Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lukas Herbert's letter to BP Carrion

December 13, 2005

Honorable Adolfo Carrion, Jr., President
Borough of the Bronx
851 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10451

Subject: Public Hearing for Yankee Stadium Project ULURP Application

Dear Borough President Carrion:

I am writing you in regards to the public hearing that was held on December 12, 2005 for the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) review conducted by your office for the above referenced project. While I had signed up to give my testimony at the hearing orally, I was not selected to approach the podium to do so. Therefore, I wish to submit my comments on this matter to you in writing. It is my understanding that written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. on December 14, 2005.

1. PURPOSE OF A ULURP HEARING
The public hearing you conducted last night was an embarrassment. It was an embarrassment to your office, which I once held in high regard. It was also an embarrassment to our community; that something like this would go on in our neighborhood. But for me, I personally felt embarrassed as an urban planner, a civil servant and a as Community Board member; that a government hearing would be used in such a shameless manner to promote a project that my community clearly does not want.

The public hearing you presided over was a circus-like sham intended to mislead everyone about this project. Was this not supposed to be a ULURP hearing? I had signed up to speak so that I could talk to you and your staff about land use issues –the things that ULURP decisions are supposed to be based on. Instead, however, the room was filled with building-trades representatives who filled most of the seats and presented a repetitive one-line mantra: “we want jobs”. While I do not dispute that jobs are an important aspect of any large-scale development project, the provision of construction jobs is just one factor of the review – and they are not the full substance of any one of the particular ULURP items you have before you to review. Instead of packing the house with building-trades representatives (most of which do not live in the neighborhood), you should have provided more time to listen to your community – particularly those who wanted to address land-use impacts that are crucial to your review of the ULURP items.

As a member of the Community Board, I spent countless numbers of hours reviewing the documents involved with the ULURP review that I was responsible for. I used my expertise as an urban planner to provide an analysis for the rest of the Board on the land-use and other impacts of the project. I analyzed the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) and other documents fully before I reached a decision. When it came time to hold our hearing, we let everyone speak. I cannot speak for everyone on my Board, but I can tell you for certain that I based my decision to reject this project on a careful review of the impacts, and by listening carefully to the testimony of all the hardworking neighborhood folks who came to our hearing. Ade Rasul, our chairman, made sure that everyone who wanted to, had the opportunity to speak. Regardless of his opinion on the project, he did the right thing by holding the meeting open until everyone was heard. Many of us on the Board sided with the public who came of their own volition that night. They spoke about the project’s impacts (land use and otherwise) and we heard them – loud and clear.

My experience with the Community Board’s ULURP review was something that I wanted to share at the public hearing as party of my testimony. But I was not given a chance to do so thanks to the way your hearing was set up. This brings me to the next topic below.

2. LACK OF GOOD FAITH IN RUNNING THE PUBLIC HEARING

Public hearings have been used as a form of discourse in this country throughout its history. They are part of the foundation of democracy, which our government is based on. Your public hearing, however, made a mockery of this process. While I am not certain that the hearing you conducted violated any laws or regulations pertaining to public hearings, your hearing certainly went against the principles that are behind what a public hearing is intended for. You took a public hearing - that is supposed to be used to help you decide how to vote on a ULURP action - and you turned it into sham event, to minimize your opposition and create a mirage of support for a project that you may not have in reality.

When I arrived at your hearing at 5:50, ten minutes before the start time of 6 p.m., the hall was already packed with building-trades representatives who do not represent the totality of the community you serve. These people just don’t show up to hearings – they were invited by somebody. Perhaps they were even paid to be there? As a result of this strategy, no one could get into the public meeting at around 6 p.m. when the meeting started. This meant all of the hardworking people of this neighborhood who wanted to attend after they got home from work could not get in. The result was that approximately 150 people were locked out of the “public hearing”. Many of these people were infuriated and started chanting to be let in. Their pleas were ignored and many remained outside. How can you profess to be holding a “public hearing” when the room is stuffed with special interest groups (building trades representatives) while many of the working public were locked outside because they could not get to the meeting early enough to grab the seats that were available. It was clear to me – and to everyone there - that this was an intentional act.

Furthermore, it was announced that all speakers must register and that the hearing would only be held open until 8 p.m. After the presentations were made by the Yankees, that left approximately 90 minutes for public testimony. Since there were more people signed up than could be accommodated within the 90-minute timeframe, it was obvious that not everyone would be allowed to speak. Because of this, most of us assumed that the speakers would be called in the order their registrations were received, particularly because this is a standard practice used at most public hearings. However, I can safely say that there were people who signed up after me who were called up to speak. There were also people before me who were called up to speak. I was not chosen to speak. Other people I know (some of whom arrived as early as 5:15 p.m. that evening) were not chosen to speak. The one constant among us was our opposition to the project.

It is not hard to “connect the dots” in this scenario. Our names were recognized as outspoken project opponents and we were not chosen to speak. It was a thinly veiled attempt to abuse the forum of a public hearing. How can you hold a “public hearing” when certain members of the public do not have access to the venue you are holding it in and to the podium? You manipulated who got to enter the room and who got to speak – therefore, you manipulated the outcome of the hearing. That is not a public hearing – that is a corruption of democracy. You have perverted a time-honored forum of public discourse for your own end – and as a result have tarnished the reputation of the government you serve in.

As a government employee and as an urban planner, I have devoted my professional life to trying to make government work for people. It is actions like yours which destroy the public’s faith in good government and makes my professional goals harder to achieve. I care greatly about government’s ability to serve people. I want people to care about their government and take an active role in civic life. Government defines who we are as a society; it is the framework of our civilization. However, you cannot have a democratic form of government work when the citizenry is demoralized or apathetic. By holding a public hearing like this one, you have driven another nail into the coffin that you, and politicians like you, have built to bury our government in. How can you expect people to vote, to care and to be involved when you treat them with such disregard? Voter turnout is at an all-time low. People have learned to despise the government that serves them. And it is actions like yours that have done this to them.

3. LAND USE AND PLANNING ISSUES

Originally, I had hoped to discuss this on page 1 of my testimony, since this is supposed to be the focus of your ULURP review. I will use the section below to discuss these issues, which I sincerely hope you will consider as part of your decision making process for this matter.

a. Inappropriate taking of parkland. The ULURP application before you would consume several acres of neighborhood parkland for the purpose of constructing a new Yankee Stadium and three new parking garages for thousands of vehicles. The taking of parkland in any situation for vehicular parking is a disturbing proposition, which evokes images of Robert Moses era planning practices that planners today have learned to avoid. However, it is particularly disturbing when you propose an action like this in the “Asthma Capital of America”.

The urban planning profession has learned from past mistakes: you do not simply walk into a neighborhood and take parks away and use them for parking. Visioning and public involvement are necessary. So far, both of these activities have been limited.

The community has already voiced their concerns that they want the existing parkland to remain intact. The planning process should listen to those concerns. Instead, the community is being offered “replacement parks” which are to be built on top of two of the parking garages. These “parks” will be grade-separated from the surrounding neighborhood in most places, and will not feature amenities such as mature trees and grass. They are not equivalent replacements for the current parks. The community has stated this repeatedly. Other replacement parks would be located in locations that are far away from where anyone lives. Again, this is not an equivalent replacement.

While the Yankees organization showed a revised presentation at your public hearing, with some elements changed from the DEIS, the use of parkland for parking garages remained constant. If one looks carefully at the renderings that were shown as part of the presentation, the renderings showed grade separated parks that would lack most of the natural features that neighborhood residents have come to enjoy.

As a resident of this community, I can vouch for the fact that natural parkland is necessary. It is necessary as an oasis from our urban surroundings...and it is necessary because our parks are our “lungs which clean our air”. Because this is the “asthma capital of the world” we need all the help we can get. Taking natural parkland away and converting it to parking garages will only set us back.

b. Unnecessary parking. Some of the ULURP items before you involve approvals necessary for parking garage construction and operation. However, these new parking garages are unnecessary and will cause a blighting effect on the community.

The applicants claim that since the new stadium will have fewer seats, no new traffic will be generated to the stadium. If that is the case, then no new parking would be required unless the intention is to get more fans to use stadium garages. However, this is not an appropriate strategy in a modern world where energy consumption is an ever-pressing issue. Furthermore, the “Asthma Capital of America” is not the appropriate venue to carry this strategy out.

Instead of having additional parking at the stadium site, the project should be revised to include a new Metro-North station – particularly since Metro-North tracks traverse the project site. The applicants should be required to work with Metro-North to develop price incentives for people traveling to and from games. These incentives should be carried out at a new Hudson Line station at the stadium site as well as at the Melrose station on the Harlem and New Haven Lines, less than a mile away.

If transit amenities are included in the project, then there would be less of a need for parking and Parking Garages A, B, C and D could be eliminated from the project. This is the outcome that the community has advised us to pursue. If the parking lots are eliminated, natural parkland can remain.

c. Location of stadium. Most residents indicated at our Community Board hearing that they preferred the stadium to stay in its current location – and not moved into parkland across 161st Street. The proposed new location would place a hulking building mass directly across from several historically relevant (and landmarked) buildings, and would have the potential to blight them. The proposed stadium location could also potentially cut off the Highbridge neighborhood from the rest of the immediate area during game days, which would have a seriously detrimental effect on those residents.

Instead of moving the stadium, the project should consider other alternatives more thoroughly, such as rebuilding the stadium in place or simply renovating the existing stadium. While the DEIS does include an analysis of this, the analysis is not adequate to meet the concerns of the community. The DEIS is overly dismissive of alternative options, stating that they would not generate enough revenue for the Yankees. This is not a sufficient analysis given the scope and impacts of the proposed project.

4. JOB CREATION

Because the attendees at your public hearing used the lion’s share of the time available to talk about job creation, I would like to comment on this matter.

Job creation for the new stadium project will likely be temporary. Construction jobs will last only as long as the construction period. After that, the jobs are gone. The new stadium is not likely to have any substantial direct job creation since most of the jobs in the new stadium, will simply be the same jobs from the old stadium. It’s not like we are suddenly going to have two stadiums with two sets of jobs.

The people of the Bronx want good paying jobs; jobs they can keep for sustained periods of time; jobs that provide financial security. Jobs related to stadium activity are not those kinds of jobs. They are seasonal jobs; jobs in the infamously low-paying retail sector; jobs that do not lead to better paying jobs. To say that this project will deliver thousands of stable, well paying jobs to Bronx residents is a distortion of both truth and reality. This reasoning should not be used to decide in favor of this project. Furthermore, using the myth of extensive job creation to lure those without jobs into supporting this project, is making a promise to people that cannot be realistically kept. By pumping up job creation with this project, you are making pawns of these people to get this project built. You are taking advantage of a sense of desperation that comes with a lack of employment and you are using it to advance the aims of a project that will not necessarily deliver the jobs that many people are expecting: good, high-paying, long-term jobs. Instead they will have short-term construction jobs or seasonal jobs pouring soda and cleaning bathrooms.

Furthermore, I would like to point out that there was some discussion at the public hearing about additional project elements, such as a hotel, convention center, museum, etc, which would also create jobs. However, I must point out to you that this is not the subject or scope of your current ULURP review. The DEIS, which is the written public record of this project, does not contain these elements. If these elements are to be included in the project – and thus considered as part of this ULURP application – then a revised Supplemental DEIS must be provided with an expanded project description. Since this has not been provided, to consider these other elements as part of your review is not valid.

CONCLUSION
I sincerely regret that I had to use such a high level of criticism in this letter. However, I feel I have no other choice. I asked you to appoint me to Community Board because I wanted to serve my community. To do that properly, I must stand up for what I believe is right...and call attention to what I believe to be injustice. Serving on this Board has been a wonderful experience and has enabled me to begin to learn what makes this community so wonderful – the people who live and work here. It is through their dedication that I am proud to be a member of this community. People are working hard to make the Bronx great. It is a level of dedication that I have never seen elsewhere – and it makes me feel very wonderful whenever I think about it. I cannot turn my back on them when they have voiced their concerns to me. I have been told repeatedly by my neighbors that this project needs to be revised substantially. Because you appointed me to serve them, I did – and I voted “no” on this project. I respectfully suggest that you do the same.

Sincerely,

Lukas Herbert, AICP
Community Board 4

cc:
Hon. Jose E. Serrano, United States House of Representatives
Hon. Elliot Spitzer, Attorney General, New York State
Bronx Delegation, New York State Senate
Bronx Delegation, New York State Assembly
Hon. Betsy Gotbaum, Public Advocate, City of New York
Bronx Delegation, New York City Council
Tri-State Transportation Campaign
New York Civil Liberties Union

1 Comments:

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Does the Mayor, Bronx Borough President, and the Building-Trades Representatives..aka Construction Workers “we want jobs” understand that a renovation of the existing Historic Yankee Stadium creates jobs. The remodernization of the original Yankee Stadium in the 1970's kept Construction Workers busy for 3 years(1973-1976)The same 3 years it would take the Yankees to build a new Ballpark in City Parkland(2006-2009) ENOUGH with "We Want Jobs". WE NEED TO SAVE YANKEE STADIUM AND CITY PARKLAND FOR BRONX RESIDENTS!

 

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