At the last meeting of the AY CDC board, in March, a few board members raised questions about the parent Empire State Development's ability to track complaints from the community.
An ESD staffer's rather bureaucratic description of a sexual harassment episode downplayed the issue, and and at the Community Update meeting last month, resident Elicia Howard criticized ESD for doing so.
Now expect some debate about the follow-up.
Consider: for the first time, ESD actually posted meeting notes from the Community Update meeting, as requested by some AY CDC board members since last October. I noticed the Meeting Notes (also at bottom) yesterday, just about the same time the Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance (BCIZA) sent a letter to ESD raising questions about the agency's responsiveness, and the lack of notes.
Questions about security, staff role, affordable housing
But those meeting notes themselves raise questions. For example, ESD reports:
There was a discussion about other suggestions for improving safety at the site, including hiring private security, a head of security to coordinate between the arena, mall, and construction site, sexual harassment trainings, and a campaign on sexual harassment.(Emphasis added)
That's not quite the same as Greenland Forest City Partners saying that, yes, it did raise the possibility of hiring a head of security but decided not to do so.
Similarly, the notes say that Tobi Jaiyesimi, AY CDC Director, "announced Samuel Filler’s transition from the Project, and that she will assume his responsibilities."
At the meeting, Jaiyesimi said she would be "taking on some of [Filler's] responsibilities as it relates to this project specifically." It wasn't clear then that she was taking on all of Filler's responsibilities regarding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, compared with his overall responsibilities, but now that seems so.
In other words, the person hired to work with the board advising Empire State Development on the project is now managing the project as well. That seems like a potentially hazardous overlap.
At the time, Jaiyesimi said she didn't have a new title. Maybe she does now.
The notes say:
There were additional questions about the construction timeline for Block 1120 and Block 1121, and the affordable housing numbers for the Project in light of the possible change in programming for B4. It was announced that the developer is working on selecting an architect for Site 5.That's a rather bland description of a charged exchange, in which Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton declined to provide an explanation for how, given planned changes in the project configuration, the 35% affordable housing minimum will be met.
BCIZA letter pushes accountability
The letter (bottom) from the Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance (BCIZA) notes that the safety situation around the project site is worse than described by ESD, given "serious security related concerns from three other residents."
It also sites ESD's inability to fully document community concerns and cites the lack of minutes (though there has been belated follow-up, as noted above) and the banning of videotaping.
The letter notes the failure of many oversight agencies to attend the bimonthly Community Update meetings and an incident report log that omits, among other things, relevant 311 complaints about construction and arena impacts.
The letter warns of a developer-state alliance:
When the community raises concerns, reviews and comments on plans, and expresses ideas for improvements, it seems reasonable to expect that this input be considered respectfully in full and result in qualitative improvements as permitted by the scope of construction and operations. Unfortunately, this rarely happens in a timely manner, if at all, and the timing and effectiveness of any response appears to rest primarily with the developer who is opportunistic, unreliable, and apparently free of any anxiety about meaningful penalties. The result of these lapses is that ESDC executives and staff seem to drive the Project forward on behalf of the developer and Governor while diminishing the ability of the AYCDC and ESDC boards to fulfill their charge to create accountability and inject new information into Project decision-making. Certainly community members expressing concerns should not be dismissed as hysterical and without substance, or as cranks resistant to change.(emphasis added)
"Hunting for problems"?
The letter quotes a Daily News article in which Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton said, “These guys are hunting for problems,” and “This is among the most regulated projects in the state... Pacific Park is subject to numerous environmental regulations no other project has to deal with.”
Cotton claimed that the project is on average more than 95% in compliance on state noise, dust and truck regulations and that, “At any given time we could have 1,700 construction workers out there.”
As noted in the letter, "For the most part these claims are impossible to assess with the information available." The lack of the promised Independent Compliance Monitor for the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement also hampers accountability.
But they're not exactly "hunting" for problems. As the letter notes, those problems are easy to document.
The letter cites my report of a cover-up of construction violations:
By comparing the single leaked unedited HDR report to the version made public, it is possible to see that text about false documentation being created by a contractor was deleted, and instead the text reads like all systems worked in a responsible way.