Skip to main content

Next City's long look at the Atlantic Yards CBA: "Brooklyn Dropped the Ball" (but that's not the half of it)

The online publication Next City yesterday published a long article (subscription-only) on the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), headlined Selling Low, Building High: How Brooklyn Dropped the Ball on the Biggest Negotiation of Its Life.

There's some useful stuff--CBA Chair Delia Hunley Adossa won't talk, nor will her sidekick Charlene Nimmons. And the piece pronounces:
Seven years after the Brooklyn document was signed, five of the groups have been mostly silent or reconstituted after without much fanfare.
But it still falls short.

My comment

Here's the comment I posted:
It's good that Next City has tried to provide a broad look at the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).
But even the moderately skeptical tone of the article doesn't address the drama and mendacity behind the CBA--or recognize the consistent criticisms of the CBA that came in real time (from groups like Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and my Atlantic Yards Report coverage) as the project unfolded.
Particularly missing is a recognition of how developer Forest City Ratner orchestrated it all--so much so that, in a dismayingly misguided front-page article in October 2005, a New York Times reporter would declare that the developer had conjured up a "modern blueprint" to nourish and harvest community support.
Note that despite regular promotional statements claiming "community commitments" were "guaranteed by a legally binding Community Benefits Agreement," the CBA presents the targets as aspirational:
Why not ask Forest City how much the developer paid all the signatories?
Or point out that, when Forest City was trying to suggest the CBA was legitimate, it claimed--only to rescind it after protest--that the appointed Community Boards participated in "crafting" the CBA:
Even the subtitle--"How Brooklyn Dropped the Ball..." sets up a false frame: "Brooklyn" never had a chance to negotiate anything. The whole point of the CBA was to set up a facade of community support while the project evaded the existing--if problematic--land use process, involving advisory votes by the local community boards and a vote by (and debate in) the City Council.
As I commented last November on Next City, Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York in 2005 told the City Council, before the CBA was signed, that this CBA--which featured only groups that already supported the project--had significant differences with more legitimate CBAs negotiated in Los Angeles:
While Next City does mention "indicators" that the Atlantic Yards CBA "will yield a different result" than the pioneering Staples CBA, some crucial detail is missing. Not only  was the coalition in Los Angeles larger, it involved the City Council as signatory, thus ensuring more oversight, and addressed some yet unresolved issues regarding Atlantic Yards debate, such as residential parking permits, an issue (still) important to the arena's immediate neighbors (mostly middle- and upper-class) but less important to the CBA signatories (mostly working- and middle-class, living farther away).
Or take the glancing mention of the "potential for... possibly a long-promised compliance monitor." That obscures the fact that, when the CBA was signed, backers like Bertha Lewis cited the Independent Compliance Monitor, funded by Forest City Ratner, to oversee implementation. Forest City has remained unaccountable, offering weak explanations and then no explanations for its unwillingness to hire that monitor:
Or consider that the "eight community-based groups" were not so "community-based." Only two (or three) were operational in their stated capacities before Atlantic Yards was unveiled in December 2003. As CBA experts have steadily said during the debate over Atlantic Yards, it's a conflict of interest for signatories to take money from the developer that signed the agreement:
It's not merely that, "In many cases, the [CBA signatories] gave institutional blessing in exchange for operating funds." That also meant vigorous public backing for Forest City's plan at rallies and meetings, not any contribution to shaping the content of public comments. Consider Delia Hunley- Adossa's MCing of a pro-project rally, steered by Forest City executives, and her description of the environmental commitments her group presumably negotiated: "blah blah blah":
There are even more reason to be skeptical of those CBA signatories cited in this article. Consider how Hunley-Adossa publicly understated her compensation from Forest City Ratner by more than 100%
Or that Charlene Nimmons, who once claimed incredibly that new residents in Prospect Heights were "the real land grabbers, because they took the [already vacant] property first and turned back what was jobs into condos," was cited just this month by Forest City as playing a particular role in monitoring "us on a regular basis."
Or that James Caldwell, though a nice fellow, had no background in job training when he was tapped to head BUILD, and most notably rallied for the project by declaring, more than once, that Bruce Ratner was "like an angel sent from God. 
Or that the Rev. Herbert Daughtry was noted for 1) describing Bruce Ratner (in the developer's publication," aka fake newspaper, the Brooklyn Standard) as having a "customary, humble, winsome manner" and 2) heckling regularly at the one state oversight hearing held regarding the project:
And that the health programs are shunted off to the future and the "meditation room" is pretty much a chair storage area:
By the way, Jay-Z tickets were distributed to community organizations. But the eight CBA signatories each got a suite, one for each of the eight nights of concerts. Only Bertha Lewis's organization auctioned it off: http://atlanticyardsreport.blo...
Note that Joe Coello has as a partner in his company Roger Green, the former Assemblyman who was a major architect of the CBA:
As for Bertha Lewis of ACORN, consider that her training is in theater. Yes, ACORN "was used to getting funds from various sources," but Forest City Ratner *bailed out* ACORN after its institutional funding dried up (because of an internal scandal, not the hyped fake-pimp scam). That's how key ACORN was to Forest City's project, and why ACORN, when it declared bankruptcy, was had the developer as its biggest creditor.
Consider Lewis's rhetoric at two occasions in 2009:
http://atlanticyardsreport.blo..."Bruce Ratner's never wavered," she said. "I never look for anybody else to ensure these guarantees. We look directly to the developer to ensure the guarantees."
http://atlanticyardsreport.blo..."You want to know who’s gonna make sure that the housing is affordable?” she asked. “We will. We’re not going to make sure that some politician takes care of us,” she stated. “We’re not going to stand by and try to have some agency take care of us. ACORN will take care of us.” 
"[W]e would have fought to make this project come about the way we said," Lewis says in this article. In reality, the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding was supposed to set aside 50% of the subsidized units, in terms of floor area, for family-sized units, containing two or three bedrooms. 
The first tower doesn't come close, as I reported, and the small number of two-bedroom units are skewed toward middle-class households, "affordable" but far from ACORN's constituency. Did Lewis raise any criticism? No, she blamed project opponents:
A couple of more factoids to consider:
--Ratner's seeming generosity in finding an initial place for Kassoum Fofana relied on public funds; city taxpayers reimbursed Forest City $131 million for land
--another lens for viewing the artisanal mayonnaise shop: it's half a block from the southeast corner of the "blighted" Atlantic Yards site; do blight and artisanal mayonnaise (as well as cappuccino) really coexist, or does it look like state eminent domain laws allow a rather loose definition of blight?
I also commented:
At a June 2005 ceremony, as captured in the documentary Battle for Brooklyn, Mayor Mike Bloomberg imperiously dismissed questions about promised housing and jobs in the CBA: “I would add something else that’s even more important. You have Bruce Ratner’s word, and that should be enough."
Four years later, Bloomberg changed his tune. “I’m violently opposed to Community Benefits Agreements,” Bloomberg told The Brooklyn Paper in August 2009. “A small group of people, to feather their own nests, extort money from the developer? That’s just not good government.”
As it happens, Forest City got very good value for its investment, especially since the only organizations that can enforce the CBA are financially dependent on the developer--and that pesky Independent Compliance Monitor was never hired.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in January 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won't be so cheap.

As …

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…