Departing Atlantic Yards CDC member urges more transparency and accountability; new Neighborhood Support Team coming?
Stein, who teaches at the Pratt Institute and coordinates the master's degree program in Urban Environmental Systems Management, was fighting uphill during her three-year term on the board, with most of the board members gubernatorial appointees uninterested in rocking any boats in advising the parent Empire State Development (ESD), a gubernatorially-controlled authority.
However, she pushed for more transparency and sometimes was joined by other more engaged board members, generally appointees of local elected officials.
Stein addressed her letter (bottom) to Marion Phillips III, the AY CDC President and also an ESD official. She also sent copies to various elected officials and Community Board District Managers.
Greater transparency and accountability: incidents
She wrote that daily quality-of-life issues, including dust, noise and traffic persist, and that civic reports, whether via the (now-dormant) Atlantic Yards Watch, 311 and a state Incident Log all "place the onus of monitoring and reporting on the public and do not resolve issues in real time."
Given the "estimated timeframe of 20+ years for project completion"--I assume she means from the 2006 approval--"these existing systems need to be overhauled to include the public, local elected officials, City agencies, ESD and impacted community boards."
A new framework coming?
Stein indicated that neighborhood residents, involving the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office and Brooklyn Community Board, are pursuing new frameworks, and urged the Board and ESD to participate.
That, actually, is still up in the air. Nearly a year ago, CB 2 District Manager Rob Perris applied for a “Neighborhood Support Team” (NST), a new initiative administered by the Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit (CAU). The program page states:
Identified issues should affect a significant cross section of the community and must cover a geographic area no smaller than three contiguous blocks and no larger than a Community District.I'd note that issues do impact multiple community stakeholders and require multi-agency coordination; one challenges is that Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park actually touches on three Community Districts, though it hardly encompasses all three. (That's an argument for the geographic boundary in the program to be a little more flexible."
Submissions should identify issues that can be addressed at the City level and that require City services as a core part of the solution. Issues should impact multiple community stakeholders and require coordination amongst several agencies to be addressed fully.
"Legislatively mandated, the program did not at first come with any additional resources and it fell behind the timeline published online," Perris wrote in response to my query. (Indeed, the new teams were supposed to be announced last July.) "CAU recently hired a project manager and has begun to develop work programs to address the issues for the applications that were accepted."
"My application for an NST to address quality of life and other conditions associated with the Pacific Park project was among those that were approved," Perris wrote. "CAU is currently exploring alternative structures by which City Hall may be of assistance." In other words, stay tuned.
Greater transparency and accountability: monitoring contracts
Stein had more to say. "Oftentimes we are asked to make decisions with very limited time and information," she wrote, pointing to a request for the board to weigh in on the renewal of the environmental monitor, HDR, "just weeks before it was going to expire."
"As this was a 10 year contract and the Board had been active for almost 3 years, I have difficulty understanding why and strongly disagree with the excessively brief process for the contract renewal," she wrote. (I'd note that this was a one-year extension of the existing contract, but neighbors also thought that the scope should be reviewed.)
Contract reviews of both HDR, the Environmental Monitor, and STV, the state's Owner’s Representative bring an "opportunity to review and improve monitoring, coordination and response in a public and transparent way which can address the persistent quality of life issues surrounding the project." She urged that, before such reviews, the ESD provide to the board and public a detailed timeline and an opportunity to recommend contract changes.
Greater transparency and accountability: details of monitoring
Stein suggested that public trust would be boosted by making clear the significant amount of monitoring that is required and ongoing. "In a recent request for HDR’s Mitigation Matrix (an item within the appendix of their quarterly reports) I was struck by the thorough accounting of the many mitigations called for in the project," she wrote, urging that it be made public, with the opportunity for the board to ask questions.
Here's coverage of that Mitigation Matrix, which is extensive but not always precise.
Greater engagement for Site 5 process
Stein reiterated her call, at last month's AY CDC meeting, to better engage the public regarding project changes, such as the planned huge project at Site 5.
"I urge ESD and the Board to utilize this approach in all major decisions not just for a future Site 5 SEIS," she wrote. "In closing, it is my view the Board can provide a crucial foothold for the public to engage the project. If the Board is not given the resources and information that they need, the overall public engagement in the project is diminished."
I'd note that the Site 5 process likely will engage a new set of residents who have not been significantly impacted by project construction (though they may be by project operations).