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September 7, 2006

Press Release: COUNCIL OF BROOKLYN NEIGHBORHOODS CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION INTO CONDUCT OF AUGUST 23RD PUBLIC HEARINGS

Correct shortcomings of August 23rd Public Hearing before holding any future Atlantic Yards Hearings or Forums. CBN also file FOIL for records

The COUNCIL OF BROOKLYN NEIGHBORHOODS (“CBN”) today released a letter (text of letter below) sent to Empire Stated Development Corporation Chairman Charles Gargano criticizing the administration of the August 23rd Public Hearings on the proposed Atlantic Yards development and calling on the ESDC to correct these deficiencies before holding further hearings.

CBN offered to produce affidavits testifying to questionable irregularities in the admission policy and conduct of the raucous Public Hearing. In addition CBN demanded that:

  • The ESDC perform a formal investigation into the manner in which this particular public hearing was conducted.

  • The ESDC hold a public hearing that complies with the legislative purpose and intent of providing a fair forum in which the community may raise valid issues of concern regarding the impacts of the project on the community, without intimidation or fears for their safety.

  • Until appropriate accommodations are made for the anticipated large number of hearing participants, and until appropriate controls for the method of conduct of the hearing and audience behavior are put in place - and these measures are publicly disseminated - no additional public hearings or forums should be held.

CBN also filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the official speaker sign-up sheets, actual order of speaking, transcripts of the entire August 23rd Public Hearing, and a copy of all videotapes (text of request below.)

The COUNCIL OF BROOKLYN NEIGHBORHOODS is a coalition of recognized diverse community groups active in Community Boards 2, 3, 6, and 8. CBN is comprised of 40 community organizations that have joined together to ensure meaningful community participation in the environmental review of the proposed Atlantic Yards development in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. As a group, CBN has experience in civic advocacy, transportation planning, neighborhood preservation, urban planning, the development of affordable housing, safety and security improvement, quality of life promotion, and business development. CBN’s collective background enables them to represent the concerns of the area communities.

For more information please contact CBN at 718-408-3219 or via email at cbrooklynneighborhoods@hotmail.com.

TEXT OF LETTER CALLING ON ESDC TO PERFORM INVESTIGATION INTO CONDUCT OF AUGUST 23, 2006 PUBLIC HEARING

Chairman Charles Gargano
Atlantic Yards c/o ESDC
Empire State Development Corporation
633 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Re: Formal Complaint regarding the Conduct of the August 23 Public Hearing on the proposed Atlantic Yards Project

Dear Chairman. Gargano:

The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, Inc. (“CBN”), by an award of $230,000.00, has been charged by the elected officials of both New York City and New York State with providing the community’s response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Atlantic Yards project. To obtain this funding, CBN has undertaken to ensure that the community is effectively engaged throughout the environmental review process, and that the process is transparent and comprehensive. Because of our role and our mission, CBN is duty bound to make this formal complaint against the Empire State Development Corporation (“the ESDC”) for the manner in which it planned and executed the August 23rd Public Hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (“DEIS”) and General Project Plan (“GPP”) it issued July 18th for the Atlantic Yards Redevelopment Plan.

As advertised by the ESDC this hearing was, and remains, the only Public Hearing in this environmental review process and therefore the only formal opportunity that the public will have to register their thoughts about the impact of this large and complex development plan upon themselves and their community.

The Public Hearing was advertised as starting at 4:30 PM and drew hundreds of citizens who lined up outside the auditorium of the NYC College of Technology, waiting for the doors to open so they could sign up to speak for their three (3) minutes. This was not only their right, but as explicitly stated in the very Act that created the Hearing, their civic duty.

Instead of being given the opportunity to be heard by the members of the ESDC board with respect and courtesy, these hundreds of citizens were subjected to numerous abuses over the course of this evening.

Initially, the ESDC took no steps to make sure that the crowds that should have reasonably been anticipated were properly managed and controlled. Prior to the hearing, CBN wrote a letter to the ESDC requesting specific information as to how the August 23 hearing would be conducted (a copy of that letter is attached.) Rather than responding with information that would assist the public and CBN in ensuring that the proceedings were orderly, ESDC chose to treat CBN’s offer of assistance as a Freedom of Information request (response attached), and has yet to provide the promised information.

Moreover, in light of the large numbers who attended the Scoping Hearing in October, 2005, resulting in many members of the community waiting in line for several hours to gain entrance, and the fact that since that time, the proposed Atlantic Yards project has only received more media attention, the ESDC’s decision to hold the sole Public Hearing in a hall with a 900-person capacity was certainly not intended to allow the large affected community to be heard appropriately. Literally hundreds of people were left standing outside once the hearing started. Anticipating the substantial overflow, CBN had volunteers remain outside, asking those who could not wait on line any longer to complete “sign-out” sheets to demonstrate the inadequacy of the forum. Even though many individuals left without signing the sheets, CBN collected more than 300 names of those who gave up after waiting, many for several hours, before leaving without even gaining access to the auditorium. (Upon certain confidentiality conditions, CBN is willing to share these lists with the ESDC.)

Unfortunately, even getting on line early did not guarantee members of the community at large admission to the hearing. We can obtain affidavits from at least two individuals - one an AP reporter, and both who were near the front of the line - attesting that the hall was half-filled when the doors were finally opened at approximately 4:10 p.m. In addition, the individuals manning the doors, who were variously described as being employees of the ESDC, the developer Forest City Ratner Companies, members of the New York City Police Department, and the security and/or management of the building, routinely allowed union members, members of BUILD (an organization funded largely by the Developer), and members of other organizations supporting the project to enter through a side entrance designated for press and electeds. When representatives of CBN and a member of Community Board 2 challenged those manning the doors, they were told that the individuals being admitted were either members of the press or were carrying speeches for elected officials, even though these admissions were witnessed at approximately 7:30 p.m., long after the electeds had completed their speeches. In order to prevent continued unfairness, the Community Board 2 member stationed himself at the side entrance for more than two hours.

Chaos ensued in the front of the lines outside as well. We have witnesses who can attest that busloads of children were unloaded and ushered to the head of the line; that gatekeepers allowed people wearing stickers and carrying signs in favor of the project to join others already at the front of the line while unaffiliated attendees were directed to the rear; and that members of the Carpenters’ Union were permitted to open the police barricades and crowd into the front of the line before the doors opened.

The situation did not improve as the evening wore on. Between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m., many of the individuals who had gained early access to the auditorium, many of them apparently union members, left the hall. The individuals manning the front door failed to take adequate steps to fill the vacant seats with community members waiting outside to gain admission. For instance, CBN can provide an affidavit from a witness who will attest that at approximately 7:30-7:45 p.m. there were approximately 150 empty seats in the hall, with approximately 35 individuals standing. Despite being advised of the situation, the individuals manning the door took almost a ∏ hour before permitting more members of the public to trickle in.

In addition to failing to guarantee fair and impartial access to the hearing, the ESDC also did nothing to prevent the hearing from quickly developing an acrimonious tone, and in some instances, took action that only served to inflame the already heated emotions of the hearing’s participants.

Although individuals were required to sign up to speak, they were specifically told that they would not be given numbers, and that the speaking cards were going to be shuffled. As a result, many citizens who had prepared testimony, stood in line from early in the afternoon, and waited for hours for their three minutes were never afforded an opportunity to speak to the ESDC Board. Moreover, the request that each individual designate whether he or she was “for” or “against” the project, so that the speakers could be “balanced,” unfairly permitted many later-arriving individuals to be called long before testifiers who had arrived much earlier and waited much longer.

In addition, this method of permitting testimony gave the perception that support and opposition were evenly divided, and overtly encouraged the public to use the pulpit for only that – to declare their support for or opposition to the project, rather than to respond to the substantive issues raised by the DEIS and the GPP.

As we understand it, the purpose of the DEIS is to disclose and raise for discussion the potential impacts of the project on the community. That does not provide a basis for taking sides ”for” or ”against” the project. The fact that the ESDC asked the participants in the hearing to take sides furthered the impression to the public and the press that there were indeed “sides” to be taken.

Finally, the manner in which the hearing was conducted only served to further exacerbate the already-festering animosity created in the room by the “for” and “against” platform designations promoted by the ESDC.

Everyone in the auditorium was subjected to hearing verbal abuse, outright threats and continued racist references, which CBN will not allow to be disguised simply as rhetorical flourishes. The record of the Hearing will bear out the racially inflammatory nature of many of the ”supporter’s” testimonies.

However, rather than quelling the vitriolic rants of several ”supporters” of the project, the Hearing Officer appeared cowed by the inappropriate behavior, and permitted outright threats to go unchallenged; in fact, the most vocal “supporters” were allowed to remain at the microphone for more than the three-minute limit. (CBN can provide affidavits to support this abuse.) Grossly inappropriate and threatening comments were permitted at the microphone, among them this quote from a Community Benefits Agreement participant and one of the founders of BUILD, in describing the possible reactions of ex-convicts with whom he works, “So you better hope this project goes through or else you'll be the victim. If this project doesn't happen, I guarantee you: You will have chaos in this community."

Much inappropriate behavior also came from individuals not at the microphone. Some of the comments from the audience that were allowed to continue, unchecked, were: "No jobs means we WILL ROB!” and “You can say what you want, but we’ll be waiting for you outside when this is over."

Despite all of the foregoing, the Hearing Officer failed to take the steps necessary to control the forum so that the majority of appropriately behaved members of the public were not subject to such inappropriate actions by the very vocal minority. Many members of the community left as a result of feeling threatened and sickened by the palpable anger and hatred in the hall.

As your agency knows, there are two remaining “community forums”, one on Primary Election Day, September 12, and the other on September 18. The forums are scheduled to take place in the same auditorium as the August 23 Public Hearing, and at this time we have no reason to believe that the conduct of the hearing, or the resultant problems, will be any different than those experienced at the earlier hearing. While we have not urged our member organizations to refrain from attending the September 12 hearing because of its conflict with the Primary, we support the right of our member organizations to make such a call. However, CBN does believe that for the ESDC to hold any further hearings or forums on the Atlantic Yards before a full investigation of the foregoing is conducted would be a violation of its obligation to conduct a truly Public Hearing regarding the environmental impacts of the largest mixed-use development in the history of Brooklyn.

In light of the foregoing: * CBN demands a formal investigation into the manner in which this particular public hearing was conducted. * CBN demands that a public hearing be held that complies with the legislative purpose and intent of providing a fair forum in which the community may raise valid issues of concern regarding the impacts of the project on the community, without intimidation or fears for their safety. * CBN further demands that, until appropriate accommodations are made for the anticipated large number of hearing participants, and until appropriate controls for the method of conduct of the hearing and audience behavior are put in place - and these measures are publicly disseminated - no additional public hearings or forums should be held.

The community awaits your reply.

Sincerely,

Candace Carponter
Therese Urban

Co-chairs
Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods

REFERENCED ATTACHMENTS:
August 21 email from CBN Chair Therese Urban to ESDC representative Jessica Copen

Ms. Copen:

I left a telephone message at the ESDC offices for you this morning, however I will follow up by email as it may be easier for you to get the answers to us.

We have some confidence in that you, as quoted spokesperson for the ESDC, are the right person to answer the following:

Given that we are still asking for, and just now receiving the first batch of, missing data and back up documentation from AKRF through your ESDC legal department Records Access Officer, isn't it appropriate for there to be an extension of time for the community's consultants to review the DEIS, and another Public Hearing be offered on this project?

Given that the ESDC now realizes that 9/12 is Election Day, isn't it appropriate that the ESDC change that date?

Also, given that a 'community forum' has no definition in the record, and carries no weight in the record, please tell the community 1. What is a 'community forum'? 2. What are the legal requirements for the ESDC to record and subsequently address the oral and written comments given at a 'community forum'? 3. What is the difference between a 'community forum' and a 'public hearing'?

Regarding the required Public Hearing 8/23: 1. At what time will the doors open? 2. At what time will sign up begin? 3. Can you sign up to speak and then leave the building? (including for a telephone call or a smoke) 4. What accommodations will be made for an overflow crowd of speakers? 5. Can you be signed up to speak by a representative, especially since most people are not home from work until 6:00PM? 6. Will the sign up sheet be closed to further names at some point? 7. If yes, what point? 8. What accommodations will be made for those who cannot sign up until they come home from work, and found the sign up list is closed? 9. Will the doors to the hearing be closed at some point? 10. If yes, at what point? 11. If yes, how will signed-up speakers access the building? 12. If all speakers can't speak, or all potential speakers can't get in to sign up, will there be a second hearing?

As you are well aware, we need these answers as soon as possible. Thank you for your prompt attention.

Sincerely,

Therese Urban
Co-chair, Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods

OFFICIAL REPLY FROM ESDC

From: "Copen, Jessica"
Date: Tue Aug 22, 2006 2:28:46 PM America/New_York
To: "Therese Urban"
Subject: RE: Questions about Atlantic Yards

Dear Ms. Urban,

We are handling this as a Freedom of Info request and will respond to you in the next couple of days.

Jessica Copen
Director of Communications
Public Affairs
Empire State Development Corp.

TEXT OF FOIL REQUEST

Records Access Officer
Atlantic Yards c/o ESDC
Empire State Development Corporation
633 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Re: Freedom of Information Act Request
To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act filed on behalf of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods pursuant to the New York Freedom of Information Law, Article 6 of the Public Officers Law. I request that a copy of the following documents and records be provided to me: 1. Copies of the Speaker sign-in sheets for the August 23, 2006 Public Hearing held at the New York City College of Technology, Klitgord Auditorium, 285 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY regarding the proposed Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project. 2. A copy of the official order of actual appearance for all speakers for the August 23, 2006 Public Hearing held at the New York City College of Technology, Klitgord Auditorium, 285 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY regarding the proposed Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project. 3. A copy of the official transcript of all proceedings and speakers for the August 23, 2006 Public Hearing held at the New York City College of Technology, Klitgord Auditorium, 285 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY regarding the proposed Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project. 4. A copy of the official videotape made of the entire Public Hearing held August 23, 2006 at the New York City College of Technology, Klitgord Auditorium, 285 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY regarding the proposed Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project. In order to help to determine my status for purposes of determining the applicability of any fees, you should know that I am the Secretary and Communications Director for the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, a not-for-profit organization funded by the New York City Council and the New York State Assembly to assure the thorough participation of the community in the environmental review process for the proposed Atlantic Yards Development project, and this request is not for commercial use. If my request appears to be extensive or fails to reasonably describe the records, please contact me in writing or by phone at Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, 201 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 10025, 718-408-3219, or by email to cbrooklynneighborhoods@hotmail.com.

I request a waiver of all fees for this request. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not in any commercial interest. I file this request in response to queries placed with me by our constituent organizations. The requested information will be made available to any and all of our constituents including our 40 member organizations, the local Community Boards, the New York City Council, and the New York State Legislature.

I request that the information I seek be provided in electronic format, and I would like to receive it on a personal computer disk, CD-ROM or DVD.

I ask that my request receive expedited processing because of urgent queries and general confusion as to the conduct of the hearings and the events thereof. As charged by our funding organizations, it is imperative that we be able to address community concerns regarding the hearings, and access to these public records is vital to the performance of our charge.

As you know, the Freedom of Information Law requires that an agency respond to a request within five business days of receipt of said request. Therefore, I would appreciate a response as soon as possible, and look forward to hearing from you shortly.

If for any reason any portion of my request is denied, please inform me of the reasons for the denial in writing, and provide the name and address of the person or body to whom an appeal should be directed.

I can be contacted during the hours of 9 AM to 5 PM at 718-638-3349, if necessary, to discuss any aspect of my request.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Sincerely,
James M. Vogel
Secretary, Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods
718-638-3349

Posted by lumi at September 7, 2006 9:48 PM