Skip to main content

Michael West at AY CDC: "Forest City Ratner cannot act as an exploiter of our communities"

From Devotion NYC
This is among multiple articles covering issues raised at the March 15 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting.

It came near the end of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting, and generated only mild follow-up. But in the board's one year existence, the few community members willing to comment at a daytime meeting have mainly addressed community impacts.

This time, Michael West of the fledgling organization Devotion NYC, came to excoriate Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park developer Forest City Ratner (now part of Greenland Forest City partners) for exploiting Central Brooklyn communities that once supported the project's Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

It's not the first expression of disillusionment by a former supporter, or even the loudest, but it may be the most sustained (though perhaps tamped down if Forest City responds with more information and funds for CBA implementation, though I wouldn't bet on it, given the failure to produce promised data or hired the Independent Compliance Monitor who was supposed to start a decade ago). West has already begun attending community board meetings.

(Previous examples of disillusionment include a 2011 protest led by Martin Allen of P.P.E.E., harsh words in 2012 from former stirring speaker Umar Jordan, and a 2011 lawsuit from former trainees promised union construction careers via a CBA pre-apprenticeship training program, which was quietly settled last year.)

Addressing the board

West, who at this meeting did not mention that he used to be an officer in Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), the now-defunct CBA signatory that started the failed pre-apprenticeship training program well after he left, began his comments at about 1:37:46 of the video below.

"I'm with Devotion NYC," said West. "We're an economic advocacy and education organization focused on  low and moderate income communities. We have three basic premises: that low- and moderate-income  members need to develop their economics by buying and selling to each other... Corporations that use the the tax resources... should reinvest in those communities by providing business opportunities and employment opportunities. Finally that political representatives need to focus on that... or communities need to hold them accountable to economic development, using those two methods."

While Devotion NYC has focused on Atlantic Yards, its blog also cites an effort to hold Goldman Sachs accountable for community reinvestment activities.

"I wanted to talk about Atlantic Yards Community Benefits from a business point of view," he continued. "In the Community Benefits Agreement, there were several promises made to our community for our support, we gave Forest City Ratner a lot of support, we came out and rallied for them. We came out and held countless community meetings for them. We gave them $1.5 billion of our taxes." (As I wrote, that total is uncertain, but subsidies and tax breaks are hundreds of millions.)

"We were in turn were promised 35% of construction jobs for people of color and 10% of those construction jobs for women," he said. There's been no credible reporting on the figures, given the lack of government monitoring and the failure to hire the compliance monitor.

West also cited 50% "of condos" (actually, rental housing) and, referring to discussion of the meeting of 35% of the housing units, said he didn't know where that came from.

Actually, once Forest City swapped office space for condos--or maybe not--the overall affordable housing percentage went down to about 35%, but the 35% reference at the meeting regarded the percentage of affordable housing during a certain construction period.

"Job training and apprenticeship programs for community members," West continued. "30% of construction and 20% of the service contracts after construction would go to minorities and women contractors." (Note that even formal compliance can mean the hiring of long-successful mainstream firms that have nothing to do with the Central Brooklyn-based organizations that signed the CBA.)

"We were promised, in the CBA," he added. "15% of retail space for minority and women-owned businesses. as well as low-interest loans and other kinds of promises." (Of course, retail space is yet to come.)

Getting critical

"That when Forest City Ratner reneges on that contract, they're hurting our communities economically," said West, in a statement that pointed to the difficulty, in CBAs, of defining the boundaries of community. "They're hurting us by preventing us from developing our businesses, preventing us from developing our own jobs. And that, when a company comes into our community, like Forest City Ratner, and made the contract that they made, they're supposed to fulfill the contract, and they haven't fulfilled that contract."

"We're asking our governor to intervene," he said, which had a layer of irony given that he was addressing a board dominated by gubernatorial appointees, and which is a subsidiary of a gubernatorially-appointed authority, Empire State Development (ESD).

As ESD's Marion Phillips III told him his time was up, West revved up: "That's what we are about, economic justice. Forest City Ratner cannot act as an exploiter of our communities, or as a parasite corporation."

Board oversight?

Though ESD Chair Howard Zemsky, a Buffalo resident, then said he had to leave, the meeting wasn't quite finished. Board member Barika Williams, an affordable housing advocate, noted the need for responses from Forest City--actually Greenland Forest City--not only regarding the phasing of the affordable housing units, but also "where they are" regarding CBA commitments.

Phillips, ESD's Senior VP for Community Relations, demurred regarding the latter issue. "The CBA is very unique, in the sense that the state and this body is not party to that," he said. Indeed, in 2014, responding to comments (in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or SEIS) regarding failure to hire the Independent Compliance Monitor, ESD said, "ESD is not a party to the CBA. The SEIS will not examine commitments that the project sponsors have made in the CBA.

"I have been meeting with Forest City to make sure they work with the CBA group," Phillips said, referring to the extant organizations that signed the CBA, not groups like Devotion NYC. "We can have them come to discuss that at a later date."

A bit later in the meeting, at 1:46:45, Williams noted plans by Greenland Forest City to move 1.1 million square feet of development rights from the tower slated at the arena plaza to Site 5 across the street, creating a giant mixed-use tower with office space.

"They're talking about these changes in commercial and jobs, and there's already being questions raised about the current commitment around commercial and jobs--I think those things are linked," Williams said. "So I think we do need an update on where they have been on their CBA economic development commitments to be able to then evaluate that next chunk of commercial and job piece that they're potentially proposed."

She didn't get a response.


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 February 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--but not yet approved--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…

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…