On the last day of 2012, the New York Post reported that Governor Cuomo plans to reorganize the Empire State Development Corporation. An official from the Cuomo administration was quoted describing the agency as “disjointed, dysfunctional — and nobody really is sure on the inside who is responsible for what.’’Stating that "Atlantic Yards’ promises of jobs, affordable housing and open space are now in tatters," BrooklynSpeaks suggests that the project is "the place to judge the credibility of Governor Cuomo’s commitment to reorganize ESDC."
Many who have followed ESDC’s role in the Atlantic Yards project certainly share that assessment. Instead of providing the type of oversight that would ensure the delivery of jobs and affordable housing promised to justify the massive public aid, zoning overrides, and access to eminent domain the project has received, ESDC has allowed itself to be used as a shield by Forest City Ratner behind which the developer avoids both scrutiny of its actions and accountability for its commitments.
Reports that inadequate bolts were used to secure Barclays Center’s rusted metal shell are only the latest example of the agency’s failure to properly oversee the $5 billion project. A July 2012 study by an environmental engineer retained by community organizations found that ESDC let Forest City get away with repeated violations of environmental commitments intended to protect the health and quality of life of project neighbors during construction. And in 2011, a New York State Supreme Court found that the ESDC acted illegally in 2009 when it approved a renegotiated project schedule extending construction from 10 to 25 years—pushing the majority of Atlantic Yards’ purported public benefits more than a generation into the future.
Should the agency (um, authority) revisit the contract Forest City renegotiated in 2009, giving the developer 25 years to build the project, as BrooklynSpeaks suggests? Somehow these renegotiations only happen when the developer asks.
The issue of accountability is a serious and lingering one--BrooklynSpeaks has called for a new governance entity, with local input--but it is not raised in a vacuum. ESDC's Kenneth Adams may be open to some change, though Forest City--which has the ear of the governor--does not.
Until and unless elected officials--and candidates, like, say, would-be Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who last year found such a call expedient--raise the issue, the status quo likely will prevail.
Meanwhile, a new power node is emerging--a proposed Business Improvement District--that would more likely than not mask, rather than enhance, accountability, given the significant role played by developer Forest City Ratner.