Friday, July 13, 2007

Columbia's Smoke and Mirrors

Let's get one thing straight about Columbia and its expansion plan: the university has no desire to really negotiate an agreement with the community-no matter how it is configured. That was made clear by the unanimous vote that was given the other night to the CB's 197-a plan. If a developer with Columbia's resources put any effort into wooing a community board it would have been able to garner at least some support. To us, the unanimous vote against Columbia-and that's what support for the 197-a plan indicates, signifies the fact that the university isn't even bothering to generate local support.

Instead, it is relying on its institutional muscle-and public relations gimmicks. This was witnessed by the university's seeming about face with its announcement that it would refrain from using eminent domain to evict the tenants in the low income housing on the west side of Broadway. As we pointed out to the Observer, however, this is merely an example of divide and conquer tactics-ones that seeks to divide the opposition by race and class in refusing to consider, and be proactive with, the other property owners.

What is clear here is the fact that Columbia can easily modify its plan if the will is present to do so. There is nothing written in stone and as we pointed out, "It demonstrates what we have said all along...and that is Columbia's plan can be modified and there is room for compromise." That does depend to some extent on the willingness of the elected officials to act as honest brokers.

In the body of the Columbia press release there is a quote from Councilman Jackson praising the university for its magnanimity. He goes on to say that he looks "forward to continuing to work with the University and the community to address the myriad other challenges associated with Columbia's proposed expansion." This is a good statement but it means that Jackson must start to exhibit leadership-and initiative-to insure that these "myriad" issues are properly addressed and resolved.

There is no reason why Jackson can't insist that Columbia hold face-to-face meetings with the property owners to determine whether there are ways to allow the university to expand, while simultaneously preserving property rights. Efforts in this area would mean that his office would take the lead- and not allow the WHLDC to meander along while precious time is being lost.