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Security issues at AY CDC: harassed resident speaks; new arena directive rolled out; workers using ID system not alerted about harassment

At the March meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), the state entity set up to advise Empire State Development (ESD), a rather shocking account of sexual harassment and assault was diminished, in the ESD’s report, to a single incident involving one worker.

That led resident Elicia Howard to go public in the New York Daily News and at a subsequent Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting.

Yesterday, at the subsequent AY CDC meeting, Howard came to tell the board directly. Her story was part of a larger, not-quite-resolved discussion about security improvements at the site and the Barclays Center.

Notably, a new directive to arenagoers, developed for hockey games, regarding respect for the surrounding neighborhood is only now being added for other arena events.

Also, while construction workers now wear color-coded ID stickers to associate them with specific parts of the project, they are not specifically told that the initiative was developed in response to complaints about sexual harassment nor that they should be aware of that issue.

Telling her story

Howard, controlled but clearly still affected by the trauma, told her story in the section of the meeting reserved for public comment. Board members sat soberly and attentively. Her case was barely mentioned during the post-comment discussion, but she did make an impact; several board members spoke with her directly after the meeting, conveying sympathy.

“My situation was falling to the wayside,” Howard said during the meeting at Long Island University in Downtown Brooklyn, explaining her presence and citing the state's diminished account. A lifelong resident on Dean Street, she said, she returned after college.

When construction ramped up last September, harassment “gradually grew to the point where it was pretty unbearable,” Howard said, citing daily catcalling and a construction worker who felt he could follow her and draw hearts with construction dust on her car window. She felt she had no recourse, as that wasn’t a criminal offense.

In December, she said (as recounted in a letter she wrote describing a "shark tank" atmosphere), she’d returned from a red-eye flight and went to the corner store to get a snack, and didn’t feel up to engaging with the 30+ construction workers outside and inside who wanted to say hello.

One, offended at her lack of reciprocation, called her “an ugly bitch.” She went to the nearest construction site, run by Tishman, and spoke to a supervisor: “he was pretty rude, he disregarded me, told me there was nothing I could do.”

Not long after that, she was sexually assaulted—dry humped, as she described it in the letter—by fans exiting the Barclays Center after a boxing even She filed a police report. (She didn't say that it led to no resolution.)

“These are things that I feel the board should know,” Howard said, getting a bit emotional. “It's day in, day out, even on the weekends, now. And there's no escaping it, and there's nothing being done about it. And I want everyone to understand the struggle that people do go through, because it is emotionally affecting me and I’m sure it’s affecting other people. I just wanted everyone to understand that.”

A new policy

Developer Greenland Forest City Partners, more than four months later, in late April issued a color-coded ID system to associate all employees with a specific construction site. “It’s color coded, all helmets have stickers,” reported ESD official Marion Phillips III.

His colleague Joe Chan followed up with a query.

“Every single person has an ID with name and picture,” with a matching sticker on the helmet, responded Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton. “It’s about 600-plus who will be id’d,” she said, adding that, when ten new workers were hired, they'd get the IDs too.

What should residents do if they have complaints?

“If you are being harassed or assaulted call the police,” Cotton said, adding that, on other issues, they should call her or the project Community Liaison office.

What about behavior that may stop short of being a crime, asked Chan, prompting nods from Howard.

“I'd recommend that you call us,” Cotton said, expressing regret that “people prefer to post” on Twitter or Instagram. (Of course that means the issue may not get sunlight.)

“The Twitter issue has come up,” Chan said. “We've been clear: Twitter is not the best way.”

“Email is the best way,” Phillips said.

“If there are community concerns, [ESD staffer] Greg [Lynch] is on the site,” Phillips continued. “He can take the concern down.” (Again, it’s hardly clear to the public how much Lynch’s on-site observations have led to changes or enforcement.)

Drilling down: no alert to workers about harassment

AY CDC board member Jaime Stein, the most rigorous in publicly addressing the project, asked Cotton about new hires: “Are they given information as to why and what these stickers are?”

“That we are creating accountability and ID systems so that workers feel associated with our project and therefore carry themselves in a way that we would be proud of them,” Cotton responded.

“So, no specific code of conduct, just ‘we should be proud of you’?” Stein asked quizzically.

“They should not break the law, they should not sit on private property, and they should behave in a way that makes us proud,” responded Contton, “which I would strongly say relates to not sexually harassing or catcalling.”

That personal interpretation suggests there's no specific directive regarding sexual harassment. Perhaps there's a contractual barrier there, but some alert or education might not only foster better behavior but might alert workers of a collective responsibility.

Drilling down: IDs visible?

Board member Daniel Kummer asked if workers were required to wear their helmets off site, such as at the corner store or at lunch.

“They're don’t take the stuff off,” Cotton said. “They’re in their jackets and hats all the time.”

Well, not quite, as shown on this Instagram post.

Changes at the arena

Barclays Center Community Affairs Manager Terence Kelly updated the AY CDC on a change in the code of conduct for arena events.

In December, working with the National Hockey League and arena officials, he said, the public address greeting added this sentence, “Barclays Center is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, and we ask that you be courteous and respectful to the community both before and after the game.”

Kelly also noted that four of five Islanders’ playoff games were sudden-death overtime, which creates a surge when everyone leaves the building. The arena, working with police, asked for “hot spot enforcement.”

He said that in the week in which the arena hosted two playoff games and two Justin Bieber concern, “over double digit summonses were issued one each of those nights.” (That number could be achieved during many arena events, I’d suggest.)

“Over 7,000 people on average took the Long Island Rail Road to and from Islanders playoff games and Bieber,” he said.

Questions raised

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association, in his public comment, raised several cautions. “It’s difficult for community members” to actually identify workers wearing the stickers, he noted, and Howard’s arena-related harassment came not after a hockey game but a boxing event.

He noted that, as discussed at a previous meeting, Forest City had considered hiring a head of security for its malls and the arena, “we’ve also heard that's not going to happen.” (Of course Forest City no longer operates the arena, as it sold its majority share in the operating company to Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim, the previous minority shareholder.)

Krashes noted that there’s no longer visible perimeter security, which was once performed by a company that drove around in private cars. “Why are we having less security being delivered than when the project was empty lots?”

Board member Shawn Austin asked when board members would receive a response to questions and issues raised by Krashes and Howard.

“We normally respond as expeditiously as possible,” Phillips said, estimating ten days to two weeks.

Drilling down

Kummer asked if the code of conduct videos were aired only at Islanders games.

“All arena events have a code of conduct video,” Kelly responded, though his account actually revealed that a change is in process.

“There's an audio loop outside the arena,” he said, which continues for at least 30 minutes after events start. “Internally, the videos for an event such as boxing will be also updated now,” he said, citing “public address announcements for all events.”

The language for the Islanders video was approved by the NHL, he said. “We wanted to get that first out, it was a very serious matter.”

Kummer said he thought there was confusion regarding whether it was limited to hockey games, but it sounded like it was developed to use for all events.

“That’s correct,” Kelly said.

Austin asked about the overall security plan beyond announcements, noting that many people would ignore such announcements.

“We didn’t come to talk about Barclays Center security,” Cotton responded a bit sharply. (While she works for Forest City, she still represents Onexim on arena issues.) “We found out that, after Elicia [Howard] came forward, that there was a missing code of conduct as it relates to NHL” events, she said.

Kelly, she said, was announcing that the sentence he read about “residential neighborhoods” is being added to all events. “That’s the new news announced today,” she said.

“We’re trying to get any bad behavior stopped before they [arenagoers] come to the exit,” she said, noting that the Barclays Center pays off-duty police and then local police officers patrol the neighborhood.

“I think it would be helpful to get a clear security plan,” said board member Barika Williams, citing both arena security and the NYPD. “Ive been on [adjacent] Fifth Avenue after a hockey game,” she said, adding that “it is very overwhelming, just walking in the street.”

She further requested a security protocol for the rest of the site, noting that there will be children—of new residents—on site during construction.