Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PHNDC's Veconi on the lessons of the latest Atlantic Yards ruling: the state "is willing to risk breaking the law" when it helps Forest City Ratner

In a July 23 op-ed in Prospect Heights Patch, Lessons from the Community’s Atlantic Yards Win, Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (a component of BrooklynSpeaks), analyzes the significance of Justice Marcy Friedman's July 13 ruling ordering the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to conduct a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement.

Among the lessons:
ESDC is willing to risk breaking the law when it helps FCRC [Forest City Ratner]. ESDC had previously shown itself willing to exploit New York State’s regressive eminent domain laws to transfer private property to FCRC. The Friedman decision shows that the agency is also willing to violate State environmental laws when doing so is economically beneficial to FCRC. Furthermore, the experience of this lawsuit shows that ESDC has no compunction about obfuscating in court to conceal what it knows when the facts are. This is a truly chilling realization when one considers that ESDC has sole formal responsibility for Atlantic Yards oversight.

The courts aren’t a substitute for responsible project governance.... Justice Friedman’s decision left ESDC with the responsibility of correcting its prior error in not preparing an SEIS, even though her previous decisions in the case had excoriated the agency for lack of transparency it is review, and for not informing the court of key facts during trial....

The collective judgment of our local elected officials should be sought and respected on major project decisions. Unlike other large ESDC projects, Atlantic Yards does not now have a dedicated subsidiary with a board including outside directors to give balance to decision-making. Instead, the agency in effect delegates its authority to FCRC.
What next?

Besides calling for an Atlantic Yards governance entity, Veconi suggests oversight hearings:
In the meantime, scrutiny of ESDC’s actions in 2009 should not end with this case. The Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions is now chaired by Assemblyman Jim Brennan, who previously joined the BrooklynSpeaks groups as a plaintiff in the suit. Hearings by the Corporations Committee investigating the 2009 actions of ESDC and its later conduct during the litigation could only better inform the dialog on reform of Atlantic Yards oversight.
Who's the community?

Veconi's op-ed continues one dismaying pattern in discussion of the lawsuit. Two separate coalitions, led by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and BrooklynSpeaks, filed separate lawsuits, which were consolidated.

Thus, the win was shared, even though DDDB ultimately let BrooklynSpeaks take the lead in court.

That said, neither coalition, in its press releases and statements, acknowledges the other. Maybe that's driven by fundraising, but it's still misleading.

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