Monday, November 18, 2013

Absent among elected officials putting pressure on Atlantic Yards: state Senator and BP-elect Eric Adams, who evades question of delays, backs modular plan

Update: a couple of people have told me Adams was out of the country. I still submit that his comments to NY1 indicate he's not ready to join the effort pressuring Forest City and that he could have been part of the press release had he felt it appropriate.

There was one conspicuous absence last Friday when a broad range of elected officials urged that the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement be revised to require the affordable housing to be built on the originally promoted ten-year schedule before the developer is allowed to sell 70% of the remaining project to the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, and that the ongoing Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement study alternatives to Forest City's plan.

That absence: state Senator and Borough President-elect Eric Adams, who represents a district near the site and, of course, will soon represent the borough.

Those officials present were Assemblymembers James F. Brennan, Joan L. Millman, and Walter T. Mosley; State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; City Council members Letitia James and Stephen Levin, and Council member elect Laurie Cumbo. Those supporting the effort, but sending representatives, were U.S. Representatives Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries and Nydia M. Velázquez; Assemblymembers Karim Camara and Joseph R. Lentol, and Council Member Brad Lander.

Adams at 1/22/12 press conference; photo/ Tracy Collins
I don't know if Adams declined participation, or simply wasn't asked. (I'll update when I know more.)

January 2012 criticism

Either way, it's a strong contrast from the 1/22/12 press conference Adams called, with Jeffries and Camara backing him, urging a new governance structure for the project and expressing outrage at the slow pace.

"One of the major problems we've had historically is that too many people have used taxpayers' dollars to give promises, and did not deliver," Adams said at the time, at a press conference seen as an opportunity for the Senator, seeking higher office, to gain some attention. "This developer has become the poster child of how we will not do business [any more] with taxpayers' dollars."

Since then, the first tower is finally under way, after a series of delays that cannot be attributed to opponents.

But a major gap between Atlantic Yards promises and performance remains, and it's understandable why the elected officials would want to impose new conditions, given the improved economy and Forest City's potential gain from the new investor. "Our state cannot allow FCR to cash out," said Michelle de La Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee last Friday, "before the majority of public benefits are delivered."

For Adams, I suspect, the main difference is that he's now in office, and the Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards may prove to be more constituent--a place for press conferences, as with current Borough President Marty Markowitz--than object of criticism.

Adams faces the question

On NY1's Road to City Hall on 11/15/13, the same day as the elected officials' press conference, host Errol Louis brought up the issue briefly, at 3:27.

"Let's talk about what's going on at the Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards development project," Louis said. "There have been accusations that the affordable housing has been delayed for far too long. Your predecessor, Marty Markowitz, was a big booster of the overall project. Where are you on all of that? What's going to happen next?"

That wasn't the most specific question, and Adams responded evasively to the question and with clear support for the project.

Adams's evasion, and enthusiastic support

"We have to develop the housing, and not only because we need affordable housing--we must build up--but also, we need the jobs," responded Adams, not responding to the issue of delays, or the implied question about imposing new conditions on the developer.

"We need to look at what Bruce Ratner is doing, with his great, really cutting-edge, trying to build up using pre-fab housing, can we do this throughout in the borough of Brooklyn, and can we encourage others to do that as well," Adams continued. 

In other words, he's adopted the not-implausible position that modular housing may be a solution to lowering the cost of union-built construction. 

But at the same time he's looking past, for example, Forest City's failure, in the first tower, to devote 50% of the affordable housing, in floor area, to two- and three-bedroom units, as promised in the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU is incorporated into the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), and Adams is also ignoring Forest City's failure to hire the Independent Compliance Monitor promised in the CBA. Both issues were brought up by elected officials last Friday.

"We can move those factories," Adams continued. "Jobs like that can go to Brownsville, you can actually train young people and those who have unemployment issues, you can train them to actually do the housing that's being done. So I'm encouraging Bruce to continue and move forward, we must do the housing in that area."

So, it sounds like Adams is on a first-name basis with Ratner, and he's got no qualms.

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