Monday, November 28, 2011

Columbia's CBA: An EDC Progeny is Stillborn

The WSJ is reporting on the disarray in the West Harlem Local Development Corporation-the entity midwifed by EDC to implement a community benefits agreement. The CBA was the sugar that was designed to make the bitter Columbia expansion plan medicine go down smoothly in the local West Harlem neighborhood:

"It was supposed to be a breakthrough victory for Harlem residents and a model on how to settle raging land-use disputes.But more than 2½ years after Columbia University brokered an agreement with community groups—exchanging a lucrative package of benefits for the area's blessing of the university's expansion into West Harlem—local officials and residents are complaining that the fruits of the deal remain a mystery."

This is really nothing new and the seeds of this calamity were reported by the NY Post a year and a half ago: "A $76 million windfall intended to help Harlem residents is in limbo -- and may never be paid -- because the politician-backed nonprofit in charge of distributing the money is in disarray, the Post has learned. Although it formed four years ago, the West Harlem Local Development Corp. lacks a mission statement, has yet to get tax-exempt status from the IRS and doesn't even have a phone number. The group already has received $500,000 from Columbia University -- part of a 16-year payout designed to assuage community fears over the school's expansion -- yet hasn't spent a cent on the neighborhood."

This was why Nick Sprayregen-the property owner who fought the project-walked away from the group. He saw just how fraudulent the whole scheme was: "Concerns about the agreement surfaced even before it was drafted in December 2007. Five West Harlem board members resigned, upset over the heavy-handedness of the politicians involved in negotiating with Columbia. "The LDC sacrificed good development because it wanted to control a slush fund," Tom DeMott, one of the former board members, told The Post. Another former board member, the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, said the politicians "dominated the LDC." Kooperkamp, the rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Harlem, said the pols "whittled down" the community initiatives, which included better housing and subsidized transportation for seniors."

What is missing from the Journal story today is the extent to which EDC played a significant role in this charade-after all someone brought Jesse Masyr in, pro bono, to negotiate the pact and we don't think it was the residents of the community. Masyr is as smart a land use attorney as you can find in this city but even he would resist the appellation, "community spokesperson."

What this means for us at WPU is that the city will do and say anything once it embarks on a condemnation venture-and the use of a CBA is a neat trick used to beguile the gullible to sign off on a bad deal. This is reminiscent of EDC's promises of living wage at Willets Point. What the latest deceit makes abundantly clear is that Diogenes would not strike pay dirt down at 110 William Street.