Thursday, June 14, 2012

From the Committee for Arena Justice: request for more oversight, new financial penalties, and an independent compliance monitor

Council Member Letitia James, with Rev. Clinton Miller behind her in
brown jacket, Rev. Clive Neal (with sign), and state Senator Velmanette
Montgomery. Photo and set by Adrian Kinloch
 What exactly did the Committee for Arena Justice, the organizers of the rally held this past Sunday, ask? Well, a copy of a letter displayed at the rally (bottom) shows that they want to see more benefits for Central Brooklyn--in a sense asking for developer Forest City Ratner to comply with pledges initially made.
 
To some degree the failure to deliver benefits, as Forest City would say, has to do with delays in implementing the project. How to fix that? Well, the committee wants new penalties on the developer--but the state has shown no inclination to revise contracts that give Forest City a long leash.

Fox guarding henhouse?

The other request seems far more achievable. As I wrote, the signatories of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), who negotiated such benefits, seem muzzled, by contract, dependence, or prudence, unable to even publicly demand the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the CBA, leaving Forest City Ratner, as one speaker put it, the fox guarding the henhouse.

So the committee's request for an Independent Compliance Monitor is merely asking the developer to fulfil a pledge it made years ago--and that shouldn't be as politically difficult. Can project boosters, or those on the fence, really defend that?

The lack of a monitor means Forest City Ratner self-reports in a self-serving way. For example, the developer counts 16.3% of contract dollars going to MBE (minority business enterprises) and 6.3% WBE (women's business enterprises).

Unmentioned:  the CBA on p. 18 sets goals of 20% for MBE firms and 10% for WBE firms. Nor has the developer reported fully on the location of such firms.

Excerpts

"We have reliable data that clearly confirms that the alleged overwhelming benefits to the community concerning jobs, affordable housing, and contracts for Minority Women Business Enterprises (MWBEs) are a fraction of what was promised."

"We have polled our congregations all over Central Brooklyn, and at this point, it is difficult to find anyone who has been hired or any minority or woman owned businesses who have received contracts at Atlantic Yards. We are presently outraged at how FCRC has taken full advantage of public tax dollars and has not honored their promises to the community. At this point, we simply do not trust the developer at his word. Additionally, testimonies from Federal investigations suggest that the developer does not operate with business transparency and integrity."

(The latter is a reference to cases involving former Yonkers Council Member Sandy Annabi and former state Senator Carl Kruger, both notably involving executive Bruce Bender, who has since departed.)

"We are asking you as Governor and in accordance with the ESDC be open to furnishing more oversight enduring that previous promises be fulfilled. Furthermore, we are asking that a much stronger financial penalty be placed on the developer if reasonable amounts of jobs, contracts and affordable housing are not afforded to the residents of Central Brooklyn. In addition, the community needs to be able to identify an independent compliance monitor that will hold the developer to his promises."


Photos of poster and set by Adrian Kinloch.

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