Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hard of Hearing

The City Council, when we last checked, purports to be a deliberative body, but when you get really close to examine how it really functions you come to understand that it is deliberately obtuse when it comes to the interests of small businesses, and communities impacted by mega-development. Take the ULURP application for the slyly named Willets West-a project that emerged like Rosemary’s Baby from the failure of the original Willets Point development that passed under a false flag in 2008. If what we have seen so far is any indication, the council is preparing to roll over because of an inordinate obsequiousness to the interests of Joe Crowley and the Queens County Democrats.

In the first case, the initial hearing is scheduled for September the 3rd, the first business day after the Labor Day holiday. Acting like folks who want to remain inaccessible and perhaps even incognito, the notice for the hearing was posted on Thursday the 29th, leaving a single day before the holiday for the word to get out.

When it comes to the hearing itself, the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises is signaing that it really doesn’t want to have a vigorous debate on a project that remains promiscuously controversial considering the illegal lobbying that drove the original council approval five years ago. It is doing so first by shutting down the request from Willets Point United to present a 20 minute power point that deconstructs the numerous erroneous assumptions from EDC - an entity that was forced to reconstruct itself after orchestrating the aforementioned illegal lobbying.

There’s really no excuse for doing this since WPU has been willing to forego the time of five or six of its testifiers so that the power point could be presented. The only conclusion an impartial observer can draw from this is that the committee is trying to tamp down the opposition’s ability to make its case. Will the committee limit the developers to 2 minutes? No, we don’t think so - and Chairman Weprin needs to explain why he needs to act as a homer for the developers.

In addition, the time being allotted to each speaker has been reduced to 2 minutes! - another example of favoritism since the developers, being the prototypical special interests, normally have fewer people coming to testify. Two minutes for some of the folks who stand to lose their businesses and their property if this corrupt deal is approved is the quintessential example of the stacked deck.

The committee is also showing its true colors by disrespecting the expected testimony of many of the Hispanic immigrant workers and business owners. No Spanish translator will be provided at this hearing – despite the ULURP application that is at issue requiring that 100+ businesses vacate the premises that are owned and operated predominantly by people who speak Spanish. The City previously failed to provide any Spanish translator at the eminent domain hearing which was widely criticized at the time. Apparently the City has not learned any lesson and is content to steamroll the 100+ immigrant businesses without hearing them at the Council. And why hasn't Julissa Ferreras, the home rule council member who has been working for years with the tenant businesses, demanded interpretation services for her constituents, or spoken out against the skulduggery being perpetrated by the City against Willets Point land and business owners?

The above points, taken all together, demonstrate the City Council's active contempt for public testimony about the proposed Willets West mall / Willets Point Phase One ULURP application. Speaker Quinn, Land Use Committee Chair Leroy Comrie, and subcommittee Chair Mark Weprin should be ashamed of themselves. These latest examples of bias come a year after the Mayor's Office and NYCEDC selected Sterling Equities and Related Companies, and their plan to expand the development from 62 to 108.9 acres including constructing a shopping mall on parkland, in a private process that shut out the Queens-based Willets Point Advisory Committee from the developer selection process, contrary to multiple written promises. The fix appears to be in; let the Council now show us - and all New Yorkers - otherwise.