Friday, September 09, 2011

Arana Hankin, navigating Atlantic Yards (and FCR relationship) for the state, after one year: some successes, some "work in progress," and more responsiveness when new staffer starts

After one year overseeing Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn's (and perhaps the city's) most controversial project, Arana Hankin sounds enthusiastic about the job, that she's helped solve problems. But it's tough to call her position a comfortable one.

On the one hand, Empire State Development (ESD, aka Empire State Development Corporation) clearly needed a point person for all things AY. So Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, has done some worthy work, helping lead responses to the "rat tsunami" and illegal parking around the project site, among other things.

On the other hand, the state agency has the inherently conflicted role of shepherding Forest City Ratner's project while overseeing the developer, leaving Hankin--more a coordinator/good soldier than policy maker--in a tough spot, though it's not one to which she'd cop.

After all, the agency, before Hankin joined it (though she was involved in overseeing it), withheld a key Atlantic Yards document, the Development Agreement, thus gaining initial victory in the lawsuit filed by citizens' groups challenging the professed ten-year timetable.

The state lost after the document was  finally allowed into the record, and we should know by September 16 whether the state will appeal a judge's order to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or SEIS.

Hankin, a longtime aide to former Gov. David Paterson in his various governmental posts, is relatively young--she earned her undergrad degree in 2000--but she's no political naif. She's clearly confident in controlled settings, and, though occasionally discomfited in less congenial meetings, has grown steadier. She's received good reviews from allies but also prompted pushback from those who fear she's more lip service than action.

Some people involved with Atlantic Yards wouldn't comment when I asked them to weigh in on Hankin. That may say less about her than the inherently fraught issue that is Atlantic Yards, given the ongoing lawsuit and the effort by some to wrest the project from the ESD's direct control and establish an oversight body.

(Photo by Tracy Collins, from 9/29/10 public meeting on the arena plaza.)

Progress cited

On August 24, I sat down for about 40 minutes with Hankin (and spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell) at ESD offices in Manhattan to discuss her job. What does she consider her most significant accomplishment?

"I feel confident I've improved the relationship between Forest City and the state," Hankin said. "Forest City has been much more responsive to the state's concerns and the community's concerns, I feel, since I've come on board, they've been out there in the community talking more, they've been much more willing to participate in community meetings."

That seems true, though Forest City also may have recognized it had to reach out more.

"I set up the structure to help effectuate [Atlantic Yards] District Service Cabinet meetings, which are happening on a regular basis," Hankin added.

Those are useful meetings, as they gather agencies and other parties involved in Atlantic Yards, but the transparency is limited: videotaping was banned after the first session, and the dates of meetings need not be announced publicly (a position Hankin announced at the time with a bit of edge in her voice).

Below, Hankin at the first meeting, on 11/4/10, before videotaping was banned.



Getting rid of rats

"I'm really happy how the whole rodent issue turned out, and being able to engage actively with city DOH [Department of Health] and Sanitation, " added Hankin, "to get the city to come onsite and kind of monitor what Forest City has been doing, really a fourth-party monitor, working with Forest City to hand out free trash cans."

I suggested that, while there has been significant progress combating rats, Council Member Letitia James in May raised the issue, and it took two months, until July, for Forest City Ratner to agree to look beyond the construction site.

"I think the important piece is that Forest City stepped up to the plate and did a much better job maintaining the construction site, and ensuring that it's cleaner than it was before." Hankin replied. "Y'know, if they want to give away free trash cans [to local residents], that's great… but I think actually contributing to the cleanliness of the community and actually taking responsibility for the role that they've played, is a great thing."

At the end of that July meeting,  Craig Hammerman, District Manager of Community Board 6 offered praise: "I've never heard such a comprehensive waste management onsite program described.  I want to commend Forest City Ratner and the agencies and certainly ESD for pulling this together."

How much slack to give the developer

During the interview, I pointed to multiple reports, via the community initiative Atlantic Yards Watch, of trucks leaving the site via improper routes or without having their loads covered to suppress dust.

"The railyard site is kind of newer in comparison to the arena site," Hankin observed, making a distinction between two parcels with different, though related, projects, "so I think the arena site is more tightly run... because folks on the arena site have had time to get accustomed to all the rules. And it's a work in progress."

"I talked to Forest City about trucking rules and not complying with the rules at least three times a week," she added, "and then we stay on top of them, asking them to strengthen their policies of dismissal, reprimanding the truckers who don't comply with the rules, so it's a work in progress… there were some instances of noncompliance. I think most of those incidents now have been minimized."

Despite Hankin's optimism, the next day, Atlantic Yards Watch posted a compilation video of trucks repeatedly using residential Clermont Avenue rather than the designated truck route.

Video soon indicated that that problem had been stemmed, but the next week, ESD issued its first-ever Notice of Violation to Forest City for several continuing violations regarding truck protocols.

ESD was finally putting pressure--of the mild variety, allowing compliance within 30 days before fines introduced--on the developer.

Same goals as developer?

The agency, I suggested, has the inevitably conflicted challenge of both promoting/shepherding a project and overseeing it.

Hankin didn't quite agree.

"Forest City is our partner, they're our development partner, and we both have the same goals, of seeing this project built out in its entirety," she responded. "At same time, we also are working very diligently to make sure the local community is being protected, and that the developer, our partner, is complying with all the agreements and fulfilling all of the agreements fully and complying with everything outlined in the agreements."

(Photo of Hankin, right, with Forest City staffers Jane Marshall, center, and Brigitte LaBonte, at 6/28/11 meeting on traffic/parking issues, at the Soapbox Gallery in Prospect Heights.) 

"So it is a dual role, but I think we've been doing it pretty well," she said. "And that's why we will have a full-time community/government affairs person on the ground, specifically focusing on dealing with community complaints." That new hire, as noted below, has not yet been announced.

We didn't discuss it further, but I'd argue such goals can be in tension. Forest City, accountable to its parent company and shareholders, wants to see the project built out if it meets their bottom line.

That involves working with government and even renegotiating deals, such as with Metropolitan Transportation Authority and ESD, in 2009, to save well over $100 million. That involves recruiting Chinese millionaires seeking green cards to invest in a project billed as an arena, even though it's not.

ESD must judge how much assistance to offer, and evidence suggests the agency has been helpful. It did not have to help FCR's green card push by sending Executive Director Peter Davidson, Hankin's boss, to China to make untenable claims about jobs, but it did.

Nor did it have to delay release of the Development Agreement. Nor did it have to negotiate the Development Agreement to allow 12 years for the buildout of the first three towers, and 25 years for the entire project, before penalties kicked in, rather than try harder to ensure the project would be built in the promised ten years.

But we didn't have time to debate that.

Coming on board

Hankin, who took the job in late August 2010, made her first public appearance at the 9/29/10 public meeting on the arena plaza.

 (Video by Jonathan Barkey)

"I just joined the Empire State Development Corporation about a month ago," Hankin stated. "I was working in economic development policy in downstate for a number of years. As Director of the Atlantic Yards Project for the Empire State Development Corporation, my role will be to ensure that the developer abides by not only the Modified General Project Plan, but also the community air monitoring plan, the environmental commitments memo, the development agreement, the design guidelines, and a multitude of other agreements that were executed to ensure that impacts to the surrounding community are as minimal as possible."

"This is a public-private project and the state will continue to play an active role in this project while holding the developer accountable," she continued.

Given the audience, it was not inappropriate for Hankin to discuss the various agreements, but her day-to-day work, as I learned, includes more interaction with Forest City Ratner and fellow staffers than with the public.

Background

Hankin has long been associated with Paterson. Not long after college graduation, she began working for Paterson when he was deputy minority leader in the state Senate, doing constituent work in Harlem.

(Her father, a businessman and philanthropist who chairs the New York Urban League, has been a prominent Paterson supporter, and Hankin is no stranger to the charity/party circuit, especially black-oriented causes.)

She earned a master's degree in anthropology/archeology at Stanford from 2004 to 2006, and later returned to New York to help in Paterson's campaign for Lieutenant Governor. Once Paterson took the position, Hankin served as senior policy advisor regarding economic development policy, stem cell policy, and arts policy, among other things.

When Paterson was elevated in 2008 after Governor Eliot Spitzer's stunning resignation, "I went with him with that portfolio," Hankin said.

As Assistant Secretary for Cultural and Economic Development, she managed a group of agencies, including Downstate ESDC, Department of Motor Vehicles, and New York State Council on the Arts. She was said to had a role in Atlantic Yards, though, in one interaction, project opponents cited "a competent stonewalling maneuver."

(Hankin didn't leave a prominent footprint--nor do many such aides--but was mentioned in a Village Voice article as "repeatedly and atypically" contacting ESDC on Paterson's behalf to ensure funding for the Museum of African Art, in Harlem, by Bill Thompson's wife Elsie McCabe. I didn't ask her about this or her role in Atlantic Yards while at the governor's office, as our time was limited,)

As Paterson's departure approached, Hankin got a relatively soft landing. Yes, her new positions represents several notches down the state hierarchy, but she got hired, without a public search, for a position lasting well after her patron Paterson left public service.

I wrote a skeptical piece on the eve of her appointment, suggesting Hankin had a thin resume; a gubernatorial spokesman said she was "more than qualified." Most media outlets ignored the appointment.

Community reaction

I asked several people about Hankin's performance. "Arana has done a fine job as director, playing a major role in planning for each meeting of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet," said Carlo Scissura, Borough President Marty Markowitz's Chief of Staff, in a statement. "Arana has expressed deep interest in the views and concerns of the community, and has been responsive to their issues. We look forward to working with her as the project moves ahead." He chairs the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet.

City Council Member Letitia James, a critic of the project and a plaintiff in that lingering lawsuit against the agency, declined comment. Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who's sponsored--if not always talked up--a bill to allow a new oversight body to provide more community input, didn't reply to two queries.

Forest City also declined comment. Then again, the firm, wary of this blog, generally responds to my queries only when it's unavoidable.

Peter Krashes, president of the Dean Street Block Association (DSBA) and a major contributor to the Atlantic Yards Watch project, sounded diplomatic. "Project Director Hankin can't do her job if the ESDC is unable or unwilling to provide the degree of technical assistance that is necessary," he said in a statement. "Compare the support she has to any other major project in the city. There must be a reason why the Governor and the Mayor are allowing conditions to stay this way."

At public meetings, Hankin has heard more frustration. At a June meeting on rats, Jon Crow, coordinator of the Brooklyn Bear's Garden, challenged Hankin several times, saying he had inspected the site perimeter but saw no bait traps.

At another June meeting, on traffic/parking issues, Hankin expressed her own frustration, suggesting that it would have been better to have had the complaints earlier.

Krashes responded that he'd provided them at a meeting earlier this month. "There isn't a sense there's transparency, accountability, and responsiveness," he said.

(Photo from the latter meeting, at the Soapbox Gallery in Prospect Heights. Hankin, center, is flanked by Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall, left, and ESD planner Rachel Shatz.)  

Why this interview

I was a little surprised that Hankin, friendly but periodically cagey during the interview, had agreed to meet with me. Just two months earlier, at that meeting on rats, Hankin had been wary about the press, insisting she wasn't allowed to talk to the several reporters there.

So this interview was, perhaps, a sign of glasnost or a recognition that someone in such a high-profile public service job should be willing to face questions from the only journalist who follows Atlantic Yards closely. (And while I've been tough on her agency, she's been able to evaluate whether my coverage of her performance at public events has been fair.)
  Or maybe it was the calculation that, since I told her I aimed to write a one-year anniversary article anyway, it made sense to cooperate. (It would have been a lot shorter.)

Before the interview, as a courtesy, I did something journalists don't like to do: I sent Hankin most of the questions, noting that I'd likely want elaboration of her answers. Given that I was granted only a half-hour--the session stretched past 40 minutes--it was helpful she was prepared.

Typical work flow

I asked Hankin about her typical workday or work week. It varies, she responded, depending on what's happening with the project, but she regularly manages the impress account that Forest City Ratner must replenish regularly to pay for ESD consultants and other outside costs.

Similarly, Hankin must ensure that pledged government funds flow, for example, to pay Forest City for promised infrastructure costs.

She regularly communicates with ESD consultants, including STV, the owner's representative, which has two staffers on site daily, and HDR, the environmental monitor, which is on site once or twice a week.

Hankin said she tours the site at least twice a month, gets briefed, and interfaces with city and state agencies involved in the project. She briefs Peter Davidson, ESD Executive Director, at least weekly, and ESD CEO Kenneth Adams less frequently.

"I spend a lot of time obviously communicating with Forest City Ratner, making sure they're complying with all the agreements, requesting information that they provide us," she added.

Who?

She named nearly ten staffers at FCR, plus people in legal and financing.

How often?

"Every day," responded Hankin.

"Hourly," chimed in Mitchell.

"Every day, multiple times a day," Hankin continued.

Hankin said she also spends a good amount of time investigating press queries.

The history

Hankin's not the first ESD staffer assigned full-time to Atlantic Yards, but she is the first one charged with managing the project. In May 2007, in the wake of the parapet fall from the Ward Bakery, the ESDC announced plans to hire an ombudsman to work with the community.

Forrest Taylor, a former MTA and City Council staffer, was finally hired in November 2007. He left in June 2011 after being seen as significantly disempowered--a conduit rather than a policymaker, and surely not an actual ombudsman.

"There was always the intention that a [Project Director] position be created," Hankin said, citing the views of ESD and gubernatorial staffers. (Remember, in 2007-09, the shadowy volunteer Susan Rahm was helping manage the project on a part-time basis.)

After the March 2010 arena groundbreaking, "everyone realized there was a need for a full-time person," Hankin said. "I interfaced with ESD on a regular basis, so I understood there was a need to bring someone on to oversee the Atlantic Yards project on a full-time basis."

Since Taylor left, Hankin has had to absorb some tasks he previously tackled, as well as her own, "dealing with all the complaints that we receive, which are not too many, but obviously, planning District Service Cabinet meetings, community meetings, engaging community leaders on a regular basis."

The new hire

Taylor's successor will not be called an ombudsman, which represents truth in advertising. Rather that position will be a Manager–Community & Government Relations. An advertisement was posted on 6/21/11, two-and-a-half months ago.

"My role won't change too much," Hankin said. "I expect the person when they start to implement this communications strategy we've been talking about, which is a little more proactive and responsive, and engages community leaders on a more regular basis."

When?

"I'm hoping soon," she said August 24. "It's hard to tell when that will happen." Note that the Cuomo administration has a reputation, as reported by the New York Times in January 2011, of being slow to fill key posts, so that may be part of a larger pattern.

What's a more proactive strategy?

"It means more regular communications with community members, community leaders, I'd love to toy around with the idea of social media and better ways to beef up our website," Hankin said, "essentially not waiting for people to complain but actually going to them before they have a chance to complain."

How might that work?

Hankin suggested regular scheduled meetings with key community groups, like the Dean Street Block Association and the Carlton Avenue Block Association, as well as other organizations "vocal with issues with regards to the construction site."

(Photo by Tracy Collins of Hankin speaking at a meeting in June on Dean Street regarding rats.)

That, she said, would be the job of the new hire, whom she would help usher into the community.

The Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meetings, held every two months, don't give opportunities for individuals to ask questions, she noted, "except through their representatives, which is the way it's set up. I would want there to be an in-person dialogue between the state and the community."

While Hankin's position is funded by the state, the government/community affairs position, as with other ESD consultants and lawyers, is funded by Forest City.

That was news to me; Hankin pointed to a clause in the Development Agreement, signed at the end of 2009, that requires FCR to fund the position. However, that doesn't answer who funded that position when Taylor took the job in late 2007.

Credibility issue

I suggested that the ESDC has, at least among some people, a credibility issue.

"I have attempted to repair some of that, when I first started," Hankin said.

"--and succeeded largely," added Mitchell.

"I think we've done a good job," Hankin said, "by establishing the District Service Cabinet…. a forum for the community to be able to hear their concerns being addressed and ensure that they are being addressed."

As noted above, I'd say the District Service Cabinet does offer a chance to ventilate issues, but is not particularly welcoming to the public.

"Certainly, I was surprised with the type of, I guess, improved communication that needed to occur between the state and the community, and the lack of trust between the state and the community," Hankin added. It should continue to improve, she said, when the new staffer comes on board.

What was wrong previously?

"There wasn't a full-time person who was communicating with them on a regular basis that knew about every little thing that was happening on the site and outside the site, the legal battle, condemnation," she said. "There wasn't one person who was also constantly engaging the city, other agencies, who was kind of helping to make sure things were running smoothly. Holding Forest City accountable to the agreements--no one who had a full-time responsibility to do so."

Public art

Hankin also said she pushed Forest City to be part of the Urban Canvas program, in which artists decorate construction fences.

(Photo from Mauricio Lopez ARTblog)

"I met with the city about a public art program, they just so happened to be rolling out Urban Canvas at same time," she said. "So I brought it to Forest City. I would love for it to have been a larger area, but they're implementing their own public art program."

Who else in the shop?

Several other ESD staffers spend significant time on Atlantic Yards, suggesting how significant it is to the agency. Rachel Shatz, Director of Planning and Environmental Review, spends about half her time on the project, Hankin said.

ESD senior counsel Robin Stout, who succeeded Steve Matlin, spends about 30% of his time on the project. Barbara Helm, who reviews all the architectural designs, spends between 10-50% of her time, "depending on the stage we are in the process."

Paul Palazzo, who monitors construction (and is not the same Paul Palazzo active in the Fort Greene Association), spends about 20% of his time on Atlantic Yards, Hankin said. Barbara Lampen, who heads design and construction--and thus supervises Shatz, Helm, and Palazzo--spends about 10% of her time on Atlantic Yards.

And Mitchell spends 10-15% of her time on the project.

On top of those staffers, ESD manages numerous consultants and outside lawyers.

Learning the territory

I asked Hankin what surprised her most about this job.

"What surprised me the most is how savvy the project opponents and critics are, how knowledgeable they are," she said, "how they comb through all the agreement and know them backwards and forwards."

"How passionate people are," she continued, "and what surprised me also is how poor the communications had become between the developer and the community, and the community and the state, how much room for improvement there was."

Pending issue: illegal parking

What about illegal parking around the project site, which was the subject of complaints for months but began to be mitigated in July?

"I think the parking issue has improved tremendously," she said. "The precinct has really stepped up and began ticketing folks. And when we see instances of re-occurrences of illegal parking, we constantly bring it to their attention."

She estimated that "it's over 90% solved."

Including cops parking illegally?

"I'm more concerned with construction workers parking illegally," she responded. "I don't know if I can do much… in terms of police parking illegally." That, she said, will have to be resolved before the arena opens.

I suggested that police are "not allowed to park everywhere, and they still do."

"Yeah," she replied a bit resignedly. "That needs to be resolved before the arena opens... They committed to resolving it before arena opens. They understand the first step is resolving that is identifying jurisdictions, because there are three precincts that overlap, and so they're working on that."

Pending issue: complaints

Hankin has said (twice in June) that the agency doesn't get direct complaints; that people should contact the agency directly, "as opposed to complaining to blogs or web sites."

That, I suggested during the interview, leads some public skepticism.

No, she insisted, indicating that her posture has evolved. "Every complaint that we receive, that we read about on the blogs, that we read about in the media, or receive from third parties, or get from the press, we take seriously, and respond to immediately," she said. "I read the blogs every single day, and Forest City Ratner does as well, so we're very responsive to everything we read no matter where it's posted."

Well, maybe, but the response isn't necessarily publicized immediately, as it's often taken several days to get a comment. Perhaps that will change when a new staffer is added.

Pending issue: LIRR site maintenance

I asked about the unresolved issue of maintenance of Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) railyard perimeter, regarding cleaning and snow removal.

"I speak to the LIRR on a regular basis, obviously this is something that continues to come up," she said. "I think they've been much more responsive in terms of maintaining their property, clearing their trash."
 "And Forest City has stepped up and taken responsibility as well," Hankin added, referring to the developer's voluntary extension of its cleaning efforts, "and kind of gone into their property to free the area of litter, that sort of thing to reduce the rodent population. But the railyard has been much more responsive. It's a work in progress."

Watching the AY story

I asked Hankin if she saw the documentary play In the Footprint or the documentary film Battle for Brooklyn.

"I saw In the Footprint," Hankin responded.

"You didn't see the movie?"

"No, I haven't seen the movie."

"You gotta see the movie."

"I heard it was extremely one-sided… the reviews weren't that great."

(Actually, Variety was negative, the Times was mixed, but the rest mostly favorable. While I agree, as noted in my review, the film could be more nuanced, I suggested it shows "the palpable insincerity and cold-blooded indifference of the developer-government alliance"--which implicates Hankin's workplace.)

"Are you serious, even if it's one sided, don't you think you should see it?"

"Yeah, I want to see it eventually."

As for the play, Hankin said, it "was great.. it was fun.. there was some good talent in it. I thought it was definitely one-sided and a little outdated--and I'm a little bit of a theater snob--there was some great acting. It was fun, it was entertaining."

In the neighborhood

Hankin's lived in Fort Greene for five years. "I was living in Northern Harlem, a community where I could not get any fresh bread or fresh food, and I couldn't afford to live in Central Harlem," she recalled. "I just lucked out and found a great apartment in a wonderful location in downtown Fort Greene."

I asked what she heard from friends, acquaintances, and neighbors when they learn of her position.

"Can you get me free basketball tickets?" she said with a laugh. "I have a lot of friends who are very, very excited about the arena, they're big basketball fans. I have some friends who already bought season tickets. I have some friends who know about the opposition, and are certainly aware of the opposition, with the plays and the films and the blogs, people are very much aware of the community opposition."

"And I think, though, the folks I know and interact with have seen Brooklyn transform dramatically over the last ten years, especially the areas around the arena, and they see all these high-rise residential towers popping up very quickly along Flatbush. I think they understand they live in--I feel my neighborhood and this area is the hottest community in all of New York City… They understand that massive department kinda comes with the territory. And they want to be part of the excitement and the energy and the change. They feel as though, essentially, in the long-term, it's going to make Brooklyn a hotter and cooler place to live."

It's undeniable that the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, aimed to mainly encourage the building of office space, ushered in a cluster of towers near Flatbush and Myrtle avenues, at the western border of Fort Greene. Connect those dots to Forest City Ratner's 80 DeKalb tower just east of Flatbush and the Forte tower toward the center of the neighborhood Fort Greene and there's a pattern leading to the arena block, which requires crossing wide Atlantic Avenue into Prospect Heights.

The question, of course, is scale, and the state overrode city zoning to allow Forest City Ratner to build at the density it desired, including towers along residential Dean Street and a parking lot down the block.

The credibility of FCR's reported numbers

I asked Hankin if she was comfortable with statistics on minority hiring and contracting reported by Forest City at AY District Service Cabinet meetings. I'd argue they should come from the Independent Compliance Monitor required under the Community Benefits Agreement but never funded.

"I work closely with the person that actually monitors MWBE [minority and women's business enterprise] participation, because they have to report to the state," Hankin said. "So they actually have an independent monitor that monitors MWBE compliance, specifically. So I communicate with them with them on a regular basis, so I'm quite confident they're reporting accurate numbers."

That "independent monitor" is the Darman Group, a firm that has long worked for Forest City Ratner.

(Darman principal Darryl Greene, who pleaded guilty in 1999 to theft of public money in connection with $500,000 in fraudulent bills. It was a misdemeanor. The Atlantic Yards Development Agreement bars dealings with a "Prohibited Person," which includes a person convicted of a felony. However, in bidding last year for the Aqueduct "racino," Greene was removed by the then-leading bidder because anyone with a criminal record was barred from getting a gambling license.)

I said that, if Darman was involved with hiring and contracting, "They can't really be independent."

"They're only involved with one aspect of hiring, local Brooklyn MWBE hiring, not hiring of the entire site," Hankin responded.

We didn't go any farther on that one. But Forest City officials have provided conflicting information on the number of Brooklyn residents working at the site, with the same figure representing current and cumulative workers.

And the consultant to the arena bond trustee has reported fewer workers than has Forest City. So, beyond the Darman Group's conflict, I'd say there are other arguments for an independent report.

What next?

I asked Hankin what was coming next.

"Obviously I'm looking forward to years ahead, and the arena opening… We just read today Forest City has applied for a permit for a tower," she said. "We've been working very closely with them on going over the designs... hoping to break ground on that before the end of the year or early next year, so that's very exciting. There's just a lot of really innovative, exciting things happening on site right now, and I'm looking forward to bringing on a full-time community affairs/government person… to engage with the community and to work closely with the community to be much more responsive and to be proactive in dealing with concerns in and around the site."

Noting that Taylor met the public a few times for open questions, I asked if she'd do similarly.

"Well, I respond to lots of questions" at meetings, Hankin responded.

But what about an open meeting?

"I would consider it," she said. "I respond to questions with regards to the site all the time from the community, in public meetings and community meetings."

What's misunderstood?

I asked Hankin what she thinks may be misunderstood about the state's role.

"I think most people in the community feel the state really wants to be responsive," she responded, "but there are still I think a group of folks who feel the state is not really sincere in its intention to really improve the situation to the best of our ability with the local community."

(Well, given the pending legal case, that small group includes a state judge.)

I asked, for example, if the state could levy finds on recalcitrant truckers?

"Yes, it does allow for fines," she said.

"It hasn't hit that level?"

"Not yet, no," she responded. "But we do have the ability to force them to pay fines."

As cited above, the agency did in the next week send out a Notice of Violation.

Proof in the performance

Hankin's challenge was encapsulated in a sequence during a meeting in Prospect Heights last June regarding traffic and parking issues.

"Has anyone analyzed long it's going to take for 1100 cars to come in, discharge passengers, and have everyone walk to the arena?" asked Jimmy Greenfield, owner of the Soapbox Gallery on Dean Street, across from the planned 1100-space surface parking lot.

"I don't have anything I can say to you right now," responded Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall.

Hankin said an operational plan was being developed.

"How are you going to make it all work?" Greenfield asked, with frustration. The failure to provide assurances is the "reason there's such distrust," he said. "What if nothing works? What is the scenario then?"

"I don't think the situation will ever be perfect, unfortunately," Hankin responded, trying to placate him.

"Living in Brooklyn is not perfect, but we all make do," Greenfield, not placated, responded, talking over her. "What is the worst case? Be honest."

"The situation is not going to be perfect, unfortunately. People who live on Dean Street and Carlton [Avenue] are going to be inconvenienced," Hankin responded steadily. "We're trying to mitigate [the problem] as best we can."

The inconvenience surely will spread beyond those streets--the meeting was limited to a small geographic group--so expect some more tense meetings, and some more challenges to meet.

1 comment:

  1. So, Arana Hankin hasn't seen the movie but she, "heard it was extremely one-sided… the reviews weren't that great."

    As you point out, nearly all of the reviews were very favorable, and many were great reviews. But the fact that she hasn't seen the movie says a lot about her and the ESDC. You'd think that coming into AY so late in the game she'd want to gather as much information as possible, even if it is one-sided it is a point of view. But it is illustrative of ESDC's head-in-the-sandism that she would just not see it, leaving herself less informed.

    Besides, Bruce Bender and Bruce Ratner, both of Forest City Ratner, get to say their pieces w/o any tricks of editing. They get to say plenty from their point of view, especially Bender. In other words, it is not one-sided.

    You know what was truly one-sided? The Atlantic Yards review process which allowed Ms. Hankin to get he position she now holds.

    ReplyDelete