Monday, February 27, 2006

Related’s CBA Is Criticized Again

According to Heather Haddon in the most recent Norwood News, community groups continue to criticize the “community benefits agreement” for the Related Companies’ Gateway Mall, saying that the negotiation process was illegitimate, the concessions were minimal and the document not even endorsed by the taskforce ostensibly set up to draft the agreement:

“It’s a disgrace,” said Pasquale Canale, president of the 161st Street Merchants Association. “We don’t feel that the community got anything.”
Assemblyman and Bronx County chief Jose Rivera said most of the credit for the “benchmark” CBA belongs to his chief of staff Ululy Martinez (since the community wasn’t involved it’s probably appropriate not to mention them). Martinez said he consulted the touted agreements from California and admitted that while the Bronx version wasn’t as good it came close.

We guess that for Martinez a paltry $5 million CBA that was negotiated after the land use process began, did not involve direct talks between the developer and affected communities and does not even apply to the development’s tenants is close to the comprehensive Staples or LAX airport agreements. And when pressed on the fact that the Gateway agreement does not force Related to do anything:

Martinez said Related was reluctant to make the agreement binding, but that officials succeeded in adding “enforcement mechanisms.” He didn’t elaborate on those measures.
When a developer is under no pressure of course it’s not going to sign a binding agreement. And if the document isn’t binding, what good is it?

The article continues to highlight community criticisms of the CBA and points out that a majority of the groups originally involved did not sign. Greg Bell, from Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion, succinctly explains the lack of enthusiasm for this “historic” deal:

“Our two main focuses are transparency and inclusion,” Bell said. “This had neither.”
Borough President Carrion’s office responded, acknowledging that perhaps this was a tiny bit problematic:

Anne Fenton, a spokesperson for the borough president, admitted that the rushed nature of the endorsement process wasn’t ideal, but she said that the signatories did represent each of the committees. “We chose three people that were heavily involved,” she said.
Wow, three people! And who were these three groups that are supposed to represent the South Bronx community? Two are government controlled entities and the one community-based group is located 3.5 miles from the project site.

As we’ve mentioned before, it is important to criticize this agreement because certain elected officials and developers will attempt to use it as a model for future developments. Pat Canale, of the 161st Street Merchants summarizes this point:

Critics worry that a closed-door process has implications for the neighboring Yankee Stadium development. The new stadium and parking garage, which would put replace two park, is moving forward despite growing community opposition.

Canale feels burned by Bronx officials. “How can you forget the neighborhood that put you up there?” asked Canale, who collected over 250 signatures against the stadium in less than two days. “The Yankees weren’t the people who elected you.”