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Jeffries says ESDC "has fallen down on the job" regarding AY oversight; will new governance bill help?; Governor-elect Cuomo wants an AY meeting

At the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council's forum Wednesday on Atlantic Yards traffic, it was impossible for Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries to untangle potential solutions from governance issues. (My coverage, the Brooklyn Paper, and Patch.)

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries said his goal was that “if this project comes to fruition we will minimize the detrimental impacts it will have on quality of life.”

He reflected on the “interesting time” in state politics since he took office in January 2007, with turmoil in the governor's office, state Senate, and other Albany entitities.

From December 2006 through January 2011, Jeffries said, “We will have been through four governors in five years, and the consequence of that, I believe, given that this initiative was conceived at least as a public-private partnership with public involvement and oversight at the state level from the Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC], is that there's been chaos and uncertainty and a lack of direction and focus from the state agency that is charged with oversight and accountability and responsibility.”

“And that's been very detrimental,” he said. “Because in essence, what has occurred is that we've had a public-private project without any real public input.”

AY governance; what will Cuomo do?

He said that he and Senator Velmanette Montgomery, with the assistance and support of Council Member Letitia James, have introduced the Atlantic Yards Governance Act, which describes an entity with oversight authority and robust community input. (He later acknowledged it was essentially doomed.)

A second bill would authorize the ESDC to enact or create a subsidiary related to the Atlantic Yards project that would serve the function of providing oversight, professional engagement and accountability, a great degree of transparency, and community input.

The bill has passed through Corporations committee and is now at Ways and Means. It has support of current governor David Paterson, he said, and “hopefully it will have support of the incoming governor,” Andrew Cuomo.

(Photo set by Tracy Collins)

Later, Council Member Letitia James reported that, at a recent meeting, Cuomo “whispered in my ear that we need to have a conversation about Atlantic Yards.” Several people in the audience clapped.

“I said, thank you Governor-elect, but said Governor Paterson said the same thing and let me down," James said. "I hope you don't let me down.”

Eric McClure comments:
NoLandGrab: We expect that conversation to go something like this:

Status Cuomo: Tish, Bruce Ratner gave my campaign a lot of money, so cool it, ok?

Tish James: [Steam coming from ears.]

The need for a subsidiary

Regarding the subsidiary issue, he noted, “every other major development project that has been subjected to ESDC jurisdiction has a subsidiary,” citing Moynihan Station, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Queens West.

“But somehow this is a project that has been allowed to operate with a different set of rules," he said. "And because it has been allowed to operate with a different set of rules, without explanation, without any real distinction, we find ourselves in a situation where many of the concerns that have been articulated in this presentations have not been addressed, even though it’s government’s job to address them. And ESDC has fallen down on the job. It’s our hope to be able to correct that.”

Drilling down, and some questions

Jeffries later described two pieces of governance legislation, first the Atlantic Yards Governance Act, we drafted in collaboration with PHDNC, "which is very proscriptive in terms of community appointees," though the governor would still retain a majority of the board.

A second, more generally worded bill piece "simply authorizes ESDC to create a subsidiary that would be based on the other subsidiaries that we created for the projects previously mentioned."

While there's not uniform support for such subsidiaries, he said, "many people have been largely satisfied" because it allows for a greater level of community input."

"In an ideal world, we'd like to get the governance act," he said, but "politically, it will probably be very difficult to do," given the Republican-controlled Senate.

Also, I doubt the administration and ESDC would support it. The ESDC supports the new bill, a sign it doesn't have too much teeth.

Who's in charge?

Lucy Koteen, a longtime Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn activist, asked who'd be on the subsidiary and who would listen to it.

Jeffries gave a roundabout answer. "I don't think anybody in this room can tell you who at ESDC is professionally charged with oversight responsibility" of Atlantic Yards. "We know the private entity is Forest City Ratner. Who at ESDC is charged with responsibility for the Atlantic Yards project?"

"That woman?" Koteen responded vaguely, apparently referring to recently appointed Project Manager Arana Hankin, who is responsible for Atlantic Yards.

"And it's not Arana Hankin," Jeffries responded inaccurately. "Arana Hankin is charged with community outreach."

Apparently there was a failure of communication here.

Koteen said the example of Brooklyn Bridge Park was not a good one, "not if you talk to the people fighting the project."

JoAnne Simon, Female District Leader of the 52nd Assembly District and a leader of BrooklynSpeaks (which has pushed the governance bill), defended it: "You can email [Brooklyn Bridge Park head] Regina [Myer] and she will get back to you."

The best alternative?

Atlantic Yards, she said, "is going to last 25-30 years... We will have more and more governors." With Brooklyn Bridge Park, there's a big dispute about housing in the park, she acknowledged, but "with regard to many many other things, there's a lot of agreement."

"Right now, with Atlantic Yards, there's nobody in charge that anybody knows about," she said. "When you talk to ESDC people they're not paying attention. This would force them to pay attention."

“I'm not clear what the alternative is," Jeffries added. "Tthe alternative is the status quo... to deal with an ESDC that has been completely deferential to the developer."


  1. Mr. Jeffries not knowing who the ESDC point-person is gives a lot of confidence for effective Atlantic Yards oversight, no?


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