitz speaks



(Video shot by Jonathan Barkey)

When Borough President Markowitz spoke, a couple of people stood up and turned their backs to him in silent protest. “I would never any support any project that I didn’t believe was in the best interest of this borough today and for the years to come,” he said, reading his testimony rapidly.

He again said he was confident that the project, when completed, will serve as a model development and that current opponents will support it someday. “For more than 100 years,” the “empty” railyard has been a barrier between neighborhoods, he said, somehow ignoring that it has been a working railyard.

He again said that AY was the right project in the right place at the right time, closing to loud cheers and boos.

Electeds in support

Along with Maisel and Golden, respresentatives of Congressman Ed Towns and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz were present, both of them mangling some facts.

The Cymbrowitz rep, quoting some old (and distorted) Forest City Ratner numbers, said that, over next 30 years, the city stands to raise over $5.6 billion in additional tax revenue. (A representative of CB Richard Ellis also used that figure.)
The Towns rep said, “If we do not act now, mounting construction costs will continue to threaten the viability of the project.” (Actually, construction costs are going down now.)

A few candidates supporting the project also were present, including 41st City Council hopeful Anthony Herbert, as noted in The Local. Also testifying was Hunley-Adossa, who’s challenging James in the 35th District but didn’t mention her candidacy while at the podium.

“Five years later, it’s long overdue that this particular project, Atlantic Yards, be built,” Hunley-Adossa said, adding “I deserve a round of applause from those who are in agreement.” Applause actually was somewhat tepid, given that the majority of project supporters had yet to arrive.

Former Assemblyman Roger Green (right), now teaching at Medgar Evers College, called developer Bruce Ratner “ a person of good will and integrity” and said that, given the current unemployment rate, especially in the housing projects in his old district (now represented by Hakeem Jeffries, who was not at the hearing yesterday).

MAS, BrooklynSpeaks on urban planning

Architect Stuart Pertz, representing MAS, said that, since the project was approved in 2006, “the project design and timeline have changed dramatically. However the information necessary to truly evaluate these changes, such as new site plan, have not been made available.”



(Video shot by Jonathan Barkey)
He said MAS calls on ESDC for a Supplemental EIS and to reconsider certain aspects of the plan. Given the apparent reorientation of arena, he said, “it makes little sense to demap Fifth Avenue,” and also Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues should be left open rather than used to create a superblock.

It is unacceptable, he said, that AY "has proceeded so long without any meaning public participation.”

Following up a bit later, Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association--and the MAS-affiliated BrooklynSpeaks, said the SEIS “must assess the risk and impact of an Atlantic Yards scenario that contains only the elements that the ESDC and MTA have created meaningful obligations for the developer to deliver.”

(Here's a slideshow from BrooklynSpeaks.)

“A snapshot of the footprint based on the developers funding commitments looks like this,” he said, showing a picture of a large parking lot on Block 1129, the southeast block, and a railyard left uncovered except for the segment below the arena.. “The consequences of this new project were not assessed in the FEIS.”

"The new modifications abandon the disclosed overarching goal and principal benefit, purpose and use of the project, which is to eliminate blight," he said. "In the meantime, the ESDC has not disclosed any credible independent feasibility analysis of the project as a whole and in its parts."

The Salvation Army

Travis Lock of the Salvation Army praised Forest City Ratner for planning to provide an intergenerational facility. “It is not here, because the Atlantic Yards project has been delayed,” he said. He said that while FCR has sponsored dozens of basketball clinics, long term benefits have not arrived because the project has been delayed.

Actually, the intergenerational center would be in Phase 2, and the timetable is very uncertain.

Turner gets tough



(Video shot by Jonathan Barkey)

Turner began by challenging those booing in the crowd, saying, “you don’t even know me.” He quipped that support from a Salvation Army representative “demonstrates how powerful Bruce Ratner is… he’s paid God off.”

“You may think, where’s the unity in this room?” he asked rhetorically, going on to argue that all parties “have been made fools of by the city, the state, and Forest City Ratner,” given unrealistic estimates about jobs and housing. “Stop dragging Brooklyn through the mud.”

“When we are doing being used by Forest City Ratner,” he said, “you won’t hear a peep out of Forest City Ratner.” He closed with his angry attack on Markowitz.

Goldstein's testimony



(Video shot by Jonathan Barkey)

When Goldstein took the stage, he put placards on top of each of the three posters: the AY site plan, the phases of planned eminent domain, and an overhead photo. His placards had headlines—AY site plan, AY cost-benefit analysis, AY affordable housing schedule--but question marks instead of images.

“I’m just doing some housecleaning,” he said leading off, ad libbing a seeming endorsement of Turner’s insult: “I disagree with Scott: Marty’s not fat any more.”

“Is there anyone who doesn’t stand to gain financially from Forest City Ratner who will come up and speak”” he asked, acknowledging that “I’m sure there’s a few.”

He touted the community-derived UNITY plan aimed at the Vanderbilt Yard. “Too many people continue to act and talk like the project is just over the railyards,” he said. “Anyone who says that is lying. If the project is just over the rail yards, we wouldn’t be here, it would be under construction.”

“It’s a farce,” he said of the hearing. “It’s a sham process for a sham project.”

Dark comedy

Author and futurist Michael Rogers, a project opponent, reflected, “If I was writing a dark comedy about the abuse of public authority and public money, it would be hard to set a scene better than this one: a public hearing about a project whose details are secret.”

Where could it be set, he mused: the old Soviet Union? China?

Security issues

Alan Rosner, who co-wrote a 2005 White Paper on security issues, said, "I am here today to thank Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for issuing a report that for the first time states the City can no longer support Atlantic Yards as specified in the Modified General Project Plan."

"This report, Engineering Security: Protective Design for High Risk Buildings, provides the ESDC with criteria and a method for determining which of the City’s endless potential targets are in the very highest risk category."

"Using those standards, both the Arena and Building 1 rank as high-risk, while the adjacent Atlantic Ave. Station has been a known target since 1997," he continued. "With three high value targets in one convenient, easy to reach location, AY will become one of the city’s highest risk targets."

"Early last year, after the DHS and the NYPD met with FCR, securitizing the arena helped push its cost up over 300 million dollars," Rosner testified. "As the Daily News writes, that is one big bottom line reason for Gehry vanishing, for FCR’s turn to value engineering, and for the ESDC being forced to issue this Modified Plan. Were it not for lawsuits hiding the fact, the security issue has already cost this project over a year’s additional effort."

Here's FCR's MaryAnne Gilmartin on why the developer hasn't yet met with the cops: designs aren't ready.

In response

Several project proponents responded to testimony from opponents. “It sounds like we heard tales from the crypt a minute ago, and we heard insults about our borough president, and that gets us nowhere,” commented Daisy Dobbins, a member of Faith in Action, the little-known CBA signatory founded as the All-Faith Council of Brooklyn.

“Let the dream come," she said. “We as a community will not only enjoy having our own sports team, but we will enjoy a wholesome community upgrade.” (Those concerned about interim surface parking might disagree.)

(Video shot by Adrian Kinloch)

The Rev. Lydia Sloley, who heads Faith in Action, gave an enthusiastic but brief speech, declaring, “I have the audacity to believe in change.”(She didn’t say her group was a CBA signatory.)

While the CBA signatories all receive funds from Forest City Ratner, Carpenters Union leader Sal Zarzana declared, “I’m not paid for by no one.” (True, though obviously the construction unions have an interest in getting work.)

“It’s amazing that after six years, a few are taking over the rights of many,” he declared, adding that, “When Bruce Ratner asks for tax money, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to give it to somebody who’s going to create tax revenue.” (There’s no accurate estimate of the latter.

“Let’s bring a sports arena here,” he said, concluding, “and let’s make some money.”

Richard Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, testified—again, without specifics—that “This will be an economic engine of substantial value to this city.”

(Anderson is at left in the photo, with Alan Rosen of Junior's restaurant at right.)

Housing issues

The affordable housing issue got an airing—if not a particularly factual one—during the second part of the hearing. Maisha Morales, a displaced small business owner and a Fort Greene resident, acknowledged she was torn, feeling both critical of the project but noting that “my people--people of color” were supporting the project.

“The development I want is not 20% affordable housing; the development I want is 70% affordable housing,” she said, not acknowledging that Forest City Ratner’s plan is supposed to be about 35% affordable—though, of course, there are many questions about exactly to whom it would be affordable.
.
An ACORN member—I believe it was Debbie Tiamfook—responded by saying, not unreasonably, that 70% affordable was not practical.

“You want to know the truth,” she asked. “Ratner--Forest City Ratner was shaken down, they paid market rate for housing; nobody’s house was taken.”

She was cut off by heckling, but the issue is a lot more complicated. Actually, FCR paid more than market for some housing—but it was far less than the perceived value of the new development rights, and it was bolstered by $100 million from the city. And people sold under the threat of eminent domain.

Lewis at the mike



(Video shot by Jonathan Barkey)

Bertha Lewis, CEO and Chief Organizer of ACORN, was pugnacious, as usual, declaring the project “a national model.” “It is finally time to make this a reality. You want to know who’s gonna make sure that the housing is affordable?” she asked.

“We will. We’re not going to make sure that some politician takes care of us,” she stated. “We’re not going to stand by and try to have some agency take care of us. ACORN will take care of us.”

Her big selling point is that “every single rental unit is going to be rent-stabilized. That is unbelievable, considering what’s going on in Albany--losing affordable housing every single day.”

Except that Lewis, not unlike FCR’s MaryAnne Gilmartin on July 22, did not actually mention the potential rents.

Earlier, when I had tried to ask her during a break how much ACORN owes Forest City Ratner, she blew off the question.

Affordable housing for whom?

After Lewis spoke ACORN’s George Finley said, improbably, that the affordable housing in the contract signed with “Forest Ratner” had to be available to those earning $20,000 or less.

That’s not true. As the chart linked here shows, very few of the units--as of 2006, before the Area Median Income has gone up considerably--would go to those earning under $20,000.

A little later, Green Party member Maureen Shea offered a dash of melancholic skepticism: “What I think is so sad is so many people think they’re going to get a good job and a nice house.”

Housing feasibility

David Pechefsky, the Green Party candidate for the 39th Council District, said that, rather than repeat what’s been said about urban planning, he wanted to address the issue of financial viability.

He noted that last week, at the informational meeting, he asked about Forest City Ratner’s internal rate of return--which had not been voluntarily made public by the developer, but had come through in some documents--and FCR refused to answer.

“If this is truly a public project for the public good, it absolutely should be talked about,” said Pechefsky, a former City Council staffer. Back in 2006, he said, “I looked at the numbers on the rental buildings… What they suggested to me that the affordable housing was really unlikely to get built in the time frame of the project, unless there was going to be additional public subsidies.”

His point was never addressed by the affordable housing advocates who spoke later.

BAM and beyond

Alan Fishman, co-chair of the (city-funded, in part) Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, spoke as the chairman of board of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

He suggested that the project could benefit BAM by bringing in more diverse crowds and more activity in the area. (He didn’t mention traffic.)

Someone heckled a piece of relevant information: “[Bruce] Ratner’s on your board.”

Later, Michael D.D. White of Noticing New York caught up with Fishman and found out that, no, the BAM board was not consulted.

In the ‘hood

Several people pointed, as some did in 2006, to what they consider the transformative potential of the project, with statements that some may have interpreted as threats.

Rasheem Allah of Central Brooklyn Housing Contractors, said, “I save lives by trying to keep these kids from killing each other in these projects. Ratner is offering us an opportunity.”

“If this thing is not getting taken care of”—a reference, seemingly, not just to Atlantic Yards but the struggles in Brooklyn for jobs—there’s going to be chaos,” he said.

“This project was supposed to go forward a long time ago,” declared Darnell Canada of ReBUILD, which places workers at construction sites.

“Community Benefit Agreement. It speaks for itself. It says Community Benefits," he said. "It’s simple to me, but it seems to be a problem, and I know people are against it, I know people are for it, but the reality is: what is the state of affairs in our country. I walk around every day with hundreds of people who are looking for jobs.”

“I’m constantly on the van looking for work,” added Kareiff McDuffie of ReBUILD, who claimed that, “under this Community Benefit program, they’re giving us 17,000 jobs.”

He added, “You want a better community--you have to give these kids a reason to kids to get off the street. I can’t tell that brother to stop robbing, I can’t tell that brother to stop selling drugs.” He went on to slam “these frivolous lawsuits.”

At one point, architect (and Park Slope Civic Council trustee) Gilly Youner, who turned her back on Markowitz when he spoke, referenced Forest City Ratner's anti-urban design for the Atlantic Center Mall, quoting Bruce Ratner as saying it was "built inside-out to keep out 'tough youth.'" (Actually, the quote was "tough kids.") Ratner, of course, has pledged to do better, and the mall went unmentioned by supporters.

Some jousting

There was some interesting jousting in the auditorium for about half an hour into the second segment of the hearing. Rev. Clinton Miller of Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill, an ally of Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, led about 15 men from his church into the auditorium, an effort—as he said earlier this week—to help ensure that the hearing was orderly.

One of the men with Miller got into a dispute with another man—a construction worker?—and the cops had to smooth things out for a moment.

Miller, when he spoke, warned against a “circus-like atmosphere” and said, “I’m here insofar that the process be transparent, and we engage ourselves in a civil environment.”



(Video shot by Adrian Kinloch)

While he said that his group was neither for or against the project, he warned of a pattern in which jobs and contracts don’t go to people in the area where the project is being built. He added a personal note: “I have introduced a qualified contractor to the developer only not to get a callback.”

“We will not allow people from other neighborhoods come and intimidate people from the community,” he said. “We will not allow people come in and have people disrespect our officials, especially Velmanette Montgomery, Hakeem Jeffries, and Tish James.”

Montgomery and James, of course, are project opponents, while Jeffries has been more on the fence. But Miller seemed to be saying that he was taking care of his people no matter what.

Miller added a note of clerical portent: “As I told Borough President Marty Markowitz, if the process is not right, and the process not fair, God is not going to allow it anyway.”

Comic relief, and enlightenment



Near the end of the hearing, musician Steve Espinola, who was either very philosophical or very spacey, got up and acknowledged, “I have no idea what I’m going to say. I keep changing my mind. You’re either making a circle or breaking a circle at any moment.”

He went on to acknowledge that “We’re all just animals… and we all just gotta eat.” A “Build It Now” chant emerged from the crowd.

Espinola, getting his groove, acknowledged the chant: “There’s something to be said for that. You could do it… just dismantle democracy. You can take out due process. You can turn a hearing about it into a public mockery.”

He went back to his “circle” reference, leaving many in the audience befuddled, including--as the video shows--ESDC attorneys Matlin and Petillo, having a chuckle after a very long day.

(Update: More here on Espinola's motivations.)

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