Many familiar faces in Yards watchdog group

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The watchdog group that is tasked with monitoring construction at the mega-development formerly known as Atlantic Yards is finally on the job, and it includes several people who have long histories of supporting the project.

The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation held its first meeting on Friday, more than a month after it was supposed to first get together. The new board was formed as part of a deal reached last June between community groups and the developers. The deal is meant to speed construction of below-market-rate housing in the planned 16-tower complex.

One of the activists involved in the creation of the new group said that it is a step towards meaningful community input.

“This is definitely a sign of change,” said Gib Veconi, a member of Brooklyn Speaks and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a room full of the stakeholders actually having a discussion about how to move forward.”

The panel lacks enforcement power and answers to the Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency managing the development.

Nine of the 14 board members were chosen by Gov. Cuomo, and many have previous ties to the project. They including Joe Chan, the former head of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and former Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president Ken Adams, both of Empire State Development, and Sharon Daughtry, head of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance. Adams is soon to take over as Cuomo’s tax commissioner. Daughtry is a signatory to the development’s community-benefits agreement. She is an ally of Ratner, whose company paid at least three of the groups that signed, including Daughtry’s.

The new board is supposed to monitor the developers’ compliance with construction-timeline commitments that demand the discounted housing be completed by 2025 or face fines — and the mitigation of the effects of construction on the surrounding residential blocks of Prospect Heights. It is also tasked with acting as a go-between for the developers, local community groups, elected officials, and public agencies.

Mayor DeBlaiso, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, state Senate president Dean Skelos, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Borough President Adams got one appointment each for the board. Adams’s pick was Bertha Lewis, former head of the now-disbanded activist group Acorn, and another signatory to the community-benefits agreement. Lewis famously kissed Ratner and then-mayor Michael Bloomberg when the agreement, which mandated local jobs and discounted housing, was finalized. Her group was contractually obligated to support the project before it disbanded in 2010.

Forest City originally said the 15-tower town would be completed in 2016, but its latest estimate is 2035.

Last June’s deal called for the board to meet by the end of December, but the state pushed the date back. Veconi said it is a little late, but definitely soon enough to help.

“We’re still in the time-frame where construction is starting to ramp up,” he said.

Mayor DeBlasio’s appointment to the panel was Pratt Institute professor Jamie Stein, an appointee pushed for by the Dean Street Block Association.

That civic group withdrew from the activist coalition that secured the settlement because its members felt that the community development corporation would not be powerful enough. A member was guarded when talking about its prospects.

“This is an opportunity for the state to do a better job,” Peter Krashes said.

The group issued a statement saying that in the past, the state has made decisions that favor the developer’s needs without regard to the impact they will have on immediate neighbors to the project.

“Our experience as neighbors is that the state and developer avert their attention from the real-world impacts of the project,” the statement says. “We hope that this board helps improve ESDC’s decision-making and monitoring capabiliti­es.”

None of the groups that ultimately agreed to drop their lawsuits against the development as part of the deal that created the panel ultimately secured spots on it.

The group’s first meeting came one day after state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli issued a report blasting Empire State Development for failing to keep track of the finances of its 168 subsidiaries.

“New York state spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to spur economic development and job creation through ESDC programs,” he said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve more thorough accounting about whether these programs are achieving desired results.”

The state has hired Tobi Jaiyesimi to direct the new community development corporation. She used to work in the office of Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D–Fort Greene). Despite all the factors working against her, Veconi called her a good choice.

“She has been associated with the community and has also worked with elected officials who have been working for this body’s formation.”

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
The most they will give Ratner for not keeping his promises will pretty much be nothing more than a slap on the wrist while still scapegoating the opposition for the issues despite finding no claims to that.
Feb. 11, 2015, 4:50 pm
Norman Oder from Brooklyn says:
While it's certainly appropriate to consider Gib Veconi's views, having him as your most significant source is an unwise choice. (It's also unwise to rely on secondhand sources rather than attend the meeting in person, or watch it on video.)

As a chief negotiator of the settlement, Veconi understandably has an interest in seeing it seen in the best possible light.

Here's what's missing, though nearly suggested in your reporting: the board faces serious questions about conflicts of interest. They were raised again at a community meeting last night, and will not go away.

Also, while the experience Jaiyesimi has working with elected officials may serve her well, it should not be ignored that the state was unable to find a candidate who offered the full range of purportedly required experience, including oversight of real estate development projects.

My coverage:

Norman Oder
Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report
Feb. 11, 2015, 5:44 pm
Gib Veconi from Prospect Heights says:
I respect Norman Oder's right to take issue with the facts and analysis in my comments. However, attempting to discredit them simply because they are my statements is an ad hominem argument not reflective of the standards of professional journalism.
Feb. 12, 2015, 7:50 am
Norman Oder from Brooklyn says:
Responding to Gib:

I'm not making an ad hominem attack. Your views are well worth considering. I was asking for more context and more in-depth reporting.

It's hardly a stretch to suggest that the negotiators of the settlement want to portray it in the best possible light. The evidence goes beyond your statements; the conflicts of interest seem pretty glaring, but didn't get mentioned in the BrooklynSpeaks statement.
Feb. 12, 2015, 9:28 am
Roberto Gautier from Brooklyn Heights says:
Once again, the list of "watchdogs" for the Atlantic Yards project seems stacked to the pro side which exonerates the principals. Perlman's piece reveals how high-level political power appears to follow the buddy collaboration model at work between "regulators" and developers. For students of the public/private partnership world, Perlman also demonstrates how the oversight process works or doesn't appear to be quite right. The article also provides fodder for a meditation on the increasingly rubbery concept of "community."
Feb. 12, 2015, 10:08 am
Atlantic Yards resident from Atlantic Yards resident says:
There seemed to be no community input when it comes to residents sitting on this board. Seems like the same scam when it comes to Battery Park Authorities Board where local residents have no say on their community they live in. What bothers most residents is the underlying arrogance by the Preacher Marion Phillips when it comes to design, safety and hearing what residents have issues on. You can tell he's just the messenger. The other issue is you really have to wonder how Joe Chan ended up on this board and what his best interest is since he doesn't live in the neighborhood (note his official title). Empire State Development is well known for housing a bunch of political hacks by the Cuomo administration -
Feb. 12, 2015, 11:25 am
da editah says:
This is how I read Stormin' Norman's comments: 'Since you, Gib, got the AYCDC created, it is not surprising that you have nothing but nice things to say about it.' With all the ESD staff on the board, not to mention Daughtry and Lewis, it is hard to be too optimistic about the corporation being much of a watchdog.
Feb. 12, 2015, 1 pm
freddy from slope says:
da editah:

you said it nicer than I did. I used the word shill and the comment got deleted.
Feb. 12, 2015, 1:20 pm
Constituent from Alantic Ave neighbor says:
You have to be a watch dog
"when in other words, the state authority is backing off its role in overseeing the project's environmental impact. Marion Phillips III, the state official who said ESD did not review the scope of work--the outline of tasks aimed to ensure the project does not impinge on neighbors--not only works for ESD but also is president of the new AY CDC. (He's an officer, not a board member.)

The ESD's lapse in looking at the scope of work makes it ever more important that the volunteer AY CDC perform its monitoring role thoroughly. But the presence of ESD staffers on the board make it less likely they would criticize their own agency.

When nobody is reading past documentation and winging it, you got to wonder on many levels how fixed is this process when your dealing with constant no oversight by all real estate entities.
Feb. 12, 2015, 1:53 pm
Gib Veconi from Prospect Heights says:
Those who suggest I am somehow a shill for ESDC may not have enough experience with the Atlantic Yards project to know that I was an organizer of the lawsuit that overturned ESDC's approval of the 2009 MGPP.

I also helped draft legislation on which AYCDC was modeled, so I understand that every State agency has State employees on its board. Their presence on the AYCDC board does not indicate an unintended outcome detrimental to the community.

With respect to questioning the CBA representatives on the AYCDC board, we all can surely acknowledge that the contention among community stakeholders over the history of the Atlantic Yards has cost us tremendously in terms of influence over the course of the project. To exclude a stakeholder group from this new platform would torpedo its effectiveness before it ever gets off the ground.
Feb. 12, 2015, 7:55 pm
Prospect Heights from Prospect Heights says:
I think people are concerned that the average worker at ESDC stays approx. 2 years on this project. Each staffer has NO experience in large scale projects, construction or design. Just look at the politico they just hired, the fellow, the preacher, the former Brooklyn Partnership president and the candle stick maker. Then you got the ousted Moynihan Station Exec Director, lawyer for ESDC Robin Stout coming to this meeting, when his other job is being a board member for the village of New Castle in Westchester County. So, do you believe he has the best interest for the locals in the area. Maybe, someone needs to call Norman Siegel and ask him to be on the board.
Feb. 13, 2015, 12:25 am
Norman Oder from Brooklyn says:
Gib's not a shill. He has put a lot of work into these issues.

Yes, other state subsidiaries have state employees on their boards. This *seems* a little different, because the AY CDC board is not decision-making but rather advisory. I'm not sure of the precedent in which board members advise themselves.

The overall context is a history of distrust regarding Empire State Development and its oversight of Atlantic Yards. Does the presence of ESD board members on the AY CDC tamp down or add to the distrust?

Same goes for members of the Atlantic Yards CBA. Yes, it's worth finding a way to incorporate the views of all stakeholders. However, the board is not exactly balanced. There's no equivalent or counterweight on the board, such as someone long involved in project opposition or criticism. And if it seems wrong to include one of them, then why include CBA members?

Maybe this is why the state resisted releasing the names of the board members before the meeting.
Feb. 13, 2015, 7:57 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Maybe it would have been better if those who really knew what was going on should be placed on the oversight. Of course the ESDC will never allow for that, because they will really hold Ratner accountable for what he does when they just want to give him a slap on the wrist at most. Maybe those who got forced out like Daniel Goldstein should have been named to this, but then Ratner will really be in trouble for failing to keep his promises and missing deadlines. As for Gib, even if he's not a shill, he could still be someone who might start getting defensive when asking about what's really going on as many other hardcore supporters have been in the past, and I know this from the experience I had encountering them whether or not they were paid by Ratner.
Feb. 13, 2015, 5:14 pm
ty from pps says:
I nominate Tal Barzilai to run every and all advocacy organizations.
Feb. 13, 2015, 5:28 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
If that's the case, then I would be holding numerous developers like Ratner accountable whenever they fail to meet certain deadlines or in keeping promises.
Feb. 13, 2015, 8:57 pm
Voting for Tal from Atlantic Yards says:
How about we ask ESDC's Marion Phillips to nominate Tal to be on the board. Or, we start a petition.
Feb. 14, 2015, 9:59 am
Local Brooklyn business owner from Atlantic yards area says:

What has the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and local BID done to assist this company with a nice relocation package? NOTHING....

“We will continue to work closely with the entire community, including the affected residents and businesses, to address and meet their needs and concerns,” said Marion Phillips III, president of the state’s Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation." And, please tell us how they are working with local businesses when the the state's small business division is a complete failure? Can Phillips go into more detail about this instead of sound bites? please

“We’re so lucky to have found a partner who is impatient, just like we are, and their message to us is let’s get this done,” Forest City Ratner’s vice president for external affairs, Ashley Cotton, said in an interview. “We know our neighbors, we’re sympathetic to whatever experience they’re having, but this is really another enormous milestone on the path of Pacific Park.” Ashley Cotton could care less about small business since she represents the Yonkers Forest City Mall where there are NO small businesses. This women should be publicly shamed as she worked for Cuomo when he was the Attorney General...she did nothing there, did nothing to assist small biz while working as a shrill at NYCEDC.
Feb. 17, 2015, 12:29 pm
Fair and balanced hiring & appointments at E from Atlantic Ave resident says:
Just look at the jobs posted on this website. One weatherization job pay$35,000 and this agency is about promoting job growth. It's amazing that a job was posted in Nov. and they say they hired someone but it's still posted. Residents should apply for this position and let's see if they even respond to real applicants, or will they continue to hire friends, political hacks and staffers from elected officials officers who have been indicted and need jobs.
Feb. 21, 2015, 11:30 am
Neighbor from Atlantic Ave says:
Will there be a follow up on this story? The so-called ESDC committee is not so transparent.
April 23, 2015, 6:49 pm

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