Crain's In$ider is reporting this morning on the legal challenge brought against the ESDC for its hiring of the consulting firm AKRK. Lawyer Norman Siegal, who represents our client Tuck-it-Away, among other businesses in the footprint of the proposed Columbia University expansion, is arguing that the consultants, who are also representing Columbia in its environmental review, can't be used by the state to determine whether the area in question is "blighted."
In essence, as we have argued before, AKRF (and Columbia by extension) is getting to mark its own exam which, as Siegal points out is inappropriate because "the company can't serve two masters." AKRF's argument that, "there is no conflict because the projects are being handled by two different departments in the planning firm," simply fails the laugh test.
It does, however, in a dramatically glaring fashion underscore what the Manhattan Institute has astutely pointed out about the entire ULURP charade: these consultants are in the tank and can't be depended on for any kind of honest evaluation. Which is another reason why communities are so cynical about the entire phony environmental process.
The environment has nothing to do with any of the outcomes in these land use fights. The review process is pure Kabuki theater and is designed to make believe there is a community consultation. The process, inherently political, needs to be changed so that local neighborhoods that are going to be impacted can have a bigger voice in the outcome.
Which is precisely the point that Councilman Garodnick makes in this morning's NY Post. "Disputes on proposals intensify because communities don't have a chance to share their vision until it's too late. On the Columbia University redevelopment, for one, the local community board chair recently said: 'On a scale of 1 to 10 Columbia is a minus five in terms of trust.'" Garodnick calls for a process that includes the community early on, and points to a project on the East Side that does just that. He goes on to say that, "With communities in the lead, development's future could be one of collaboration-not recrimination."
Which is precisely why the Columbia expansion plan is so flawed. There has been collaboration; perhaps the demographics of West Harlem differentiate it from the East Side and obviate the need to really look to partner with "those people." In any case, the AKRF boondoggle only serves to accentuate that stench that is arising uptown, as the "progressive" forces of Columbia University look to reach out to West Harlem and teach the community its own kind of civics lesson.