Friday, September 28, 2012

Under Barclays Center oculus, groups challenging Atlantic Yards call for reform, joined by Occupy and two who "drank Ratner's Kool-Aid" but changed their minds

Five groups challenging the Atlantic Yards project, bolstered by some Occupy Wall Street participants and two former project supporters, held a press conference this morning on the Barclays Center plaza, moving under the oculus (which dripped somewhat) to get out of the rain.

"Welcome to the tale of two Brooklyns," said Candace Carponter of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, leading off the event and citing the arena as an example of "crony capitalism." The groups' goals include a plan that prioritizes "the creation of housing affordable to working families in Brooklyn" (for which, however, Ratner's modular plan may be billed as a solution) and to reform project oversight.

"Many Brooklynites may attend events here," Carponter declared, but profits will be reaped by the developer Forest City Ratner and the retail chains. She didn't mention Mikhail Prokhorov, majority owner of the Nets and 45% owner of the arena.


(Videos by Jonathan Barkey.)

Drinking "Ratner's Kool-Aid"

Carponter introduced two people she described as having drunk "Ratner's Kool-Aid," including "my friend" Kathleen Noreiga, who demonstrated for the project as a supporter of BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), the controversial job-development organization.

Noreiga (video start)  is one of seven people (of 36) who went through BUILD's highly competitive 15-week, pre-apprenticeship training program lawsuit and filed suit last November regarding what they say were guaranteed jobs and union cards at the arena.

"Instead of providing us with jobs and training, we were made to do heavy labor, including demolition and debris removal, at a private house in Staten Island for our instructor's private company," she said. The seven plaintiffs have sued for payment for their unpaid training.

A message to Jay-Z from a Marcy neighbor

Umar Jordan, he of the dramatic August 2006 pro-project testimony (and New York Times prominence)--"If you haven't been to the Marcy Projects, you haven't been to Brooklyn"--was introduced by Carponter as having "since determined that Brooklyn has been played."

Jordan was forceful but brief: "I need you to call the polcie and tell them that we've been robbed. Brooklyn's been robbed. This is not a personal attack on you, Jay-Z. We've been robbed, and I've seen people go to jail for less."




"Jay, you know where to find me at: anywhere in the hood from Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, East New York, you know where to come see me at," Jordan said. "We need to find a way to make it affordable for the young children who grew up in the project like you did, Jay, to be able to come here to see a game."

The next speaker was an advocate from the Fifth Avenue Committee.

Affordable housing

Deb Howard of the Pratt Area Community Council talks about Ratner's "bait and switch" regarding affordable housing, noting that of the 180 "supposedly affordable" units in the first building, many units would be not affordable to the neighborhood.




"What we need are two- and three-bedroom units that are affordable to those making between 60 and 80 percent of AMI [Area Median Income]," she said, while most units would be studios and one-bedroom units. (For more, see my story for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau.)

Ron Shiffman, founder of the Pratt Center for Community Development (and a DDDB board member), said that there's a cap on tax-exempt bonds and subsidies, which means the scarace resource is being directed toward more expensive units rather than being built by community-based organizations.

Meanwhile, ACORN--with whom he worked closely in the past--has gotten a housing deal that does little for many of its members. He urged that the state approve a version of the UNITY plan that is "truly affordable," requiring more from the developer.  "This building belongs to us; let's take it back."

Goldstein: arena a "gentrifying machine"

Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn says the space people are standing on was his home, other private property, and public streets. "Eminent domain is not just about people's homes and businesses," he said. "It's about public space being turned into private space."

While Atlantic Yards was billed as stemming gentrification, he said, "this arena is a gentrifying machine," he said, as landlords raise commercial rents to get higher returns.



Occupy Wall Street's Guitarmy

A performer in Occupy Wall Street's Guitarmy, introduced as Matthew, went up to the mike.

"Our entire movement is based on social justice and fighting the forces of income inequality," said Matthew, citing not only Forest City Ratner, but also Barclays. "It's a damn shame they're here in Brooklyn," he said, adding they should be in a courtroom, not a basketball court.



The press release (from DDDB):
On the day of the opening of Barclays Center, a coalition of community organizations today joined in a protest of Atlantic Yards' failure to deliver on the promises of local jobs and affordable housing used to win approval for the $5 billion project, and called on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State of New York to present a new plan for the site that prioritizes public benefits over the development of luxury housing.

BrooklynSpeaks, Brown Community Development Corporation, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) and the Fifth Avenue Committee were joined by numerous civic groups and block associations in demanding that the State:
  • Conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS), as ordered by the State Supreme Court, that is a timely, transparent, truly impartial study of alternatives to the current Atlantic Yards plan, and which includes meaningful measures to mitigate the project's negative impacts.
  • Adopt a new plan that prioritizes the creation of housing affordable to working families in Brooklyn.
  • Bring in other developers to reduce project risk, create more living wage jobs, and accelerate delivery of public benefits.
  • Reform project oversight to represent the people of Brooklyn in decision-making on a continuing basis so that Atlantic Yards' promises to the public are kept.
  • Change State regulations under which development projects are approved to ensure local communities are guaranteed input—and local elected officials are guaranteed a vote—before public subsidies are granted.
At close, Occupy Guitarmy sings "Which Side Are You On?"

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