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"It's a Crime!" New web site targets Atlantic Yards failures, announces vigil, protests geared to arena opening weekend

A new web site, Atlantic Yards Crime Scene, has appeared, targeting secret deals, crony capitalism, and the failure to deliver "a plan that puts families, communities, and the public first." (Yes, this is part of the Culture of Cheating.)

The four sponsors--Brown Community Development Corporation, BrooklynSpeaks, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE)--also announce a series of protest actions during the opening weekend for the Barclays Center, not specifically targeting the arena.
  • 9/27, 7PM: Candlelight vigil @ Barclays Center
  • 9/28, 11AM: Press conference @ Barclays Center
  • 9/28, 12PM - 4PM: Popup actions @ Barclays Center
  • 9/28, 5PM: Virtual rally—tweet #BarclaysCenter and @AYCrimeScene for housing and jobs now
  • 9/28, 8PM: Free outdoor screening of Battle For Brooklyn @ Dean Playground (Dean St. between 6th Ave. and Carlton Ave.)
  • 9/29, 4PM: FUREE March for Housing, Jobs and Justice @ Bridge St. and Willoughby St. (this march to Barclays Center concludes FUREE’s 10th Annual Convention @ 80 Willoughby St. 12PM-4PM)
The web site will be updated, and there's an @AYCrimeScene Twitter account.

The sponsors

The four groups come at Atlantic Yards from somewhat different, though converging perspectives: DDDB led the opposition to the project, while BrooklynSpeaks pushed for reforms, ultimately filing a lawsuit, as did DDDB, successfully challenging the 2009 re-approval of the project.

FUREE, concentrated in the housing projects of Fort Greene, has been focused on the Downtown Brooklyn plan, while Clinton Hill-based Brown CDC, affiliated with Brown Memorial Baptist Church, represents a community with mixed feelings about Atlantic Yards but increasing dismay about the results.

Is it a crime?

Atlantic Yards, to be precise, is not a crime. (I'd call it part of the "culture of cheating.")

There has been a finding of civil illegality, which is significant: the state approved a plan that was supposed to take ten years to build, but agreed to a contract with Forest City Ratner that gave the developer 25 years--and the state failed to study the community impacts of a 25-year buildout.

That sounds complicated but here's what's key: judges almost never rule in favor of such challenges, since the state agency merely has to have a "rational basis"--some minimal reason--for its decision.

Gib Veconi, a leader of the BrooklynSpeaks, called the term "crime scene" a "rhetorical statement."

"We're not claiming anyone has judged a crime has been committed. what we're saying is the fact that there's been such a failure of government, across the board, to hold this project accountable, is a gross, gross disservice, bordering on malfeasance," he said.

"We're directing a message to an audience who don't necessarily have a great familiarity with the project," he said, citing a sequence that includes project approval and renegotiation--"and people start shaking their heads... when we say it's a crime, that's the reaction you often experience when you start telling the story... I think there's a sense of outrage when people learn the details."

What they want

"Make Atlantic Yards deliver on promised housing and jobs NOW!" states the web site, referring to the public benefits promised in trade for the benefits to the developer, including zoning overrides, subsidies, the power of eminent domain--and the removal of blight.

Such a request can be dicey, since it could be seen as a goad to city and state officials to provide Forest City Ratner with extra subsidies it seeks, as with the first housing tower, as I reported, while providing subsidized apartments costing $2,700 a month.

"That's why we talked about families need of real affordable housing, at or below median income," Veconi said. "When you hear 2,250 units of affordable housing, the vision is 2000 families being able to stay located in Brooklyn living in affordable housing, you're not thinking about a family whose income is in excess of six figures and you're certainly not thinking about studio apartments. you can't claim you're delivering it by putting in nine units for low-income families in first building."

BrooklynSpeaks has led the call for increased oversight, including a new entity to oversee the project. That's not part of the initial web site, but Veconi said "that's a theme you can expect to hear."He noted "that it took action by state court to find renegotiated agreement was illegal.... We're asking for a new plan for the project... I do not know if Forest City is capable of finishing this, but if they're not, state has obligation to find somebody who is."

He reiterated that the protests are not aimed at the arena itself. Delivering an arena only, he said, "is not what the public was told... and somebody's responsible for delivering on those promises, and that's our government."