Friday, February 26, 2010

Paying for Atlantic Yards support, fungible money, and Liu's CBA criticisms

Did Forest City Ratner pay people to attend the meeting Wednesday night on street closings. An audience member told me yes; the developer said no.

Whether you believe one or the other, the developer is still paying in part for community support. And, if you believe money's fungible, some of the subsidies and tax breaks the developer has received have gone to the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) signatories, all of whom have received funds from the developer.

All this means that Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), more than established job-training groups with broader funding, has an interest in the success of the project.

And when FCR executive Jane Marshall thanked BUILD President James Caldwell at the end of the evening, it was--I suspect--for helping make the room seem friendlier to a developer that was not welcoming tough questions.

Liu and the CBA

City Comptroller John Liu has made reform of CBAs a bit of a crusade in his first year, though he hasn't been completely on target.

Two weeks ago, he issued a statement, saying, in part, "From Atlantic Yards to Yankee Stadium to the Columbia University expansion, the public has seen a string of broken promises to communities and questionable involvement by some government officials,"

In the 2/18/10 New York Daily News, he wrote:
At Atlantic Yards, the immediate community was not included in the CBA. The project was then held up by a series of lawsuits while the original signatories continue waiting for the promised jobs and affordable housing units.
Well, that's not quite true. Some people in the "immediate community," however that's defined, were included, though most might be said to be in the somewhat-less-immediate community.

The bigger issue is that only some in the "immediate community" were consulted, while the rest were ignored or stonewalled, including the three Community Boards, which have a significant amount of legitimacy in such matters.

Remember how, in May 2006, the three Community Boards issued a statement saying that Forest City Ratner had overstated their participation in the CBA?

Also note that the project has not merely been held up by lawsuits but by the economic crunch and the developer's planning decisions.

A response to Liu

Liu's op-ed drew a response in a 2/22/10 letter:
Voice of the People: Community on board

Brooklyn: We contest Controller John Liu's assertion that the community around the Atlantic Yards development was not included in the Community Benefits Agreement ("Communities need a voice," Op-Ed, Feb. 18). All of the signatory organizations and principals live or work in community boards within the project's footprint. Liu is right that we haven't seen the benefits of Atlantic Yards - but not because the developer did not reach out to the community. It's because a small group of people delayed the project with litigation.

Delia Hunley-Adossa, chair
Atlantic Yards CBA
NoLandGrab's Eric McClure commented:
This could just have easily read "Voice of the Paid Signatories," since all of the signatory organizations have also received money from Forest City Ratner for their support of the Atlantic Yards project.
I'll add the Hunley-Adossa ignored the question of who makes up the community. And she ignored some of the important elements of Liu's position, including his recognition of the issues of accountability and representativeness.

Accountability issues

Liu wrote:
Specifically, CBAs must contain measurable principles of accountability, transparency, inclusiveness, consistency and scope. Agreements must be enforceable along clear time lines, and should even have clawback provisions to ensure full delivery of promises... Community groups, elected officials and other parties negotiating with developers must be truly representative of the community, and the benefits from the project to the community should be appropriate to its needs and the impact of the development upon it.

Moreover, CBAs should never become a substitute for responsible government policy on development issues.
In an interview with City Hall News, Liu continued to show an iffy grasp of the Atlantic Yards issue:
Likewise, Liu said he believes encouraging private development is important but crucial to keep tabs on developers who receive public help. In major projects like Yankee Stadium and Atlantic Yards, he said he would consider looking back over Community Benefits Agreements signed before he came into office to see if they had been upheld.
Though the Atlantic Yards CBA was "witnessed" by Mayor Mike Bloomberg, it's outside of governmental oversight.

No comments:

Post a Comment