Monday, February 16, 2015

Following up on Atlantic Yards CDC: the plaza defense; ESD misspoke; ventilating a dispute about board conflicts

The first meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), a subsidiary of Empire State Development (ESD) set up to monitor the delivery of benefits and the impacts of the project, was held 1/30/15, and my coverage deserves a few updates.

First, about a week later, ESD released both the brief PowerPoint presentation (bottom) produced by Greenland Forest City Partners, with a tentative project timetable and previously released renderings of three towers (bottom), as well as a single graphic of the site map and timetable.

Note that all building start/finish times are tentative, which means that the coverage (in NetsDaily and especially Curbed) suggesting the Barclays Center might lose its entrance plaza by 2016 deserved caveats.

But comments in the defense of the plaza, as a key to the arena's functioning, suggests that if/when Greenland Forest City does build that tower, there will be a backlash.

It also sets up a situation in which the developer--I speculate--might ask the city/state for a trade: maintain the plaza in exchange for equally valuable development rights somewhere else.

Note: I reproduced a truncated version of this map last week by scanning it. The hard copy document was given out to the AY CDC members, not others at the meeting, but I asked for and got a copy from an ESD staffer.

As I exited the meeting, I asked Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton if they expected to post a web version of the document, so I could be assured of a clean copy. She responded that I wasn't supposed to have the document, and asked for it back. I refrained.

After all, the document had been projected on screen, and anyone could have taken a photo, or a screenshot from the webcast of the meeting.

As we were exiting, Marion Phillips III, president of the AY CDC, confirmed that all documents delivered at the meeting were public, and the agency would post them.

ESD hands-off?

At the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting last Tuesday, I reported that resident Peter Krashes challenged Phillips on whether ESD had [updated: released and] reviewed the scope of work for the developer's environmental monitor. Phillips said no, though the agency's own document said they should have done so.

I concluded that meant the state authority was backing off its role in overseeing the project's environmental impact. At the end of the Friday, ESD told me that that the agency did review the scope of work for the monitor, and Phillips misspoke. 

That may reassure those who thought the agency had lapsed. Then again, it's not completely reassuring to know that Phillips--who does have numerous other responsibilities--wasn't fully up to speed on Atlantic Yards, or that it took more than two business days to revise his statement.

Update and correction from Krashes: "No, I asked for them to release the scope of work because I assumed they had reviewed it. My request stands."

The Brooklyn Paper coverage and conflict of interest

I posted critical comments about the the Brooklyn Paper's secondhand coverage, Many familiar faces in Yards watchdog group.

But the print article was tougher, simply because the headline, "New Atlantic Yards watchdogs on the job," was followed by the subheading, "But oversight body includes Forest City Ratner allies, and can't enforce rules."

I commented that the article nearly suggested but didn't quite establish that the board faces questions about conflicts of interest, given the role of two partners in the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement. (The print subheading did so.) I also pointed to the role of two state officials.

And I suggested that it was unwise to rely on Gib Veconi, a main negotiator of the agreement that led to the CDC and a new timetable for affordable housing, as the most significant source. (Sure, he's a legitimate source.)

Veconi took issue with my criticism, calling it an ad hominem argument. I suggested it wasn't a stretch "to suggest that the negotiators of the settlement want to portray it in the best possible light."

A dispute about the board

Others piled on, with one commenter suggesting, unfairly, that Veconi was a shill for ESDC. After all, as he pointed out, was "an organizer of the lawsuit that overturned ESDC's approval of the 2009 MGPP." Veconi added, in response to my criticisms:
I also helped draft legislation on which AYCDC was modeled, so I understand that every State agency has State employees on its board. Their presence on the AYCDC board does not indicate an unintended outcome detrimental to the community.
With respect to questioning the CBA representatives on the AYCDC board, we all can surely acknowledge that the contention among community stakeholders over the history of the Atlantic Yards has cost us tremendously in terms of influence over the course of the project. To exclude a stakeholder group from this new platform would torpedo its effectiveness before it ever gets off the ground.
My response:
Yes, other state subsidiaries have state employees on their boards. This *seems* a little different, because the AY CDC board is not decision-making but rather advisory. I'm not sure of the precedent in which board members advise themselves.
The overall context is a history of distrust regarding Empire State Development and its oversight of Atlantic Yards. Does the presence of ESD board members on the AY CDC tamp down or add to the distrust?
Same goes for members of the Atlantic Yards CBA. Yes, it's worth finding a way to incorporate the views of all stakeholders. However, the board is not exactly balanced. There's no equivalent or counterweight on the board, such as someone long involved in project opposition or criticism. And if it seems wrong to include one of them, then why include CBA members?
Maybe this is why the state resisted releasing the names of the board members before the meeting.
As another commenter suggested, why not appoint attorney Norman Siegel, a noted public watchdog and a former attorney for project opponents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, to the board.

The presence of CBA representatives tilts the board. As I wrote, it would be understandable to have a spectrum of people, including potentially CBA signatories like Sharon Daughtry and Bertha Lewis, in the Stakeholder Council originally contemplated as informing a new governance structure. But that's not the same as the membership of the subsidiary assigned to monitor the project. 

And while "the contention among community stakeholders" may have diminished public influence, as Veconi put it, that also should be seen in the context of Forest City Ratner recruiting and even creating organizations to serve as partners and thus surrogates for the public. The CBA signatories already have a line to the developer and thus some impact on the project.

1 comment:

  1. For anyone who thinks the AYCDC is going to do anything to protect the community's interests, I've got a rail yard to sell you.