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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

Before tonight's not-so-transparent virtual Quality of Life meeting, a reminder of the project's lack of accountability

In COVID-19 times, many community and civic meetings have moved to virtual platforms, including the bimonthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life meeting, scheduled for 6 pm tonight, which offers updates from those developing and overseeing/shepherding the project, but generally leaves important questions unanswered.

(My questions are here, but I don't know the other submitted questions.)

It's a frustrating process. Unlike with other meetings, it's impossible to know who else is attending--they don't appear on the (virtual) screen, and the chat is limited to messages sent by attendees to the hosts, representatives of Empire State Development and the project's master developer Greenland USA (which owns nearly all of Greenland Forest City Partners).

It's impossible to know if all submitted questions are answered, and difficult, if not impossible, to get follow-up questions answered.

A nudge to new elected officials

Last night, at a virtual meeting of the North Prospect Heights Association attended by State Senator-elect Jabari Brisport and a representative of Assemblymember-elect Phara Souffrant Forrest, longtime activist Peter Krashes suggested that attending the Quality of Life meeting would offer a quick lesson about Atlantic Yards.

"Of all the community meetings and public meetings I've ever attended in my life," he said, "those are the least transparent I've ever seen... And so you guys do have the ability to change that as elected officials and the state does have to listen to you."

Indeed, local officials, who typically send representatives to such meetings to observe, might push for more transparency and accountability. That doesn't mean they'll be successful, given gubernatorial control.

Questions of accountability

It's important to recognize how... un-accountable Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park really is. Previous efforts by elected officials (such as Assemblymember Walter Mosley) to get answers have resulted in the brush-off from ESD.

Consider: the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), set up in 2014 as part of a settlement that established a new May 2025 deadline for affordable housing, has Tobi Jaiyesimi as executive director.

The AY CDC, dominated by appointees of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is supposed to advise the Cuomo-controlled Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority that oversees, and shepherds, Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. It mainly, but not exclusively, serves to rubber-stamp decisions, allowing ESD to say it has the patina of community input.

Jaiyesimi also serves as ESD's Atlantic Yards Project Director, a position once held by other staffers, so she's essentially helping advise herself.

The first Project Director was Arana Hankin, who, when interviewed during her time at ESD, came off as a good soldier but, after leaving the position for a Loeb Fellowship, criticized the absence of accountability, called promises of jobs and housing overblown, and suggested government officials were overmatched by the powerful real estate industry. 

Hankin said it was difficult to reconcile both the interests of the private developer and community needs. She also described economic development agencies as "quasi-private entities [that] function more like a private corporation [and] are not required to be as transparent as government agencies."

A "chilling effect on community input"

That's continued. As I reported in March 2018, barely any members of the public attended an afternoon meeting of the AY CDC at ESD offices in Manhattan, which had been announced less than a day earlier, after a previous meeting fell through for lack of a quorum. 

As I wrote, a body set up to add outside voices and accountability to a problematic megaproject seemed to bow to expediency and the status quo.

Alexis Sfikas, a staffer for Brooklyn Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, made a brief, pointed public comment near the end of the meeting: “Assemblymember Simon just wanted to express some concern with the scheduling of these meetings. She thinks that it’s probably going to have a chilling effect on community input if neighbors don’t find out until 23 hours before these meetings happen.”

The virtual Quality of Life meetings don't necessarily have as "chilling effect on community input." But they do have a limiting effect.