Friday, February 26, 2016

Elusive accountability: site access for monitors; incorrect public notice; construction worker IDs; no community hotline

The big news at Wednesday night's Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting concerned developer Greenland Forest City Partners' plans for two huge office towers.

It touched on several other issues, including safety at Times Plaza, a perpetually out-of-service escalator at the arena plaza, a dangerous intersection at Vanderbilt Avenue and Dean Street, and mold issues at the B2 modular site.

But an underlying theme, popping up several times, relates to accountability and the inability to get it from the developer and the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project, Empire State Development (ESD).

Though there are some signs of progress, success remains elusive, as noted for example in this Instagram post after the meeting.

A contract renewal

Early in the meeting, Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association brought up the ESD board's vote last week to renew a contract with its owner's rep on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, a company called STV. (The owner's rep monitors project progress and safety, among other things.)

The meeting agenda was posted after the 5 pm deadline to RSVP, Krashes pointed out. "I had no idea until after the fact that I could have gone and spoken to the board," he said. "You took an opportunity for me to come and speak to the board away."

He asked moderator Tobi Jaiyesimi--executive director of the ESD's advisory subsidiary, Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC)--if the contract had been brought to the attention of the AY CDC board.

"It was not," Jaiyesimi responded. "I will make note of your comments."

While I considered the issue routine--ESD regularly renews contracts with long-serving consultants, based on the premise that they already have momentum--Krashes pointed out that the AY CDC is charged with evaluating the effectiveness of monitoring.

"I think you should nullify it, and give me the opportunity to address it with the AY CDC board and the ESD board," Krashes said.

"I appreciate your comment," Jaiyesimi said, "and follow up accordingly." She noted that it was the third contract extension for STV.

"It's the first time since the AY CDC board exists," Krashes said.

What about minutes?

Krashes noted discussion at the last AY CDC board meeting about taking minutes at the Community Update meetings to keep a record, so issues that could be addressed the next day. "Many of us feel ESDC is not transparent enough," he said.

"I have heard you," Jaiyesimi said, trying to move the meeting along. She said she and ESD project manager Sam Filler would communicate the information to the AY CDC board, and other staffers at the meeting also would take in the information.

"You're kicking the can down the road," Krashes said, "and before we know it, the project's complete."

"I appreciate your comment," she responded.

Who's on the project site?

Filler, responding to a question lingering from the previous Community Update meeting, said that STV has two full-time staff members at the site, while HDR, which reviews environmental impacts, has four full-time staffers at the site. (He called STV "our on-site construction manager.")

ESD staffer Greg Lynch is at the site full-time, while Community Relations official Nicole Jordan is there two days a week, he said. That's "more than any other project in the state," Filler said. "We feel it's very well monitored." 

If construction ramps up, he said, more staff could be added.

What about the app?

Filler also disclosed that a long-planned app to track community impacts in one place--due last year--remains delayed. "We're still working on that," he said, adding that it would be tied into an ongoing revamp of the ESD web site, for which there's no specific timetable.

"We're going to have a complete relaunch... later this year, and the app is tied into that," he said.

"That's disappointing, because I think having that record of incidents would go a long way" toward relieving community concern, said Gib Veconi, who's said the Atlantic Yards Watch site he manages can't be integrate all reports (including 911) or mobile ones. "Is there any way that can be revived and integrated with the ESDC website later"

"We can take a look at it," Filler said.

Where can STV go?

Krashes pressed Filler on whether STV employees could enter into construction sites managed by contractors like Plaza Construction or Tishman.

"They are able to see all aspects," Filler responded. "They are allowed to see all aspects."

"Are they allowed into the site?"

Filler said the STV rep "goes down" into the railyard.

Krashes pressed him on whether they could go into sites for towers, like B11, aka 550 Vanderbilt.

"They request permission and they are given access," responded Filler. That implies some level of control from the construction end.

What's been fixed?


Resident Steve Ettlinger asked Lynch for examples of things found problematic. Filler interjected to note that Lynch, who does not have access to the project site, is responsible for monitoring things outside the walls.

"Everything's reported back to Nicole [Jordan]," responded Lynch, speaking for the first time in the year he's had the job. He cited things like smoke, trucks coming in without flaggers, and trucks idling. "They're sent to Nicole, and Nicole takes it from there."

He said, in response to a follow up question, that issues can be handled in real time.
Krashes was skeptical, given that Jordan has multiple projects to work on. "How does her schedule work?"

"She gets back to me, as soon as I send it to her," Lynch said. 

Filler ended the colloquy. Krashes asked for a meeting on the issue. 

"We'll take it into consideration," Filler said.

No lights on cranes?

Wayne Bailey, president of the 78th Precinct Community Council, cited concerns brought up at Community Council meetings about cranes for the project not having blinking lights, and not being lowered during times of high winds.

"My strong hunch and hope is that these are abiding by all regulations," responded Forest City Ratner External Affairs Senior VP Ashley Cotton, who said she'd been informed of the issue after the previous night's Community Council meeting. "We'll double check that and report back to you."

Incorrect notices

Krashes noted that community notices regarding closing Sixth Avenue was incorrect.

"We know what you're talking about," Cotton responded, saying there were times when the sidewalk was closed, and then was open. "We'll word it better next time."

"The sidewalk looked like it had been closed all day, in terms of equipment," Krashes responded.

"In terms of Vanderbilt Avenue, it described a closure that was a block longer than what you sent out," Krashes said, noting that the developer only announced it by email rather than flyering the neighborhood.



Cotton said she hoped he'd share her contact info with concerned businesses."If the wording was not quite right, we will do better next time," she said, noting, "You're right, we do usually flyer."

Stickers for construction workers

"Last time we got together, we heard shocking and horrible examples of harassment related to construction workers," Cotton said, regarding complaints by a resident likening the neighborhood to a "shark tank" and citing a specific incident of groping by arenagoers.

She said that the 1,700 construction workers on site would get color-coded identification stickers that would associate them with a specific construction site. (It wasn't clear if the stickers would have their names.)

Regarding complaints about workers eating lunch and smoking on neighborhood stoops, she said, "If every stoop issue was solved, I would announce it... we need to fix that." She said they were "trying to create space on our site where people can eat lunch" and the ID stickers would help.

She did not have a date for the program, however, though she said it was soon.

She said Captain Frank DiGiacomo, commanding officer of the 78th Precinct, "called the entire construction team into the precinct, to hear how much disruption can be caused by workers just smoking on the corners."

"Obviously, drug use, public urination are illegal," she said. "Call 911, call me, call my team... we take it very seriously.... We are trying our best... I can't arrest people, but we can fire people." A little later she said, without elaboration, "Frankly, we had a staffing change at one building."

What's the hotline?

Is there a hotline?

Cotton cited the Community Liaison Office, staffed by Forest City's Roberta Fearon: 866-923-5315

"How often is it staffed?"

"It rings at my desk," Fearon said.

What about at night?

"We don't have overnight workers," Cotton said, recommending 911 if illegal actions are spotted.

Krashes, who praised the idea of an identification badge, cited the ongoing issue of accountability: "With all deference to the Community Liaison... the Community Liaison is not responsible for maintaining the site, understanding the site, being the point person responsible. for maintaining the security."

He said residents have that security personnel come to public meetings. "It is one issue, ultimately, he said. "There should be somebody the community knows."

"You guys know what I'm going to say: me," responded Cotton, whose job is to manage external affairs, including liaison with various stakeholders, not to manage the site. "I am so entrenched." She offered but did not announce her cell phone number.

And that's where it ended.

The next day Krashes posted this:

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