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September 30, 2010

Liu’s CBA task force recommends reforms; dissenters say it will foster too many CBAs; report buffs AY CBA but guidelines might have reined it in

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder offers an in-depth report on

In a report issued not without dissention, the Task Force on Public Benefit Agreements (PBAs) yesterday delivered to Comptroller John Liu “a proposed framework for public benefit agreements in New York City that would create clear expectations, encourage broad-based participation and result in enforceable public benefits that comply with legal standards.”

Included is an increased opportunity for community input by community boards, local elected officials, and small businesses; by contrast, the Atlantic Yards CBA was negotiated very quietly. Also, given that CBAs like the Atlantic Yards CBA are essentially unenforceable (except by signatories with no incentive to go to court), the Task Force recommended several enforceability mechanisms. Such CBAs also would be monitored by the Comptroller.

Notably, the report (PDF and embedded below) states that “the primary purpose of a benefit agreement is to mitigate project-related impacts”--a rationale absent from the Atlantic Yards CBA, in which the single largest component is affordable housing, a provision that could have been incorporated into any upzoning but which is not a specific response to the loss of housing on the AY site.

Still, the report’s rather rosy view of the Atlantic Yards CBA, the first in the city, may have contributed to the willingness to endorse CBAs.
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Rosy view of AY CBA

As discussed below, the report makes no mention of the payments developer Forest City Ratner has made to its CBA “partners”--a practice CBA experts warn against, nor FCR's bail-out of ACORN.

Nor does it cite the criticism by three local community boards that FCR overstated their involvement.

Among the Task Force Members were Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone of Forest City Ratner, and Darnell Canada of Real Economics Building Unity and Innovative Local Development (REBUILD), notable for his public threats at a hearing on AY environmental impacts. Task Force member Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York in 2005 publicly criticized the AY CBA as diverging significantly from more transparent ones in Los Angeles.

Vitullo-Martin added, "Part of the problem is that Atlantic Yards is now so embedded in how people think about CBAs that it can't easily be ripped away--and once you start, you're likely to conclude CBAs aren't a good idea."

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Related coverage...

Crain's NY Business, Controversial benefit-agreement report aired

According to the city, the first benefit agreement was executed in 2005 between Forest City Ratner Cos. and a coalition of eight organizations in connection with a large mixed-use development at Atlantic Yards. Since then, local benefit agreements have been used for other major projects across the city, including Yankee Stadium and Columbia University's Manhattanville expansion.

NoLandGrab: What do all those projects have in common? The crappy "community benefits" can't begin to make up for seizure of private property or public parks.

City Hall News, Liu To Release CBA Report, Positioning For Greater Role In City Development

The task force evaluated the four CBAs that have been signed in the city: Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, Yankee Stadium and the Gateway Center in the Bronx and the Columbia expansion in upper Manhattan, as well as 14 CBAs from elsewhere in the country.

The Wall Street Journal, Liu Task Force In Disarray

A task force charged by New York City Comptroller John Liu with examining what the city can and should demand from developers of publicly subsidized projects ended its work mired in dissension, with frustrated panel members resigning or refusing to sign the final report to be released Wednesday.

The flurry of resignations and the level of discord on the panel cast a dark shadow over an initiative that Mr. Liu and his aides heralded as one of the hallmarks of his first nine months in office. Mr. Liu, a former city councilman, is a potential candidate for mayor in 2013.

In response to an inquiry from The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Liu's office disclosed late Tuesday that four members of the task force have resigned and another four members are refusing to sign the final report. The report has 29 signatures attached to it.

Posted by eric at September 30, 2010 12:20 PM