At tonight's Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting, expect a discussion of how well Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project, tracks incursions on the neighborhood from construction or arena operations.
At the 4/13/16 Community Update meeting, where responses to harassment dominated discussion, there was a frustrated set of exchanges regarding that issue. And at last month's Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting, that issue recurred--along with a meta-discussion about how well the minutes of the Community Update meeting were conveyed to the AY CDC directors.
At the April Community Update
After ESD's Community Affairs officer Nicole Jordan explained that incidents posted on Atlantic Yards Watch were immediately forwarded to her, Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association noted that many incidents he knew of were not listed in a state log shared with the AY CDC, the gubernatorially-controlled advisory board set up in 2014.
If "the board is only being told about a part of the concerns, then you guys have dropped the ball," Krashes said, adding that the log contained no complaints posted to the city's 311 portal nor the many more than 100 Instagram posts (tagged #BCIZA, for Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance) documenting impacts.
"You guys have a responsibility to try at least to be complete," Krashes said. "You’re never going to be perfect, but it's really inadequate, it's offensively inadequate."
Photo forwarded by a neighbor. Con Ed work blocks the sidewalk on 6th Avenue while s family walks around. The sidewalk on the other side of the street has been closed for more more than a year for reasons it is hard to figure. #PacificParkbk #BCIZA @nyc_dot @atlanticyards_pacificpk_report @nycmayorsoffice @EmpireStateDev @nypd78thpcc @hdr_inc @STVGroup
After another resident reinforced that all incidents should be reported, ESD Senior VP (and AY CDC President) Marion Phillips III said "you make some very good points." He said they'd aim to work better with 311 and would be "more than happy to look at all complaints."
A new avenue?
"The concern and indignation and outrage that’s been voiced about some of these incidents is totally understandable," said Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), which as a member of the coalition BrooklynSpeaks brokered the agreement that got an earlier timetable (with a 2025 deadline, after an extension to 2035) for the project and also the advisory AY CDC, which was less than the oversight body once sought.
" I just would like everybody to respectfully ask to please be recognized by somebody in the front of the room, or we--"
"--But we don't get answers, so we need a long meeting," interrupted resident Wayne Bailey, a frequent poster on Instagram, and formerly on Atlantic Yards Watch (AYW), which was set up by a consortium including PHNDC. (Several people find Instagram easier/faster to use, and without any gatekeeper. The Dean Street Block Association left PHNDC in 2014, citing concerns about inadequate oversight.)
"I’m very sensitive to these issues, I run a web site called Atlantic Yards Watch," Veconi said, as Krashes, another former frequent poster on AYW, looked somewhat exasperated, "and I’m very very sensitive to what’s going on. We do have a lot of material to get through tonight."
"I'm not able to give detailed updates about the app, but it is on the front burner," said Tobi Jaiyesimi, the AY CDC Executive Director who now also is ESD's point person on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. She acknowledged that "there seems to have been a long lag...I can assure you that it will be done to the highest standard and done to meet the need within the confines of what we have available to us."
"I hear your concerns, and I appreciate you making a statement," Jaiyesimi replied bureaucratically.
Krashes emphasized--and Jaiyesimi acknowledged--the community request for transparency and openness regarding the new database, so the public can comment. "We need to get beyond what I think is a dysfunctional relationship between community and oversight," he said. "It's great to aggregate all the complaints, but that puts responsibility on the community to identify problems and pass them forward... we're tired of that…. We shouldn’t be finding as many as we do."
He noted that the developers used to have security vehicles that circle the site, and asked why there aren't any more. Cotton said she didn't know. "It would be extremely effective, to have that, combined with a head of security who comes to these meetings and deals with the community directly," he said.
Several incidents, noted director Barika Williams, regard the area around the Barclays Center. "How are we thinking about how we communicate with Barclays?" she asked.
Jordan said parking is the New York Police Department's jurisdiction, so "they do not expect me to do anything additional." She noted that she communicated with the arena liaison.
That of course leaves a gap, since it's in the arena's interest to have free street parking for patrons, as well as places for limos and black cars to idle, often illegally. The NYPD understandably prioritizes crime-fighting, so it's an issue that, I believe, the mayor's office can resolve.
AY CDC member Julene Beckford, an ESD lawyer, said she thought the notes from the Community Update meeting were "really helpful."
By contrast, director Jaime Stein, whose candidacy was pushed by the Dean Street Block Association, said she'd been to the meeting and thought some details were missing. She noted that some directors had asked for meeting minutes, and that community members have asked that the meetings be videotaped (which has been banned).
Director Liz Harris, Assistant Secretary for Agriculture and Markets to the Governor, said she'd been to the meeting and thought the minutes "were pretty comprehensive," and thus challenged Stein to clarify.
Stein noted that it had not been made clear that sexual harassment concerns were related both to construction workers and arena operations. She said she had given some feedback to Jaiyesimi, and also asked the woman who'd gone public regarding sexual harassment to speak, which she did.
New board member Daniel Kummer noted a letter from project neighbors to the AY CDC about accountability, and suggested that a smaller group focus on the issue. He urged all to come up with a solution that's "realistic... and proportional to the problem."
Krashes noted the challenges of getting reports about long-past incidents. "We'd like somebody who’s actually managing the project from the state, who’s present, and can manage issues when they occur...instead there are quarterly reports."
He noted that the ESD's environmental monitor, HDR, logs violations of a Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC) agreed to by the developer and the state, but many complaints are violations of city regulations. "The MEC is a contract between developer and the state," he said. "It doesn’t actually describe the impact of construction on the community."