Tuesday, June 26, 2012

At meeting on arena operations, the shadow of today's court decision; also, while state agency seems open to new governance entity, developer Forest City Ratner remains opposed

There was a slightly surreal air to a long-scheduled meeting tonight regarding Barclays Center operations, notably security, parking, and sanitation, held at Brooklyn Borough Hall. (I'll have a full report in the morning.)

After all, Forest City Ratner External Affairs VP Ashley Cotton, a recent hire, led off by asserting that “we have learned that transparency and sharing details as we go is the best policy,” only hours after the state Court of Appeals rejected leave to appeal--filed by the developer and the state agency overseeing Atlantic Yards--of a decision saying that the defendants had failed in such transparency.

No one mentioned that case until Gib Veconi, who as a leader of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and BrooklynSpeaks was a prime mover behind the suit, brought it up near the end of the two-and-a-half hour meeting.

“At this point, when we can see a draft scope of analysis for an SEIS?” Veconi asked Kenneth Adams, CEO of Empire State Development (ESD). He was referring to the Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement ordered by a lower court to analyze the worst-case impacts of a 25-year project buildout, as opposed to the long-professed ten-year schedule (and the alternate delayed scenario, covering 15 years, that ESD considered when it re-approved the project in 2009).

“Obviously we have to obey the court's order,” Adams said. “We'll start working on it.”

Given that it’s been nearly a year since state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman initially ordered the SEIS, Veconi countered, “our hope would be to see the scope of analysis”--the precursor to the actual study--in the very near future.”

New oversight structure?

Those who prevailed in the lawsuit, including Council Member Letitia James, said the court decisions gave impetus to more democratic oversight of Atlantic Yards.

Veconi pointed out that Adams, at a community meeting in early May, had said that his agency was looking at potential models, and asked for an update.

Adams said the agency has continued discussions with Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who introduced legislation, which has passed the Assembly but not the Senate, that would create a a new governance structure.

The issue, Veconi responded, is both is form and structure. Jeffries' legislation would merely authorize such a subsidiary. What sort of structure would ESD support?

Adams said the "short answer" is that, while Jeffries asked ESD to consider a structure similar to other development project around the state, the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement is between the agency board and Forest City Ratner.

"A new entity could be a subsidiary," Adams allowed, and could function under the ESD board. But the membership, and other details, remain in question.

“The transparency of decision-making is what's really important,” Veconi said last month. “The gold standard is that decisions are made by a board that includes outside directors.”

Forest City Ratner has opposed Jeffries' legislation; here's my 7/11/11 critique of their memo. Tonight, Cotton confirmed after the meeting, Forest City still opposes it.

Forest City does have a relationship with some influential Senate Republicans, notably Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, though I don't know whether the stall in the Senate is a result of Forest City's lobbying, other Senate priorities, or both.

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