Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Diminished in transmission: how Atlantic Yards concerns (harassment, lack of meeting notice) were downplayed to oversight body

I'll have multiple articles covering issues raised at the March 15 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting.

Can the members of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), set up to monitor the project, truly trust the staff of Empire State Development, which is the parent organization, to brief them adequately about issues related to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park?

Two examples suggested how issues get downplayed when transmitted to the board.

A single construction worker as harasser?

"In December 2015, Forest City and NYPD were notified of a resident that was sexually harassed by a construction worker," reported ESD Community Relations Director Nicole Jordan at the meeting. "Greenland Forest City and ESD took immediate action by meeting with the resident. Greenland Forest City worked with NYPD as well to address the incident."

In response, at the February 2015 Community Update meeting, she reported, Greenland Forest City presented to the community a plan, still in the works, to readily identify project related construction workers with color-coded ID badges.
Click to enlarge

But saying that a resident was "sexually harassed by a construction worker" was drastically selling the issue short. As I reported from the December Community Update meeting, the Dean Street resident in a letter (right) characterized it "like being in a shark tank just to walk down your own street," given the daily gauntlet she runs.

And then she was victimized by sexual misconduct, if not sexual assault, when three drunk men leaving a Barclays Center boxing match accosted her, hugging her and proceeding "to dry hump" her.

None of that came out last night; if it had, perhaps there would have been even more urgency regarding progress on this issue, and more outrage from the board.

Instead, the board heard from Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton. "Bottom line, I am frustrated as everybody is with construction workers in the wrong place or behaving badly," she said. "So I would like to know when they are are my construction  workers, or not. Number two, it adds a level of scrutiny to somebody, if they’re wearing a badge or label. so maybe they'll think twice if they're doing the wrong behavior."

That would help, but it doesn't address fan behavior, which is a concern not just regarding boxing events but other rowdier events, including hockey, wrestling, and (I suspect) mixed martial arts, which seems on its way to legalization in New York State.

The stealth renewal of a contract

AY CDC President Marion Phillips III, who's also an ESD staffer, briskly described how the parent ESD board last month renewed the contract of STV, which serves as the agency's owner's representative on the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site, for two years. 

It wasn't brought to the AY CDC board--which last met in October, actually--because "it's really an administrative function," Phillips said, noting that "they are one of the leaders in the industry."

Later, however, board member Jaime Stein suggested that the brief mention of the STV contract in the meeting notes from last month's Community Update meeting omitted some crucial context, which she learned by attending that meeting.

"The outline format" of the notes presented to board members "makes it difficult for someone not at the meeting to fully understand the points that are being raised," said Stein, who teaches at Pratt. "This was raised by a community member who was concerned that the [ESD board] agenda was released too late for the community to be able to make arrangements to attend... That community member also asked why this board was not informed."

As I reported last month, resident Peter Krashes said that, because the meeting agenda was posted after the 5 pm cutoff the day before to RSVP for the meeting, "I had no idea until after the fact that I could have gone and spoken to the board. You took an opportunity for me to come and speak to the board away."

While I considered the contract issue routine, Krashes pointed out, not unreasonably, that the AY CDC is charged with evaluating the effectiveness of monitoring and this would have been the first time the new body could address the issue. "I think you should nullify it, and give me the opportunity to address it with the AY CDC board and the ESD board," he said.

Getting real minutes?

Stein then requested "actual meeting minutes" from the Community Update meetings to help understand the context, "because the hope is then we can follow up on the concerns that were being raised."

She didn't get an answer, but the ESD does not seem ready to get minutes. The issue came up at the previous AY CDC meeting, last October.

"Why can't we just get a transcript, or the minutes of what occurred?" asked board member Bertha Lewis (who was not at yesterday's meeting). "Is someone recording this like we have this recorder [transcriptionist and video feed] here? Wouldn't it better if we could actually get what is said?"

"We don’t transcript that meeting, we don’t record that meeting," Phillips responded. "One, it's not really a state meeting, it's a developer meeting, the state is partnering--"

Lewis interjected, as if suggesting Greenland Forest City would cooperate: "The developer wouldn't have any—"

Cotton, from the audience, intervened: "--I’m not going to volunteer to do that."

"That would solve a lot of problems with this basic issue," Lewis continued. "Then you'd actually have documentation."

"It's definitely a reasonable request to have some sort of summary about comments and what was requested," said ESD EVP, Real Estate Development & Public/Private Partnership Joe Chan at the time, suggesting that producing minutes is a lengthy process.

It isn't simple, by any means. But the summaries presented yesterday had some obvious flaws, though only to those following the project closely enough to know.

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