Friday, June 01, 2007

Full Court Press Conference on Columbia

There will be a press conference at City Hall today at Noon, sponsored by the good folks at CB#9. The focus of the event is the decision by the Department of City Planning to certify the expansion plan of Columbia University. Certification, at this time, means that the land use application will be forwarded to the community board during its summer hiatus period.

The DCP decision is being protested by both the board and the West Harlem LDC that was set up ostensibly to negotiate a CBA with the local community. Board chair, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, is saying that the certification decision appears to be an attempt to end-run meaningful community input and review (a view that the LDC shares). As the NY Sun is reporting today, this contention is supported by State Senator Bill Perkins and Assemblyman Keith Wright, indicating that the political battle is just heating up.

The community board members will be joined by the Coalition for the Preservation of Community (CPC), the community group that has been organizing relentlessly against the Columbia-centric plan. One of the key ingredients in the entire protest is the community's dissatisfaction with the fact that Columbia's plan doesn't include any affordable housing component, this in spite of the fact that the university is evicting low-income tenants from the Till Houses.

All of which, as NY Daily News columnist Juan Gonzales points out in today's paper, is creating a building "rage" in the West Harlem community. As he reminds his readers, "Many in Harlem haven't fotgotten Columbia's dark history of evicting thousands of low-income black and Hispanic tenants from Morningside Heights from the 1960s to the 1980s to make way for more student dormitories..."

Gonzalez also points out that paying Bill Lynch $40,000 a month won't assuage the community that sees the need for affordable housing as critical. As Luis Tejada of the Mirabal Sisiters Community Center told the News, "This fight will determine if low-income housing disappears in all of West Harlem." In response, saying that the bad old days are over (and "The new Columbia is sensitive to the community") Lynch told Gonzales that, "The university is committed to provide affordable housing, if not in that catchment area then nearby."(emphasis added)
At the same time, Lynch also said that those who are opposing the project haven't "offered any concrete proposals for negotiation." As Bill should know, however, Columbia hasn't been on any extended listening tour in the West Harlem community.

What we're left with is the undeniable fact that, despite Lynch's protestations, Columbia has shown absolutely no desire to negotiate any real agreement with either the existing property owners in the path of expansion, or with the community that suspects the university's good faith. It remains to be seen if these defects can be overcome through the application of sheer political muscle.