Skip to main content

Revealed: AY CDC board members include two CBA partners (conflict?); new director has local experience (but not in real estate)

Also see coverage of the AY CDC meeting and the plans and prospects for the B1 tower at the arena plaza.

Only when entering the long-delayed inaugural meeting Friday were the board members, officers, and executive director of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation revealed, in board documents.

Even if the delay was partly because of the time to name people--one of nine gubernatorial appointments remains unfulfilled--it was not exactly a transparent process.

I have to think one reason was to avoid pushback over the appointment of two clear project boosters--Bertha Lewis and Sharon Daughtry, two Forest City Ratner Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) partners--in this advisory/oversight role, which seems to strain if not violate conflict of interest provisions.

Another might be to avoid mention of the appointment of an AY CDC executive director who does not have--as purportedly required--experience overseeing real estate development projects.

(The AY CDC officers are all staffers at Empire State Development, the state agency of which the AY CDC is a subsidiary, including Marion Phillips III, president, and Joe Chan, vice-president. Chan is also on the board. The body was established to add some measure of accountability as part of a settlement of a potential lawsuit that led to a new timetable of 2025 for the affordable housing.)

At left center, in tie; Marion Phillips III, president of AY CDC. To his left are ESD staffers Robin Stout and Sam Filler. To Filler's left is Tobi Jaiyesimi. At near side of table, backs to camera are Kieran Harrington, Tamara McCaw, Bertha Lewis
In general, while most of the appointees live in Brooklyn, and most live or work relatively close to the project site, few have been deeply involved in Atlantic Yards issues, and it's an open question as to how closely they will pay attention. Only three board members asked questions during Friday's meeting.

While there was no counterbalancing appointment of a board member with a clearly critical eye on Atlantic Yards, Mayor Bill de Blasio, to the surprise of some, assigned his one appointment to a nominee pushed by the project's nearest neighbors, the Dean Street Block Association: Jaime Stein, a Pratt Institute academic with experience in working with government agencies and monitoring projects.

The board appointees

The gubernatorial appointees (with one still to come) include:
  • Kenneth Adams, ESD Chairman, who lives in Boerum Hill, is moving to a new state job and presumably will be replaced by his successor, Buffalo developer Howard Zemsky
  • Julene Beckford, a former (?) attorney for the City Council, who recently became a mom and was not present at the meeting
  • Liz Harris, state assistant secretary for food and agriculture, lives in Fort Greene
  • Rachel Gold, special counsel and Deputy Commissioner of Labor, former president of DUMBO Neighborhood Association, lives in Carroll Gardens
  • Joseph Chan, ESD executive VP for real estate portfolio and  public-private partnerships, former director of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, lives in Prospect Heights
  • Shawn V. Austin,  senior VP of Liberty Mutual responsible for marketing, lives in Prospect Lefferts Manor (his wife Jennifer Jones Austin co-chaired Mayor de Blasio's transition team)
  • Sharon Daughtry, executive director of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance, which manages the distribution of free tickets to Barclays Center events, as well as a new foundation funded by the developer, among other programs
  • Tamara McCaw, director of governmental and community affairs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), lives in Clinton Hill. Also has been involved in Community Board 2, the Pratt Area Community Council, and the FAB Alliance
Note that BAM was formerly chaired by Bruce Ratner, and the four Cuomo staffers. Not appointed were some recommended nominees including Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee (who negotiated the agreement that led to the governance body), Michael Cairl (a project manager who formerly headed the Park Slope Civic Council, part of BrooklynSpeaks), and Stuart Pertz (an architect who advised BrooklynSpeaks).

The other appointees include:
  • Monsignor Kieran Harrington, Rector of the Co-Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Prospect Heights and Vicar for Communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn (appointee of the Senate President)
  • Barika Williams, deputy director of the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development, a Prospect Heights resident (appointee of the City Council Speaker, presumably at the recommendation of Council Member Laurie Cumbo)
  • Jaime Stein, who chairs Pratt's graduate program in sustainability (mayoral appointee)
  • Linda Reardon, a civil engineer "working in the public realm" on infrastructure issues and Prospect Heights resident (appointed by the Assembly Speaker, presumably at the recommendation of Assemblyman Walter Mosley)
  • Bertha Lewis, president of the Black Institute, a Flatbush resident, a confidant of de Blasio, and CBA signatory as head of New York ACORN (appointed by Borough President Eric Adams)
Only three board members had questions: Lewis asked about board operations, including recruitment of MWBEs; Williams asked Forest City's MaryAnne Gilmartin about the income levels of the affordable units; and Stein asked about getting a log of Quality of Life complaints be forwarded to the board.

The CBA connection, and potential conflicts

The AY CDC's role; click to enlarge
Lewis rather matter-of-factly said she was a member of the project CBA while Daughtry, in a stage announcer voice, declared she was "a proud member of the Community Benefits Agreement signed in 2005. We are partners with Forest City Ratner."

Is that a conflict?

I asked ESD attorney Robin Stout, noting that Daughtry's organization is funded mostly by Forest City Ratner.

(Also, when national ACORN declared bankruptcy, Forest City was its biggest creditor, after Lewis negotiated a bailout that included a grant and a loan.)

"Purely as a hypothetical, if one of the elected officials decided to appoint someone from Forest City Ratner or [new partner] Greenland to the board, I'm not sure that that would constitute a conflict," Stout said. "Certainly they're [the CBA signatories] well removed from that." (Yes, I taped the interview.)

That surprised me, especially after I was reminded that the board is supposed to advise on ways to "improve and expedite developer responsiveness.

I asked about the boundary. "If you have a conflict of interest under the law, it's something that would taint your judgments," he said.

Stout pointed me to the Public Officers Law. It struck me as raising a red flag. Here's an excerpt from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics regarding that law, which includes boards of any public authority corporation, which would encompass AY CDC:
No officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any business or transaction or professional activity or incur any obligation of any nature, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest.
... An officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should not by his conduct give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties
How can representatives of organizations financially dependent on (or partners with) the developer can avoid conflicts? Can they be ameliorated simply by periodic recusals? I have my doubts.

Stout not unreasonably pointed out that "one of the reasons for having a big board is they can focus on different things."

Indeed, it would be understandable to have a spectrum of people, including potentially CBA signatories like Daughtry and Lewis, in the Stakeholder Council originally contemplated as informing a new governance structure. But that's not the same as the membership of the subsidiary assigned to monitor the project. 

The AY CDC director

The AY CDC director is Tobi Jaiyesimi, a former chief of staff for Assemblyman Walter Mosley and a former staffer for his predecessor, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. She has a political science degree from Hunter College (2009) and described herself as a "former graduate student in urban affairs.

As I wrote in November, the promised pay, from $70,000 to $75,000 annually, was approximately the previous salary for the manager of community government relations post, and below the salary for the in-house Project Director.

That made it unlikely they'd find someone with the  required experience of "5+ years as a Project Manager for large real estate development projects working with government entities and private developers. Prior experience with site construction, architectural/design issues, and/or community outreach required."

Phillips explained that the applicants were "either very strong on the community side or on the construction side," but not both. Jaiyesimi offered knowledge of the project and familiarity with elected officials and community interaction, he said.

Was it set up to fall short? Well, a larger salary might have generated candidates who could offer all the purportedly required experience.

It's obviously too soon to assess Jaiyesimi's work, and her experience may serve her well. Still, I'd bet that Forest City Ratner is pleased that the person running the AY CDC is not steeped in real estate and construction issues.

Comments

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…

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 Matzav.com 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…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …